Elliot Worsell considers what Brook must do against Zerafa
Kell Brook in Sheffield, Lomachenko prediction and worldwide round-up
IF, FOR Kell Brook, 2016 and 2017 are to be remembered as the years in which he dared to be great and paid the cost with facial disfigurement and stoppage defeats, it’s fair to say 2018 is either going to be remembered as the year he was revived and mollycoddled back to relevance or, instead, a year we won’t remember at all.
So far in 2018, Brook, now a superwelterweight, has beaten Sergey Rabchenko inside two rounds to experience the winning feeling again, and is booked to fight Australia’s Michael Zerafa this Saturday (December 8) in Sheffield, intent on experiencing that feeling for a second time.
What a difference four years make. Back in 2014, Brook travelled to Carson, California as a slight underdog and expertly controlled Shawn Porter for 12 rounds, grabbing the American’s IBF welterweight title in the process. He was, on that breakout night, as special as advertised. There was subsequent talk of unifying, of global domination and of bashing up a well-known domestic rival. Give it time, they said, and he would surely become British boxing’s next big thing.
In the end, though, Brook’s reign as IBF welterweight champion, which stretched to May 2017 but lacked big wins ( Jo Jo Dan, Frankie Gavin and Kevin Bizier), was one of error rather than terror. The baton he so impressively nabbed from Porter was eventually taken from him by Errol Spence Jnr, the true future star of the division, and with it went Brook’s right to claim he was the best 147-pound fighter in the world, as well as any designs on climbing the pound-for-pound rankings.
A reality check of sorts, that 11th round loss to Spence was as painful as the shattered orbital bone he suffered in the process – an injury Brook first encountered during a hare-brained 2016 trip to middleweight to fight Gennady Golovkin. It cut short a title reign and nearly cut short a career.
Those two so-called ‘dare to be great’ defeats left Brook broken in more ways than one. They left the rest of us, meanwhile, questioning the method behind the plan – especially that ill-fated Golovkin dalliance – and wondering what might have been.
Now, chances are, all roads again lead to Amir Khan, Brook’s main domestic rival, as has been the case for years. To finally bring that fight to fruition, Brook, 37-2 (26), must first get past Michael Zerafa, 25-2 (14), this weekend and look good – but not too good – in doing so.
Impressing shouldn’t be all that difficult. Unheralded Zerafa, after all, is a step down, on paper at least, from even the men against whom Brook defended his IBF title. Known as “Pretty
Boy,” he has fought all but two of his 27 professional fights in his homeland and, ominously, came up short both times he ventured further afield. His first pro defeat occurred in Russian in 2014, when widely outpointed by Arif Magomedov over 10 rounds, while his second, a year later in America, saw him stopped in five by Peter Quillin, the former WBO middleweight champion.
On the plus side, however, while Brook was dawdling at welterweight, game Zerafa was competing against full-blown middleweights, like Quillin and Magomedov, and should at least be physically imposing. That’s not to say he’ll be stronger than Brook, someone whose physicality remains a major asset, but simply suggests he can make up for technical limitations with a bit of sturdiness and presumably won’t be overwhelmed by the Sheffield fighter’s power.
Another plus is Zerafa’s age. Granted, being the younger man at 26 won’t win him the fight, but it does indicate the Melbourne native, though 27 fights deep, should carry some ambition with him to Sheffield.
In addition to this, 32-year-old Brook, without long-time trainer Dominic Ingle in his corner, might have aged significantly as a result of those stoppage losses to Spence and Golovkin and could be in danger of becoming ‘old’ overnight. If in any way struggling, either for motivation, good health, or form, the last thing he’ll want to face is a physically strong opponent four years his junior intent on causing a scene.
In theory, that is. In reality, of course, it would take a brave man – a man who knows something the rest of us don’t – to back Michael Zerafa to take rounds off Kell Brook, much less upset him in front of his home fans.
More likely, as with the fight against Rabchenko, Brook’s previous outing, this one concludes relatively early and will, like that one, have even the “Special One’s” most ardent fans trying to fathom the point to it all.
A much better fight is the welterweight 10-rounder between another “Pretty Boy,”
Josh Kelly, and former WBA Interim champion David Avanesyan.
This, Kelly’s ninth pro bout, will be his toughest test to date and has been timed to perfection, both in terms of the 24-year-old’s career progression and its appeal as a competitive contest.
Avanesyan, a Russian based in Nottinghamshire, will be familiar to UK fans following wins against the likes of Dean Byrne and Charlie Navarro, both of whom he stopped, as well as the great “Sugar” Shane Mosley, whom he outpointed to to win the WBA Interim welterweight title in 2016. He lost a WBA world title shot against Lamont Peterson last February, which showed his level, but still pushed the American all the way and made the 12-rounder close.
On the fringes of world class, Avanesyan, at 30, appears hungry enough to pose Kelly new questions to answer and should provide him with rounds the Sunderland man missed out on thanks to a one-round dismissal of Walter Castillo last month. Note, too, that while a sixth-round stoppage defeat to heavyhanded Lithuanian Egidijus Kavaliauskas in February indicates Avanesyan, 23-3-1 (11), may be softened up, if not washed up, that was the Lithuanian’s 19th pro fight, and this, on the other hand, is just Kelly’s ninth.
All in all, in a fight as well-timed as it is ambitious, Kelly, 8-0 (6), likely prevails on points. Also on the Sheffield card, Jono
Carroll, the exciting southpaw from Dublin, meets Guillaume Frenois of France over 12 rounds.
Twenty-six-year-old Carroll, 16-0 (3), was last seen slugging it out with Declan Geraghty in June, triumphing in nine rounds, and has quickly become a fan favourite due to his all-action style.
His opponent, Frenois, meanwhile, possesses an eye-catching if slightly misleading professional record – 46-1 (14) – and is a former European superfeatherweight champion.
Now 35, Frenois, a fellow lefty, defended his EBU title twice, hasn’t lost in over five years (his sole defeat was against Devis Boschiero in his first European title shot), and should be solid and experienced enough to give Carroll problems in a distance fight.
FOCUS: But Brook must be looking towards the domestic rival he’s always wanted to ght, Amir Khan
STERN CHALLENGE: Zerafa takes on former WBO middleweight champ Quillin