By Gavan Casey
“Turn up the lights in here, baby/extra bright, I want y’all to see this.”
As he emerges from the dressing rooms of Sheffield’s Motorpoint Arena amidst the brass fanfare of Kanye West’s ‘All Of The Lights’ and the raucous roars of 10,000 hometown fans on Saturday night, two things will likely resonate with IBF World welterweight champion, Kell Brook.
Firstly, he will presumably be struck by an overwhelming relief and satisfaction in being back doing what he loves, almost seven months removed from a machete attack suffered during a holiday in Tenerife which not only threatened his boxing career, but his life.
Then, as he nears the ring where Romanian mandatory challenger Jo Jo Dan lies in wait, he will likely remember his naysayers, and the fact that – despite his carrying a world championship belt – only a punch-perfect performance against his unheralded opponent will suffice in once again silencing them. At least, that is, until next time.
In many ways it’ll be like he was never gone.
The Special One’s career has taken some bizarre trajectories: The long-touted poster boy for a golden generation of British boxing; the world class prospect who swept all those put in front of him during the meticulously managed early stages of his career.
The understandably miserable, sympathetic figure for whom nothing would quite go right as mandatory challenges versus Devon Alexander fell by the wayside over a span of two years (Brook has only fought four times since 2012).
Suddenly, “AND THE NEW!” Brook becomes IBF world champion, with a stunning majority decision upset of red-hot Shawn Porter in California last August. The most complete, adaptive performance of Brook’s 10-year professional career. The dream realised.
Then the nightmare of Tenerife.
Intriguingly, American boxing writers and fans alike have – at least in recent years – seemed to hold slightly more stock in Brook’s capabilities than his British compatriots; US judges Adalaide Byrd and Max DeLuca scored Brook’s world title victory over the much extolled Shawn Porter rather comfortably in Brook’s favour, with only Londoner Dave Parris opting for an even card.
Indeed, the result itself sparked wildly surprised reactions from Sky Sports commentators Nick Halling and Jim Watt, while their Showtime colleagues and many scribes from across the pond opined that the Sheffield boxer-puncher deserved the nod.
The seemingly never-ending Devon Alexander debacle seemed to somewhat curtail the British enthusiasm surrounding the man they once called ‘Special K,’ with even former stablemate Johnny Nelson – a staunch Brook-backer – occasionally expressing his doubts as to whether his fellow ‘Steel City’ native could free himself from the shackles of constant ‘always the bridesmaid syndrome’ and fulfill his remarkable potential, not only as a one-time world champion, but a long-reigning, elite boxing figure.
Brook’s arrival on US shores as a potential superstar was heralded by many, even before his destruction of Luis Galarza in Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall three-and-a-half years ago.
His Californian return last summer to face a man who had physically dominated his long-time potential foe Alexander, as well as almost making ‘The Magic Man’ Paulie Malignaggi disappear from the ring, broke the mould of the typically ‘plucky’ British challenger falling to the technically superior world champion on American soil- more so, even, than Darren Barker’s sensational upset of Daniel Geale on the corresponding weekend the previous year.
The powerful Sheffield man proved himself to be of genuine world class in his skillful halting of the freight train that was Porter. He came, saw and conquered, disparaging most of the needling doubts- including those of bitter rival Amir Khan, who was present in Sky studios.
On Saturday night in his home city, Kell Brook embarks on the second half of his boxing journey- simply beginning from a couple of stops back. An impressive victory versus 32-2(18KOs) Jo Jo Dan will see the IBF champion re-establish himself as a genuine ‘special one’ on the world boxing radar; the only other welterweight title holder not named Manny Pacquiao or Floyd Mayweather.
Brook’s own superfights should beckon beyond the potential banana skin of Saturday’s mandatory challenge- a psychological barrier that Brook must overcome in his recovery from a grotesque injury which required 32 metal staples in his thigh. The Sheffield man must once again announce himself on the world stage to prevent Amir Khan from responding, “Who?” the next time the inextricably linked pair are touted for a potential Wembley superfight, and prove he retains both the physical and mental abilities to become a trans-Atlantic star like his nemesis from across the Pennines.
In Brook’s way stands Jo Jo Dan- a teak-tough welterweight whose only two defeats came in the face of then unbeaten Selcuk Aydin. The Romanian has never been stopped. But, within the context of this fight, that’s about all you can say in the 33 year old’s favour.
If ‘The Special One’ has recovered to anywhere near the physical condition he took with him to the ring in his world title victory, he should easily box his way to a mid-rounds stoppage. In both split decision victories over Canadian veteran Kevin Bezier, Dan utilised a swooping, somewhat reckless left hook- the kind Kell Brook’s right hand consistently punished Shawn Porter for.
Quite simply, Dan is too easy to hit, and Kell Brook possesses pinpoint accuracy and stellar power in either hand. Only jitters or rust from Brook’s lengthy layoff should see this fight enter the latter stages.
Beneath All Of The Lights, The Special One shines in Sheffield once more.
Official Prediction: Kell Brook TKO5
Gavan can be contacted on Twitter: @GavanCasey – or at firstname.lastname@example.org
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