Kell Brook Serves the Haters Some Humble Pie
By: Matt O’Brien
Boxing is a tough sport, and boxing fans are a hard bunch to please. Opinions dished out from die-hard behind-the-keyboard fans are usually harsh, though often these criticisms are eminently fair and promote the better values and traditions of the sport (the backlash against Canelo Alvarez and Golden Boy for dropping his WBC middleweight belt like a hot potato in order to avoid facing Gennady Golovkin, after publicly stating they would do no such thing, would be one example). Often times though, the messages spouted on forums and over social media cross the line into the unreasonable, unnecessary or just plain nasty. Sometimes, it seems, a fighter can do no right – even when they’ve already exceeded expectations and dared to achieve far more than most fans ever believed they would.
Welterweight champion Kell Brook is a case in point. Brook is a man who has been widely doubted in his career and forced to overcome numerous setbacks on his way to title glory. After fighting his way into the mandatory position for the IBF belt, he was frustrated by a series of injuries that repeatedly scuppered his bout with then champion Devon Alexander. To some, the explanation was obvious: he didn’t have the balls to face a genuine world-class opponent away from home; he was just another British pretender content to box for easy wins in his backyard.
Then, in August 2014, 19 months after he was first scheduled to fight for the belt, Brook finally travelled to the States and won a majority decision over top-rated American champ, Shawn Porter. The vindication was short-lived, as he was sidelined again when suffering a severe injury from a knife attack while on holiday. Following a series of title defences against largely underwhelming opposition upon his return, the critics were again out in force: Brook’s résumé was full of “bums”; he was not interested in facing any of the big names out there.
The riposte from team Brook was swift and strong, silencing even the most ardent of his detractors. Far from being afraid of the biggest challenges at welterweight, they’d go several steps higher and take on one of the most feared men in all of boxing, middleweight ruler Gennady Golovkin. Clearly, for taking on such a daunting task it would be impossible to ever again question the Englishman’s ambition or the integrity of his fighting heart. Or so you’d think.
After acquitting himself well versus the fearsome 160lb champion – trading on even terms in the early rounds and even bloodying Triple G’s nose, before being surrendered by his corner after suffering a fractured eye socket – it didn’t take long for the haters to come crawling back out of the woodwork. As team Brook explored their options and sought to secure the most lucrative follow-up bout possible, amazingly the “D” word was already doing the rounds: after jumping two divisions and stepping straight into the lion’s den against Golovkin, he was then accused of “ducking” the mandatory challenger in his own weight class – the talented, undefeated American Errol Spence.
Spence, to be sure, is a difficult proposition. A highly skilled former Olympian, he is a worthy mandatory challenger coming into his own as a world-class professional. That being said, it was unsurprising that after such a high profile contest, the Spence fight was not team Brook’s first priority. Instead, a more financially rewarding showdown with longtime British rival Amir Khan was discussed, and there was also the possibility that weight issues would make a move to light-middle a more sensible alternative than returning to defend his 147lbs strap. Neither of which seem unreasonable, unless of course you are in the business of denigrating fighters and calling them cowards, despite all evidence to the contrary.
On Monday night, it was announced that the camps had reached an agreement, and that Brook will defend his title against the dangerous American challenger, probably in his hometown of Sheffield at the end of May. This not only runs contrary to his own promoter’s advice, who was keen to see Brook avoid the struggles of squeezing his body back down to the welterweight limit, it also pulls the rug from under the feet of those who questioned his willingness to take on all comers. Unfortunately though, it’s unlikely to have much of an impact on the derision thrown at fighters from behind the safety of a keyboard more generally.
In a brilliant, impassioned response to internet trolls hurling abuse at UK heavyweight David Price following his recent knockout defeat, former British light-welterweight champion Curtis Woodhouse lamented the culture of criticism that permeates online. “Too many sit and criticise but he’s gone out and dedicated his life to something and taken his shot… give me 1 David Price ahead of the millions that never had the balls to chase their dreams all day long.”
Sadly, stepping through the ropes in one of the world’s toughest sports does not automatically shield you from being abused by those who lack the courage themselves. And judging by the “ducker” jibes thrown at Kell Brook in recent months, even tackling one of the most formidable obstacles in the sport does not prevent fighters from being labelled as cowards.
In boxing, it seems, some people are impossible to please. Perhaps though we can take solace in the fact that, with the fight finally being signed, the haters have just been served a nice big portion of humble pie. Bon appétit, fellas.