Errol Spence Jr broke Kell Brook’s eye then proceeded to break his heart as he became the new IBF welterweight champion in a fight which poses questions of what’s next for both men.
In Brook’s case, many are contemplating the prospect of retirement, having suffered back-to-back beatdowns and consecutive orbital breaks following the damaging defeat at middleweight to Gennady Golovkin.
For Spence, the future is decidedly more certain as the 27-year-old more than justified his heavy hype with a performance of supreme maturity.
Indeed, the American has long been held up as his country’s next big boxing hope and he preserved that status and his unbeaten record with an 11th round stoppage in Brook’s backyard of Sheffield at Bramall Lane on Saturday.
While it was the ballooning left eye of the 31-year-old, who had his right eye brutally battered in September, which forced him to take a knee in submission, the prior pummelling body work from Spence played a major role.
In what seemed like a high-speed chess match for the first six sessions, Spence perpetually ripped hooks to the body and his tremendous work on the inside paid dividends as Brook faded into the later rounds.
The Texan had never previously gone beyond 10 stanzas but in the second half of the fight he stepped up another level as Brook regressed before abdicating his crown.
“[Brook] is a tricky fighter, he’s awkward. He’s very strong and he can punch,” said Spence who stretched his record to 22-0.
“But I proved today that I have a chin and that I have true grit. It’s a legacy-defining fight and that’s what true champions do. You go anywhere to fight. He came to America and took the title, so I came over here to take the title from him.”
He added: “I watched some of his fights and he liked to fight at a certain pace. But once you pick up the pace on him, he kind of breaks down a little bit and can’t throw a lot of punches.
“I decided to press the action, make him fight at a pace he didn’t want to fight at and he started breathing hard and slowing down. I knew that I had him.”
And respect to @SpecialKBrook. He's a real fighter. So am I. Gonna defend the belt against whoever, whenever, wherever & unify the division.— Errol Spence (@ErrolSpenceJr) May 28, 2017
The pre-fight build-up was dominated by the narrative of a young prospect up against a proven world champion, but it was Spence who managed the rounds better.
There were periods in the opening half of the fight when he was outboxed as Brook started aggressively and tested his chin with stiff shots.
Yet Spence remained committed to working the body and eventually chopped down Brook with bludgeoning blows in the 10th for the first knockdown before finding the finish in the 11th.
It was a victory built on poise, patience and power, one which will gain Spence pound-for-pound recognition. But make no mistake, while ‘The Truth’s’ reign as world champion begins, Brook’s presence among boxing’s elite has not come to an end.
Providing the Sheffield pugilist can regain full fitness – he will likely require a titanium plate akin to one in his right eye – there is no doubt he possesses the skill to take on other elite names, most notably domestic rival Amir Khan.
Yet before the dust had even settled in the Steel City, immediate doubts were raised about Brook’s mental fortitude.
WBC cruiserweight champ Tony Bellew led the questioning in his role as pundit for SkySports as he said: “[Brook] had the fight beaten out of him. You’ve got to remember he’s been through a bad injury. He’s probably thinking in the back of his mind ‘I could go blind if I don’t do this’…
“But you have to expel all those things from your mind.”
Bellew’s assessment was harsh, though. Having had a similar injury before, one which nearly left him blind, Brook was well aware of the risk in continuing.
I got beat in the war I had with Canelo, Brook showed no respect! but I wish him and his family all best and hope he has no serious injury— Amir Khan (@amirkingkhan) May 27, 2017
Ultimately, health must always prevail and expecting anything different is borderline barbarous. There is bravery and then there is stupidity.
The consequences of the Golovkin fight may well be deeper than just aesthetic scars, but regardless of that loss, the result on Saturday may well have been the same.
The excellence of Spence, rather than Brook’s vulnerability, proved the difference and the former champ is already looking ahead to a ring return.
“I couldn’t leave the sport like that. I need to get back in and get back to winning ways and show I have plenty more to give,” Brook told SkySports the morning after the fight.
“I think the time is now maybe to move up. I’ve been making welterweight since I was a teenager. My first fight I was about nine or 10.
“I went up to middleweight in my last fight, I put a lot of muscle on and it was so hard to get to welterweight.”
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