Photos: Will Hart
By Kieran Mulvaney
LONDON -- The British love their boxing. Anyone who witnessed Ricky Hatton and approximately 30,000 of his best friends travel to Las Vegas to take on Floyd Mayweather in 2007 can testify to that. But even as the MGM Grand rocked to the sound of a Hatton Wonderland, one London journalist remarked that, while the scene was impressive, it was nothing compared to the night in Manchester in 2005 when Hatton wrested a world title from Kostya Tszyu. And just a couple of years ago, in another sign of pugilistic enthusiasm, fully 80,000 fans filled Wembley Arena to watch Carl Froch knock out George Groves.
Froch was on stage at London’s O2 arena on Friday dissecting Saturday’s middleweight title fight between champion Gennady Golovkin and his English challenger Kell Brook, filling time while Golovkin navigated London traffic on his way to the official weigh-in. So, too, was Bernard Hopkins, and there could be few more powerful signs of boxing’s continued high level of support in this country than the sight of the former champion, attempting to get from Point A to Point B, stopping to take a selfie with a fan and promptly being besieged by hundreds more, piranhas engulfing a carcass, until four extremely large and adept security members arrived to shepherd him to where he needed to be.
Even Britain’s borders are abuzz in advance of this battle – “You here for the Kell Brook fight, sir? I can’t wait for that one,” said an immigration officer at Heathrow Airport on Tuesday – and the general consensus of local boxing types is that while a lot of the enthusiasm is due to Brook’s existing fan base, the arrival of a man regarded as one of the pound-for-pound best fighters in the world has added immensely to it.
There is no doubt that Brook is daring to be great, the erstwhile welterweight titleholder jumping two weight classes to take on one of the sport’s most fearsome punchers, a man on a 22-bout knockout streak. But Brook has long maintained that forcing himself down to 147 pounds was draining him; and he and his team – who pride themselves on their strength and conditioning skills – have taken a methodical and scientific approach to making sure he carries the extra size in as effective a way as possible. His camp included high-intensity cardio and weight work, and a carefully calibrated diet – which, word has it, included a focus on kangaroo meat. Still, at an otherwise civil and respectful press conference on Thursday, Golovkin trainer Abel Sanchez delivered the withering observation that, “It takes more than a 10-week scientific experiment to defeat Gennady Golovkin.”
If there is cause for optimism for Brook’s many fans, however, it surely comes from the fact that, at the weigh-in itself, Brook indeed look more comfortable at the weight, flexing for the fans and punching the air with enthusiasm, while Golovkin looked not just a little gaunt but somewhat distracted, devoid of the cheeriness that is his leitmotif.
Asked whether something was amiss, a member of the Kazakh’s team dismissed the notion of any cause for concern. “Tomorrow night, he'll put on his robe, they’ll play 'Seven Nation Army,' and he’ll walk to the ring as the best fighter in the world.” And when he does, 20,000 British fans will be roaring in fevered anticipation of what will happen next.
Weights from London:
Gennady Golovkin 159 pounds
Kell Brook 159.5 pounds