Kell Brook has the swagger of a champion about him – but he always did, even when he was in serious danger of letting his exceptional talent blow away like a used hamburger wrapper.
Two life-changing experiences saved him from joining the long queue of wasted geniuses in his sport: near-defeat when under-prepared for the super-fit American Carson Jones in July, 2012, and a handshake with death to rouse him from the last of his scallywag days; an uninvited machete attack by a stranger in the small hours of a holiday in Tenerife three weeks after he became the IBF world welterweight champion last August.
These were light-bulb moments for which he should be eternally grateful – and which will make him a warm favourite when he steps into the ring at the O2 Arena in London on 30 May against Birmingham’s Frankie “Funtime” Gavin, another gifted boxer who has walked on the wild side – often enough, thinks Brook, to make him vulnerable.
As for his own career, Brook admits he let belief in his talent blind him to the hard work needed. “The first Carson Jones fight, definitely,” he says. “Then there was the birth of my first daughter – and then being stabbed. Just being alive, it made me more focused. I wanted even more out of boxing.”
Gavin, as clever as a Cuban in the ring but not always so smart outside it, could not make the weight for the Beijing Olympics where he was favoured to win gold and he has idled since as a professional, although when he came face to face with Brook on Friday there was fire in his eyes where once there might have been complacency. Indeed, the fight would not be happening had Gavin not picked up the phone to their promoter, Eddie Hearn, and demanded it once he realised that Amir Khan was not interested in even the £5m on offer. Brook and Gavin are amazed Khan has walked away from such a payday – although the challenger says, “I’m not getting anywhere near that.”
Brook said: “I respect Frankie for stepping up. He has called for this fight for a long time. But I feel like I’m unbeatable right now and Gavin isn’t going to be able to cope with my speed and power on fight night.”
London will be still buzzing (or snoring) after the FA Cup Final at Wembley when unbeaten Brook and unbowed Gavin, Britain’s first amateur world champion in 2007 (a period he would rather park in the past), contest the Sheffield wizard’s title at welterweight, the division owned by Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, who meet in Las Vegas on 2 May. Any ambitious world-class boxer operating at or around 10st 7lb views them with a mixture of awe and envy. A fight against either is the ultimate in the sport and Brook and Gavin both want a grab at glory before Mayweather, 38, and Pacquiao, 36, leave an echoing void in boxing that will take a long time to fill.
“These are the fights you want to be part of and are where I belong,” Gavin said of his more immediate task. “I’ve dreamed of a world title and I will be 100% ready physically and mentally. It’s going to be tough but Kell is beatable and I’ve always felt that I have got the skills and the team to cause an upset.”
If only family and friends share Gavin’s enthusiasm, the doubters are ignoring his pedigree. He is, admittedly, dwarfed physically and in achievement by Brook – who has settled at welterweight after years of arguing with the scales – but, as Gavin said: “I think it’s more that I didn’t look in the best shape [earlier in his career]. But, in every single fight I’ve had I always finished stronger than any opponent I’ve been in with – even Leonard Bundu [who dropped Gavin with a body shot and was awarded a split-points decision over him last August, two weeks before Brook became world champion].
“In all my fights you’ve never seen me have a hard 12th round. So I don’t know where he gets that from. If anything, it’s Kell who is gassing [at the end of a fight]. The fight against Shawn Porter, it was at a really slow pace. I thought Porter won but it was close. Anyway he’s got his own opinion. On the night I’ll change it.” In his quiet way Gavin, too, has a bit of swagger.
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