Brook Faces Stiff Test in Moving Up to Fight Golovkin

Photo: Ed Mulholland/K2

By Eric Raskin

One thing you have to say about British welterweights: They aren’t afraid of the world’s best middleweights. Immediately after Bolton’s Amir Khan leapt up the scale to unsuccessfully challenge Canelo Alvarez for the lineal middleweight title in May, he openly dared Alvarez to face Gennady Golovkin. But the Mexican wasn’t interested in that timeline. So instead, Kell Brook, the undefeated scrapper from Sheffield who just might be the best 147-pounder in the world, followed Khan’s lead and did what Canelo wouldn’t, putting his health and undefeated record in peril against “GGG” in a fight that nobody saw coming.

The comparisons between the two cross-weight-class clashes, Khan’s May 7 sixth-round knockout loss to Canelo and Brook’s September 10 showdown with Golovkin, are abundant. But there are a few key differences: Brook’s challenge will take place on his home turf, at the O2 Arena in London; Brook is not known for being betrayed by his own chin; and Brook is entering his physical prime, not bidding it farewell. All of this would seem to suggest the man known as “Special K” has a better chance to do something special than Khan did.

But there’s one factor pulling in the opposite direction that might just render meaningless all the others: Brook is facing Gennady Freakin’ Golovkin. There’s a reason Canelo is taking his sweet time getting around to doing business with this guy.

What Brook is doing, moving up 13 pounds to face a destroyer in the thick of the discussion for the top pound-for-pound spot, is either the bravest move attempted in boxing in recent years, the stupidest move attempted in boxing in recent years, or both. “I give Brook all the credit in the world,” said Jim Lampley, who will be calling the action from ringside for HBO. “He is a man among men, and he has stepped up and done something great for the sport. Even if he gets pureed in two rounds, he is a hero for taking this fight.”

Needless to say, Brook is not stepping into the ring with the intention of oozing out in smoothie form. “I’m so excited,” he announced at the kickoff press conference. “I’m going to be so sharp and so powerful on the night. No one has got the best out of me before, but GGG will bring that out in me and I’m excited to see that from myself. I always find a way to win and there’s going to be massive drama in the fight.”

To one of those points, yes; so far, Brook has always found a way to win. The 30-year-old is perfect through 36 pro fights, with 25 of them ending early. But there are serious questions about his quality of opposition. His clear-cut points win over then-unbeaten Shawn Porter in August 2014 made a statement. After that, though, what is the Brit’s most meaningful win? Vyacheslav Senchenko? Carson Jones? Frankie Gavin?

Similar questions are frequently asked about the resume of Golovkin, who, at age 34, has won all 35 of his fights, 32 inside the distance — including the last 22 in a row. The Kazakh star’s ledger is dotted with recognizable names: David Lemieux, Martin Murray, Curtis Stevens, Matthew Macklin. But he hasn’t been able to land the big one so far. Not Sergio Martinez when he was the lineal middleweight champion. Not Miguel Cotto when he held that title. Not Alvarez, yet. Same with Danny Jacobs, Peter Quillin and Billy Joe Saunders. We’ve passed the fourth anniversary of Golovkin’s U.S. debut, and still he waits for a potential defining opponent to deem the reward worth the risk. “I think he now has to rank as the No. 1 most avoided fighter I’ve ever covered,” Lampley acknowledged.

So for now, Golovkin accepts the challenge of a man who typically resides two divisions below him. Interestingly, at a weigh-in 30 days before the fight, Golovkin scaled 165 pounds, while Brook checked in at a stunning 176 without any cellulite to be seen. They’re not much different in height; GGG is listed at 5-foot-10½ while Brook is officially 5-9, but when standing next to each other at the pressers, they looked only about a half-inch apart.

Size differences tend to get overblown when fans or experts analyze matches. Elite fighters move up and defeat champions at higher weights all the time, whether it’s Roy Jones growing from a middleweight into a heavyweight belt holder, Manny Pacquiao reigning in nearly half the divisions in boxing or featherweight champ Henry Armstrong bumping off the lightweight champ, the welterweight champ and, if not for some questionable judging, the middleweight champ.

The tricky part comes, however, when the bigger pugilist is also the better pugilist.

“Gennady’s just a unique package,” Lampley said. “It’s interesting to me how guys on the street, fight fans, will come up to me, and over and over and over I hear the same thing: ‘Well, what happens when Golovkin runs up against a truly great boxer?’ And I say, ‘You don’t get it. He is the truly great boxer.’

“Brook’s probably big enough to give a good account of himself in the ring. But can he take Gennady’s punch? Can he deal with the way Gennady can subtly move you around and put you where he wants you to be? And it’s one thing to know that you’re physically big enough to go in and fight at 160 pounds. It’s another thing to go in and fight for the first time at 160 when you’ve been fighting against opponents who’ve been making a 147-pound limit. I think the size creates more of a mental burden than a physical burden for Brook.”

And what could create a more pronounced mental burden than identifying the thing you’re best at and discovering your opponent is even better at that very thing? Brook lands nine jabs per round, according to CompuBox, ranking him second in the entire sport. But Golovkin ranks first in the sport in that very category, landing an average of 10.9 jabs per round.

Golovkin has made a career of demonstrating to opponents, “Anything you can do, I can do better.” He won’t be able to top Brook in courage and acceptance of risk. But by nearly every other measure, GGG appears to have the edge. One fighter is daring to be great. The other fighter gives every indication of already being great. And that’s not a scenario that tends to work out well for the man who dares.