Tonight in the 02 Arena, Kell Brook will enter the ring against Gennady Golovkin of Kazakhstan, attempting to replicate the feats of such boxing greats as Sugar Ray Robinson and Sugar Ray Leonard. The announcement of the fight was met with universal incredulity, and not without cause. Yet those pouring scorn on Brook’s vaulting ambition must acknowledge that such an exploit does not lack precedent. While it is tempting to consider this as symptomatic of an era where the best avoid one another, leaving the public to content themselves with mismatches masquerading as proper contests, we should bear in mind the past. Challenging Golovkin is supremely audacious, but not unique in boxing history. But is the challenger’s apparently thorough self belief well justified? Is this another Leonard v Hagler with the same outcome?
The British public have certainly bought into the bout, and not only due to their natural inclination to will on the home man. They are undeterred by the rather ominous odds. Though their faith, as well as perhaps the faith of Brook’s own promoters seem sometimes to rest on flimsy grounds. They draw strength from what they regard as a paucity of quality opposition in Golovkin’s resume. Kell has himself declared, blithely, that he could beat any of Golovkin’s past rivals. This is a bit rich, given that decent boxers are conspicuous in their absence from his record, with the exception of Shawn Porter. Jo Jo Dan and Kevin Bizier are less than formidable pugilists. He has faced mostly mediocre welterweights, and has never taken on a middleweight, apart from in sparring. Golovkin’s reputation could perhaps be exaggerated but equally, if we judge a fighter by the caliber of his past opponents, Special K can hardly be said to merit his moniker.
To a lesser extent we have also heard that beloved dichotomy of boxer versus puncher or slickster versus slugger being bandied about. Golovkin possesses power in abundance, this is well known. There are light heavyweight and cruiserweight residents of the Summit Gym in Big Bear who have personally attested to the Kazakh’s fabled power. Yet, Nathan Cleverly found out to his detriment one night that knock out records and boxing skill are not mutually exclusive qualities. Golovkin is masterful in maneuvering his opponents into positions where he can deliver his power. He has power and he knows when and how to use it.
Perhaps, if we are being generous, we could say that Brook has the superior skills (he boxes with perhaps a little more finesse) but the gulf between his technique and Golovkin’s is not a large one. Golovkin is a veteran of 354 amateur fights and 36 as a professional- and the former is not something you can attain without possessing skill. Especially when you lose only 4 and have an Olympic Gold Medal on your mantelpiece.
So with these false dichotomies aside , what are the merits of each fighter and how can Brook succeed? There are plenty of positives to draw from his public work out, where he displayed fast, accurate and snappy combination punching. We know that he possesses a judicious, stiff jab, which in normal circumstances is a great tool for shielding a fighter from the marauding advances of a pressure merchant like Golovkin, who, like a lot of fighters hailing from the ex-soviet amateur boxing programs, do not show a natural aptitude for head movement. He also looks to have retained speed and agility from the lower weight class. All in all, the Sheffield man looks phenomenal, and capable of causing the Kazakh difficulty.
However, what may make all of the above purely academic is the fact that Golovkin has power capable of debilitating even heavyweights. And we are not talking about a wild, reckless power unable to reach its target. This is precision power, sagaciously timed. When Golovkin gets Brook where he wants him, as will surely happen more than once in this fight, will Brook be able to endure it? It’s one thing to spar middleweights and super middleweights, but how will you react for the first time when experiencing exceptional power with small gloves and no headguard? That mental equilibrium and precious confidence exuded by Brook is likely to desert him when he tastes the vaunted strength of GGG.
Kell Brook is not setting out into unchartered territory. It is a path that has been trodden before, but only by a select few. Templates exist for smaller more nimble men to triumph over men of more imposing size. There are many David and Goliath stories in boxing, and, upsets happen in any sport. It would be churlish to deny these things. It would also be short sighted to overlook the potential Brook has for periodic success. Indeed Golovkin would be foolish to not take heed of the strengths of this distinguished alumnus of a renowned boxing gym. But when a larger man of exceptional strength and who has the wherewithal to apply it brings it to bear on the smaller one, there can be only one outcome. Brook will impress tomorrow night but at best he can buy himself time. The ending is most probably inevitable.