A Special Night for Kell

KellKell Brook’s California dream became euphoric reality tonight as he took a majority decision verdict and the IBF welterweight title off American Shawn Porter at the StubHub Centre in Carson City.  It was a Bramall Lane-esque game of two halves as Sheffield’s new favourite son overcame a tentative opening to grow in confidence and do enough to convince two of the three ringside judges to crown him the latest British champion of the world.

Yet it was Porter who started as hard and fast as the lead bull in Pamplona on the feast day of San Fermín.  At its best, his movement as he looks to engage can be reminiscent of a young hungry Tyson.  Naturally short and squat, with feet anchored to the ground by a low centre of gravity, he bobs and weaves a compact head and torso with violent, seemingly erratic movements as he advances into range.  Once inside his opponent’s jab he is all shoulders and head and raised elbows looking to leverage punches that arrive in a frenetic array of hooks, uppercuts and other miscellaneous blows.  Porter is neither a stylist nor fussy inside the ring, he just wants to punch you.

And he did enough of just that to win four out of the first six rounds, and draw the other two, on my scorecard.  Though he was not landing cleanly with any real frequency, he was as busy and aggressive as Dan Rafael around the breakfast buffet and that tends to be enough for a champ on home soil to take a round.

An awkwardly positioned, though thankfully shallow, cut opened over Brook’s left eye in round two and in the third Porter demonstrated his strength in crudely shoving and spinning his man around the ring.  The American then landed a couple of big body shots throughout the fourth and iced the cake with an uppercut towards the end as fears that this was one rung too high up the ladder for Kell grew by the minute.

The referee, Pat Russell, let them get on with it throughout and, though he’ll undoubtedly draw some criticism for allowing Porter to butt and Brook to hold, I’d take his style over his more pernickety peers every day the week.  When he did find it necessary to step in, the pause in the messy action was momentary.  British 100m legend, Linford Christie, famously said he reacted to the B of the Bang of the gun as he set off down the track.  At times it looked like Porter began his assaults on the B of Russell’s cry of Break as Brook wasn’t given a second’s peace to settle into the sort of rhythm that a slick boxer needs to fight his fight.

It was all pretty uncouth and the fifth got even rougher as Porter continued to burrow in and get to the dirty close quarters work he loves.  There was more of the same throughout the sixth, although it was by now clear that Porter was also cut over the eye, and I had it as a draw and Kell needing a miracle in the second half of the fight if he was to fly back to England with the belt.  A miracle, not because he was being outclassed or beaten up, but because he was a challenger, away from home, fighting on the back foot against a relentlessly aggressive, come-forward champion and, let’s face it, Brits abroad just never get the nod in the US.

Although I didn’t have Brook outright winning any of the first six rounds, I had noted his total calmness throughout the 18 minutes.  Porter was neither hurting nor flustering the Sheffield man and he remained focused and relaxed listening to trainer Dominic Ingle’s instructions at each interval.  He had looked slightly nervous and unsure at the start, but he now appeared to know he belonged in this ring.  The next step was to truly believe he could win.

I don’t remember Brook fully committing to a multi-punch combination in the first half of the fight but he now took confidence from the realisation that Porter wasn’t as powerful as Paulie Malignaggi had made him look last April.  An uppercut briefly buzzed the champion towards the end of the seventh and proved to be a watershed moment in the fight.  By the eighth Porter looked as knackered as Brook looked fresh and the Englishman was a whisker away from landing the finale of a crisp left-right combination.  Any previous similarities to Tyson were now distant memories and it appeared that if Porter attempted a bob, he wouldn’t have the energy to complete the weave back into position.  No one deserved to win a horrible ninth before Kell took a tenth to confirm it was now his fight for the taking.

Sending his charge out for the eleventh, Ingle told Brook there was nothing in this contest and that he could win it.  Trainers will often say whatever it is they think is best for their fighter to hear in the championship rounds of a title fight but on this occasion I think Ingle was entirely accurate in both what he said, and the urging tone he adopted to deliver the message.

Brook was finally letting his combinations flow against a dog tired Porter who, to his credit, continued to propel himself head first into the fray.  Now, however, rather than marching forward like a man on a mission with bad intentions, he was stumbling ahead like a drunk student towards their bed with the goal of at least 12 hours uninterrupted sleep.  He was merely paying lip service to his role as the aggressor and I had the challenger winning the final two rounds and the fight by a deserved point.

But champions mimicking aggressiveness has been enough to hold onto belts countless times in the past and I must confess I didn’t share the British twittersphere’s confidence that a new IBF welterweight champ would be crowned.  As I said before, American judges simply don’t give decisions to British boxers in tight fights in America.

And they didn’t break the mould tonight either.  With the two US judges scoring it 117-111 and 116-112, this fight was apparently as tight as Real Madrid’s purse strings every summer.  I thought Yorkshireman Dave Parris’ 114-114 was closer to the truth and Brook himself was spot on in gleefully saying “it were close but I knew that I’d nicked it” minutes after an announcement that he greeted with a mixture of surprise and unbridled delight.  But as usual, it comes down to the age old pugilistic question, what do you like?

It is always said that the answer to the above question in the US is very simple: aggression.  It is, of course, more nuanced than that but they undoubtedly like to see a fighter force the issue, move forward and throw punches.  For at least six rounds, Porter clearly did that so where does 117-111 and 116-112 come from?  Could it be that the heavy-handed reputation he has forged since the destruction of Malignaggi actually counted against him this time around?  That, as Brook was never in any danger, Porter was viewed as trying to con the ringside scorers with showy swings of big hollow bombs and flurries as light as the snowflakes of an Easter blizzard?

Whatever the logic, the name of Kell Brook is now added to Johnny Nelson, Clinton Woods, Herol Graham, Paul Jones and Naseem Hamed on the list of modern world champions from the Steel City.  And as a player in and around the most lucrative weight class in boxing, untold riches could be just around the corner.  Mayweather or Pacquiao bouts seem unlikely but knockout sensation Keith Thurman was ringside and didn’t look unduly perturbed by anything he witnessed.  Juan Manuel Marquez, Danny Garcia and Devon Alexander are further names on the list of possible paydays.

Another big night in America is certainly there if he wants it but most will hope a football stadium Battle of Britain with Amir Khan is made first.  Before all that, Kell just wants to finally receive the recognition he richly deserves.  And I for one hope that he gets it.

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