The Friday Faceup

Promo courtesy of BOXXER and Sky Sports.

Finally.

After 17 years operating as professional boxers in separate but parallel universes, finally clustering around the 10st,7lb (147lbs) welterweight division, two planets (or should I say English counties) will collide.

The war of words across the Pennines which separate Lancashire from Yorkshire and boxing’s version of the ‘War of the Roses’ will reach its conclusion on Saturday night (19 February) before a sellout crowd in the AO Manchester Arena.

Promoted by BOXXER and available live on Sky Sports Box Office in the UK (ESPN stream in USA) it should bring an end to the perennial debate as to who is the better fighter – Amir Khan or Kell Brook.

The match is made at a ‘catchweight’ 149lbs and although has little jeopardy on a world level with both fighters now ranked outside the top ten and in the twilight of their careers, is highly interesting and full of backstory and intrigue.

In the intervening years both have operated regularly at the elite level, captured world titles in momentous stateside victories, suffered defeats in losing their titles – sometimes in damaging and devastating circumstances – but, always been relevant. They’ve fought in championship fights and lost to some of the modern greats of the game in big box office/pay per view events. In the UK they are proven operators and well known by even casual fight fans.

One constant has been they’ve disliked each other for a long time and both made it known over the years.

It is a fight long overdue, but remains a mouthwatering domestic match up in the vein of Nigel Benn v Chris Eubank, David Haye v Tony Bellew or even dating back to Frank Bruno v Lennox Lewis. Many still argue it has come way too late, five years to be generous, that both are shot and mere shadows of the fighters they were. However, as Brook said in an early press conference it’s “better late than never”.

Whilst respectful of each other’s accomplishments, they at this juncture, plainly don’t like each other. That usually makes for a great fight.

Khan (34-4, 21 KO’s) cites Brook’s jealousy of his accomplishments and riches as his opponent’s prime motivating factor. In yesterday’s final press conference he referred to him as a “fanboy” and that he’s been living in Brook’s head for a long time. He went on to say “I think it’s more jealousy than anything”.

In truth, the Bolton man (Khan) has always been the marquee name, turning professional in 2005 in a blaze of publicity after capturing Olympic silver in the 2004 Athens Games in comparison to Brook who turned pro in September of that year largely under the radar.

The Sheffield man responded “I don’t like him, he don’t like me, we’re going to see an excellent fight…it goes back to the amateur days”.

Both were excellent in the unpaid ranks, turned pro simultaneously, then worked their way up through domestic, European and world competition to capture titles and subsequently lose them. With each success or defeat came further media speculation of their impending meeting and an exchange of words that further fueled interest in the outcome, if and when that happened.

Problem is, it’s just taken so damn long.

Both are 35 years old, but their skills are still there to see, albeit tempered somewhat. Khan was always lightning quick, from the seventeen year old who lost to Cuban great Mario Kindelan in the Athens final, right through to his effort against pound-for-pounder Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez in 2016. He’s never been a big puncher but carries respectable power.

Brook (39-3, 27 KO’s) has been a quality operator for most of his career; technically sound, able to switch hit with his slick boxing skills, and aligned with good KO power. His 2014 victory over Shawn Porter to win the IBF ‘world’ welterweight title was a standout performance.

Leading into the fight the million-dollar question is Who has most left ?

Brook has suffered fractured eye sockets on two occasions in defeats to Gennadiy ‘GGG’ Golovkin and Errol Spence Jr. Both superb fighters in their own right. He then went on to meet future great Terence Crawford in a 2020 defeat and, before being stopped, the evidence suggested he was desperately protecting further damage to this facial weakness. On Saturday, will the significant wear and tear manifest itself again ?

The Bolton man, Khan, has always shown a low punch resistance, right back to his first shock defeat against Breidis Prescott in 2008, lasting a mere 54 seconds. He’s made up for this deficiency by being carefully matched, using his blinding hand speed and boxing ability, and managing to avoid engaging regularly with the biggest of punchers. When he’s got ‘clocked’ though, he’s got clocked. The KO by ‘Canelo’ in 2016 being the most chilling example, similar to Ricky Hatton’s blow out by Manny Pacquiao some years earlier.

The challenge is which boxer can more importantly protect their deficiencies whilst also enabling them to maximise their strengths. It could be said that this is true of all contests, but non more so than this one. Self preservation will be in the forefront of both fighters minds, but the dislike of each other and confidence in their individual abilities will surely make for an exciting fight.

There is no way back for the loser other than to meet each other again, and a rematch has already been mooted. But that will be depend on the quality and result of Saturday’s contest. The public has accepted this once and it’s a fight we all wanted to see happen, but has the marinade turned ?

The Undisputed thinks not, this is still a quality match up, between two once elite fighters, who are not what they were, but on the night that ain’t gonna matter. It’s their fragility that in a way makes it a must-see.

Both will come to fight – Khan cannot do anything other than this after his pre-fight predictions “I’m gonna hurt him and he’s gonna be put in his place”. Brook will want to settle the argument once and for all “He’s definitely gonna sleep Saturday night when I smash him…He’s going on his face or back, either way”

A winner ? Take your pick. It’s probably the most 50/50 contest to be held this year, certainly to date. Brook enters the slight favourite.

After much deliberation we expect the man who carries the white rose of Yorkshire (Brook) to prevail on the night with a sixth round knockout. The red rose of Lancashire will flutter early in the contest but Khan’s chin will fail him when his early speed starts to slow and Brook lands that first really concussive blow. He may have to come through some difficult moments before prevailing.

It will be exciting while it lasts and you never know we may be even be asking for more !

The event features an good undercard which is highlighted above.

Transmission starts at 18:00 GMT on Sky Box Office. The main event is also on TalkSport radio in the UK.

Fight weights – Brook (10st, 8lb/148lbs), Khan (10st, 7lb/147lbs).

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