It is nearly 17 years since a Amir Khan vs Kell Brook fight was first mentioned in Boxing News. Brook and his team explained how they would beat the Olympic star, writes Matt Christie
IN August 2005, a potential contest between two fresh-faced prospects with bright futures – Kell Brook (8-0) and Amir Khan (1-0) – was discussed for the first time on the pages of Boxing News. Nearly 17 years later, the pair are at last set to collide in a prize ring. Seventeen years that included 71 further fights against other opponents. Seventy-one weight-draining training camps, another 421 rounds in which they suffered a cumulative total of 15 knockdowns, seven stoppage defeats, two broken eye sockets, broken hands, broken noses, a chipped elbow and 10 stays in hospital where they endured at least six operations. It is fair to say they are not so fresh-faced anymore.
Both are 35 years old now, unquestionably damaged by the sport. Yet the drug-like pull of boxing can only be understood and appreciated by those brave enough to do it. Neither can say goodbye. Not until one of the longest-running feuds in British boxing history is settled, at least.
Bragging rights should not be so important, some will say. Life is too short and precarious already. But this is boxing where different rules apply.
Back in 2005, with their sessions much discussed amateur sparring still fresh in the memory, Brook spoke more respectfully about Khan than he does today. If he genuinely hates Khan now, that is the result of how their relationship developed in the public eye, and not how it began, behind closed doors.
“He’s brilliant kid and we got on very well,” Brook said about Khan all those years ago. Khan was fresh off his pro debut after his silver medal at the 2004 Olympics while Brook had begun his paid career with little fanfare. “I’d have loved to have gone to the Olympics, but the ABA knew I’d turn pro as soon as I could. It’s weird to think what’s happened to Amir since we sparred… I am jealous of what he’s got now, with his profile and so on.”
The great Brendan Ingle was by Brook’s side that day. The amazing maker of men who had first seen Brook as a nine-year-old doing acrobatics and handstands in his gym. “Kell Brook will beat Amir Khan because Kell’s been training as a professional since the age of nine,” Brendan said. “His style and power will be too much for Khan.”
Then WBO cruiserweight belt-holder and stablemate Johnny Nelson agreed. “It’s all about having the right ingredients,” Nelson said. “Some fighters have fast hands but slow feet, some hit hard but they’re chinny. Kell’s got all the ingredients. Fast hands, fast feet, power. He’s not intimidated, and he’s got a very good chin, a ‘Eubank chin’ as he calls it… I think he’ll beat Khan.” Nelson will carefully watch this weekend in his role as a Sky Sports Pundit.
There was a note of caution from Brendan’s son, Dominic Ingle, who has trained Kell intermittently since he was a boy. “We just need the penny to drop about maintaining a good weight between fights,” he said. “Talent is important, but you’ve got to work incredibly hard, keeping listening and learning. Personal relationships outside the ring count too. Kell needs to keep all those things in mind… he’s the one that’s got to do it.” Dominic will be in the corner on Saturday night, guiding Brook once more.
If 19-year-old Kell believed in 2005 that he had encountered a superior fighter in Khan when they trained together, he didn’t show it. “Khan has faults – he comes at you in straight lines. I got his measure when we sparred. I’d definitely beat him – it’s about good lateral movement. Also, his punches are sharp and fast, but he doesn’t have my serious, dense power. He’s not the best at taking a punch either.”
That issue of punch resistance has haunted Khan throughout his career. After his skull was twice fractured, it haunts Brook, too. But here they both stand, courageous and proud, readying themselves for the final chapter, 17 years, 71 fights, 421 rounds and countless blows to the head since a fight between them was first talked about. Never underestimate how far they have come nor how much of themselves they have already sacrificed.
We do not know what happened between them when they were amateurs. Nor does it matter. What matters now, for Khan and Brook at least, is what happens in the ring on Saturday night.
Bragging rights may not mean much to those of us who worry about their futures. When the glory days, their best of days, are a distant memory. But to Khan and Brook, here and now, they mean everything and more.
Read Amir Khan on the fight here