For a long time Kell Brook slipped under the radar.
Not in terms of “Special K’s” name value or media image. Almost from the moment he turned pro at 18 boxing fans have been inundated with promoters, trainers and fellow boxers telling us how special he is and the mantra over the last few years is how it was a certainty that Kell Brook would be “the next” world champion. Likewise, it seems impossible to turn on a boxing broadcast in this country and not see Brook as either an analyst or in attendence. No, as a British boxing fan it’s been near impossible to miss Brook.
But we never held him and his promoters to the standards we do others.
Think about the above paragraph again. For years we’ve been told that he is a special boxer. That he will be a world champion. That he is one of the elite, one of the best, that it is only a matter of time before he fulfills his destiny.
And yet who has he faced?
There have been impressive performances sure… he destroyed Hector David Saldivia, smashed Carson Jones in their rematch, outclassed Lovemore Ndou and dominated Michael Jennings. In truth there is probably only a handful of bouts where he has looked underwhelming and only one bout where he looked bad (the first bout with Jones). But look at those names. Were any of them seen as world class? Were any of them seen as world beaters?
Boxing fans have a tendency to mock those who can’t match their hype with their achievements. We ridicule Deontay Wilder for continuing to face scrubs. We laugh at Amir Khan and how he declares himself one of the best in the world. Nathan Cleverly was widely mocked for facing the likes of Shawn Hawk while talking about facing Bernard Hopkins. And do I really need to talk about how Audley Harrison and his constant comments that it was his destiny to be world heavyweight champion were viewed?
Yet Kell “Special K” Brook was rarely criticised for this.
He’s 27 years old. Going into this bout he’d had 30 bouts. He’s been a pro for nine years. And yet his was still spinning his wheels; too good for domestic class, too good for fringe international boxers but either unwilling or unable to take that step up to the next level, to really push on and make a run for a world title. And yet he and his promoters had managed to escape most of the mockery and criticism that normally comes with that. Way back in 2010 Brook’s victory over Kennings was a WBO eliminator… yet here we are three years later and he’s still not boxed for a world title, let alone held one.
Criticism had started to appear in recent months, notably in the wake of the long delayed and then eventually cancelled bout between Brook and IBF champion Devon Alexander. People started to question whether Brook really wanted to face the best or whether he was content to stand his ground, earning good money as an attraction in Sheffield, unwilling to take the risk of facing a higher level of competition. That he wanted to win a world title the soft way, waiting for a vacant belt to appear rather than to go off and beat a title holder.
And that’s why this bout with Vyacheslav Senchenko was important.
Not because Senchenko was a top level operator but because he was close to one. He was a man good enough to hold a world title and defend it multiple times till about a year ago. Yes, he picked up the title softly, yes, he defended it against boxers few people had heard of, yes, he was 36 years old and yes, he was basically embarrassed when he faced Paul Malignaggi but he was a guy who was at least on the fringes of world class and a good performance here is what was needed to set up bouts to come and to quieten down some of the criticism.
And it was a good performance.
Well, at least a fairly good one.
Brook was in control almost from the start. Senchenko is a man who generally needs to establish his jab and work behind it. Brook never gave him a chance. He was just a bit too quick, a bit too strong and a bit too slick. When he took the lead he could pick Senchenko off at will and when the Ukrainian took the lead he was able to counter effectively. As is traditional for an Ingle trained fighter he tended to throw single shots or limited combinations from seemingly strange angles but those shots carried real power. From the second round onwards Brook was able to repeatedly land clean right hands and in the third he dropped Senchenko with another right. Brook started to hunt Senchenko down but couldn’t finish him before the end of the round. As the fourth started it looked as if that pattern would continue with Brook once again playing the hunter. However it was Senchenko who struck first, a glancing blow connecting with Brook’s temple, wobbling his legs and robbing him of his equilibrium.
Senchenko went forward for the kill but Brook defended well, covering up when necessary, spoiling and moving. He ate another couple of shots, notably a right hand and a left hook but he was also able to pop Senchenko with a few punches of his own before wobbling him with a jab and landing a chopping right hand that had the Ukranian stumbling to the floor. The fight had gone out of Senchenko; he was on rubbery legs when he finally came to his feet and he barely responded to the referee. As the bout was waved off Senchenko didn’t appear upset in the slightest; he actually looked somewhat relieved.
It’s a decent win for Brook but one we should neither over or under rate. Senchenko was a useful boxer but despite his time as a title holder he was only ever really on the fringe of world class… that much was readily apparent when Malignaggi picked him apart. A victory here, even though fairly impressive, doesn’t appoint Brook as the heir apparent or make him really stand out. But it is a solid enough win over someone who was on the fringes of world class. It’s hopefully a sign of things to come, not an end in and of itself.
The obvious bout to make for Brook is against the winner of the upcoming Devon Alexander vs Shawn Porter title bout. Brook is the mandatory contender for the title and so there’s no reason (barring injury) which would prevent the bout from happening. Both Alexander and Porter are beatable opponents, although Alexander in particular can be exceedingly awkward to face.
However, listening to Brook’s promoter Eddie Hearn in the aftermath it appeared that he was looking at other options. The obvious one is a domestic showdown with Amir Khan. A Khan bout has a lot going for it from Brook’s perspective. He wouldn’t have to travel to the US (as he almost certainly would against Alexander or Porter) and the bout with be a pretty big deal in the UK… which means more media attention and more money. In addition while Alexander in particular is a horrible fighter to face and one known for sucking the excitement out of contests, Khan’s mentality and technical flaws mean he is often ine exciting contests. While a bout with Khan most likely wouldn’t be for a world title, if Brook were to pick up the victory he could likely find another title shot fairly easily.
As for Senchenko, I suspect we’re close to seeing the end for him. His name value as a former world champion (and his victory over Ricky Hatton helps) mean he might get the call when someone needs a possible opponent and he can probably continue to headline minor shows in the Ukraine but at 36 I doubt we see too much more of him.