Photos: Will Hart
By Kieran Mulvaney
Kell Brook left the ring on Saturday night with immense credit and surely more fans than he had when he entered, after an immensely brave showing in which he pushed Gennady Golovkin to places where few if any had taken the middleweight champion before. But he did not leave with an undefeated record, the middleweight title, or a victory, after a Golovkin barrage prompted a corner stoppage in the fifth round of an absorbing contest in front of an energized crowd at London’s O2 Arena.
Brook, (36-1, 25 KOs), who had to this point pursued his professional career as a welterweight, raised some eyebrows by daring to step up to middleweight to take on one of the most feared punchers in the sport. But Brook has long maintained that making 147 pounds had been a draining experience and that he would be stronger and far more comfortable at the higher weight; and sure enough, as the two squared off in ring center, he looked the bigger and more solid man.
Yet as if feeling his foe’s size was a chimera, Golovkin (36-0, 33 KOs), normally a steady starter, came flying out of the blocks, pursuing Brook with jabs and then missing with a sweeping left hook before unloading a combination with Brook against the ropes. Brook, refusing to be cowed, responded with a powerful combination in center ring, including a booming right hand and a sneaky right uppercut that may not have won him the round but certainly made it clear that we were in for a fight.
In the second round, in fact, the Englishman threatened to take over the contest, meeting Golovkin’s jab with jabs of his own, moving well around the ring as he sought an advantage. Here was a clear difference to Golovkin’s previous contests: the Kazakh champion’s greatest strength, in addition to his obvious power, is perhaps his subtle footwork, which ensures that his opponent is always in the position he needs him to be, but in this frame Brook was the one moving around the ring effortlessly, forcing Golovkin to follow him instead of cut off the ring. And he made the most of the advantage he gave himself, putting himself in position to land a series of hard right hands and hooks from center ring that had the crowd roaring. After one booming right hand, Golovkin merely nodded and waved him on, but the Briton was scoring and literally leaving his mark on the champion’s face.
And yet, as soon as the Brook wave crested, the tide turned. Golovkin came out for round three a changed man, throwing a powerful jab that backed Brook to the ropes, at which point he unleashed his trademark variety of punches, dipping low to dig to the Brook body before switching back upstairs.
“After second round, I needed to make it street fight,” Golovkin said afterward. “Just break him.”
Brook emerged from one exchange with a cut under his right eye, a wound that worsened as the round unfolded and would ultimately prove pivotal. Golovkin was landing more effectively now, throwing short, sharp punches that backed Brook to the ropes, and at round’s end Brook trainer Dominic Ingle rushed into the ring to usher his bleeding boxer to the corner.
Brook recovered somewhat in round four, able to once more keep the fight at distance in spells, but Golovkin was now the relentless aggressor so familiar to boxing fans. The fight was being contested at closer quarters now, and while Brook’s booming mid-distance shots were exciting the crowd, Golovkin’s shorter blows were taking their toll.
The end came suddenly in the fifth. Golovkin was now all over Brook like a rash, trapping his challenger on the ropes, landing shorter punches and then a larger one, tagging Brook with uppercuts and overhands, eliciting a smile of defiance from Brook but no retaliation. He backed him up again, unloaded again, caused Brook to sag; the end was clearly in sight, but even so, it was a surprise when Ingle threw the towel in the ring to signify surrender. Key to the submission, said Brook afterward, was his swollen eye.
“I was seeing three or four of him,” said the Briton. “I’m very frustrated. I had so much more to give. I believe I would have taken it over.”
That seems unlikely, frankly, and Golovkin, despite being more seriously bruised around his face than usual, was mildly dismissive of his beaten foe.
“I promised Big Drama Show,” he said. “He doesn’t belong in the middleweight division.”
“I gave him about a 4 [out of 10],” added his trainer Abel Sanchez. “He was trying too hard to knock Kell out. But at the point they stopped it, it was over.”