Amir Khan vs. Kell Brook – What’s left in the tank?

By Rob MacleanManchester Arena hosts one of the most debated, deliberated and eventually dismissed rivalries in British boxing this Saturday evening (19-2-22). As a man brought up in the cotton mill towns of East-Lancashire, my childhood coincided with the rise of an unlikely seventeen-year-old silver medallist, Amir Khan. Khan was a humble, talented young fighter with extreme potential and his Olympic success catapulted him to national recognition.

Meanwhile, the bordering county of Yorkshire was nurturing its own talent, Kell Brook. Another successful amateur (albeit at a lower level) steered by the legendary hand of Brendan Ingle. Brook turned pro in 2004, whilst Khan’s first professional outing was in 2005.

Now, with a combined 82 professional fights, spanning nearly two decades, world title successes and brutal knockout defeats, Khan v Brook eventually match up. The noise for this fight was a deafening national drum in 2012, but ten years on, there was little but the odd murmur in local pubs and offices. “When are Khan and Brook going to fight?” Little remained asking this question (Don’t ask and you shall receive).

It would be a fair assessment to say that it was ‘The Special One’, Kell Brook’s team that made the most noise over the last decade. Khan had gathered some momentum in 2011 but by 2012 he was on another career rebuild (this time with Vergil Hunter).

Kell Brook was struggling badly with finding decent competition, until an unknown American gave him a horrendous six rounds in Sheffield. By 2013 Brook was a mandatory challenger to Devon Alexander and Khan was still looking extremely suspect following a close run with Julio Diaz.

Brook, supported by his growing promoter Eddie Hearn, really fancied the Amir Khan fight at that time. It made complete sense, Khan was as vulnerable as he’d ever looked, Brook had a genuine dislike for Khan and that was highlighted in a 2012 edition of ‘Ringside’ (a normally subdued early evening Boxing programme). I still look back and smile, as Audley Harrison sits between the two bickering rivals, silently wondering why he accepted the invitation.

The fight just never came together, Khan was unsuccessfully chasing the Floyd Mayweather fight (and it’s potential financial benefits). Amir did manage to recapture some form with Hunter, his fights with Luis Collazo and the formerly mentioned Devon Alexander were the very definition of one-sided. In 2016, further attempts were made by the Brook team, this time, Kell was holding the IBF Welterweight title, but Khan instead opted to jump up nearly two divisions to fight Mexican Superstar Saul ‘Canelo’ Alverez.

As many predicted, Khan was stopped in brutal fashion. Brook made a decision, with strong financial implications but incredible risk, when he stepped similar up two divisions to fight Gennady ‘GGG’ Golovkin. Again, as many predicted, he was stopped in brutal fashion. Since that fight both Khan and Brook were stopped by Terrence ‘Bud’ Crawford, both stoppages were suspect.

Khan was dropped in the first by Crawford, and after that, the American upped the pace with each passing second. Khan found a way out in the sixth, opting not to continue after being hit by a low blow. Brook on the other hand boxed well at a low tempo with Crawford, but in round four was hit by a hard jab, that sent him rocketing into the ropes. After a standing count, Crawford stopped Brook, whilst the Yorkshireman was defenseless on the ropes.

Over a year later, here we are… fight week.

It’s as sad as it is compelling, both careers have shone brightly, but both have dropped to new lows. Khan has taken part in Meet the Khans on the BBC (yes, similar to a certain Kardashian programme), appeared on screens in the jungle and appeared on Skype in a compromising position. Brook split from Hearn (and the Ingle camp) for the Crawford fight, hasn’t boxed since and in that time, to the naked eye at least, seems to be feeling the effects of some hard nights in the ring.

As the title states, what is left in the tank? How can anyone even attempt to quantify the remaining longevity of either man? Neither of these former greats will ever return to the top, and I don’t expect to see either box again after this, unless of course, a large financial offer was on the table.

I stand by the fact that I’ve said many times Kell Brook’s career will not be measured in comparison to his tremendous skill set at his very best. His only gaugeable display at elite level is a tremendous performance one night in California. At his best, Brook possessed a spiteful jab that could knockdown opponents, quality hard uppercuts on the inside, a slick counterpunching/timing-based style and the ability to box his way out of trouble switching stances.

Amir Khan, also possessed an elite skill set, that saw him look untouchable against elite fighters. Marcos Maidana, Devon Alexander, Paulie Malignaggi, Zab Judah and Luis Collazo were all picked apart by ‘King’ Khan (apart from late success from Maidana). At Khan’s best, he had immense hand speed, good size and reach for the lower weights, the ability to overwhelm opponents and most underrated of all… incredible heart.

As stated earlier, Brook is no longer looking like the same fighter that stole Shawn Porter’s world title. Perhaps observers may be incorrect, perhaps Crawford’s lead right hand shot would have caused a prime Kell Brook issues, or what many believe, two broken orbital sockets have rendered Brook incapable of taking quality punches.

A lot are speaking of Khan’s work with BoMac (one part of Crawford’s immense success), but at this stage, this is just one of numerous changes in trainer for Khan. I don’t think this will have any large impact on the fight, what will however, is the hours spent in the gym in Omaha, Nebraska. Brook’s best work has come under Dominic Ingle, but he has also lost at elite level with the Wincobank successor in his corner.

To consider the skill sets, the trainers, the needle between the two, the opponent in common Crawford, none of these factors even come close to the importance of how much either man has left in the tank. In both 2012 and 2016 I would have picked Kell Brook to land a hard counterpunch on Khan’s chin and (yet again) send him to the realm of dancing fairies.

However, in 2022, six years can prove a long time in Boxing. Probably Khan’s biggest advantage heading into this fight is the little time he’s spent taking damage in those years, appearing on national television. Also, opting out of the Crawford fight before a brutal stoppage occurred, probably spared him the damage that Kell Brook took in his bout with the American.

Tactically, I think Khan only has one option. He’s always looked at his best fighting in quick bursts and then escaping before his opponent is set to throw a counterpunch. This tactic has frustrated slower, larger opponents, Khan even had some success against Saul Alvarez before the inevitable happened.

For Brook’s part, patience should be the name of the game, even allowing some early rounds to slip, but slowly working his way into the fight with his solid jab. It will also be interesting to see how Khan takes the jab, if there is any of the old frailties with Khan.

But ultimately, the Danny Garcia blueprint is best to follow for Brook, Khan is most vulnerable when throwing punches. ‘Catch and counter’, or ‘slip and rip’ aren’t really viable counters due to the speed advantage, but if Brook can land something as Khan is throwing, this could be devastating.

For my final prediction, I have a vision of Amir Khan unloading in the mid to late rounds, with Brook on the ropes hoping to survive. He may go down on a few occasions and eventually I believe he will be saved at the mercy of the third man in the ring or perhaps a corner stoppage.

I do hope that I am wrong, that somehow both have met on an even keel, but to the naked eye the advantages stand with the man who has lost the least. From fight week impressions, this appears to be Amir Khan.

This author is a regular panelist on The Perfect Record – A Boxing Podcast, available on Spotify, Apple Music and Google Podcasts.

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