His boxing career at a crossroads, ahead of Saturday night’s showdown with Mark DeLuca Britain’s Kell Brook has stripped his preparations back down to the basics.
The 33-year-old has been waiting 14 months for his 41st professional bout, a hiatus partially inflicted upon himself as he awaited dream fights against Terence Crawford or Amir Khan that never came.
Now, in the twilight of his career, Brook’s renewed determination to become a two-time world champion has seen him focus on a more natural 154lb weight and trade gruelling, if slightly more exotic, 16-week training camps in Fuerteventura for domestic duties in South Yorkshire.
“I’ve been based in Sheffield training down at my local gym. I’m dropping the kids off to school, keeping the missus happy, keeping Dom [Ingle, his trainer] happy,” he laughs.
“I’ve got my gym gear by the door every morning ready to go, I’m on it. There’s fire in my belly, the eye of the tiger, and this year I’m going to be a two-time world champion.”
To reach that goal, though, he will first have to navigate southpaw DeLuca, a 31-year-old American with just one defeat blemishing his record.
The fight is taking place in Brook’s hometown, scene of many highs as well as the biggest low of his career: losing his IBF welterweight title to Errol Spence Jr in 2017, a second successive bout in which his eye-socket was fractured.
“Losing my belts in Sheffield, at United’s stadium [Bramall Lane], in that way. It was a dark period,” Brook tells City A.M.
“I’d been ill during the camp, I was fighting at 60 per cent and up until the sixth or seventh round I was beating the guy. This is the guy Spence thought he was fighting.”
Now at light-middleweight, Brook has been able to focus more on his technique and work in the gym rather than worrying about cutting down to 147lbs.
“I feel out of this world. I don’t think I’ve ever been in better shape,” he says. “In previous fights I’ve been battling to meet the weight, but this time I’ve been able to focus on my dummies, feints, fitness.”
Some boxing observers believe Brook should have settled at light-middleweight some time ago; in any case, this feels like the last chance for the Yorkshireman to fulfill his potential.
All or nothing
Even long-time trainer Dominic Ingle thought a lacklustre, 12-round win over Michael Zefara 14 months ago may have been Brook’s swansong. But the darkness of yesteryear has only reaffirmed his love for the sport.
“I’m determined to prove everyone wrong. When I was 24 or 25 I was the Special One, but the truth is I’ve always cut corners. I never said that to the media, but this time I’ve done it the right way. I’m 100 per cent ready.”
Brook admits he needs a “sensational” performance to put himself back on the map and has reaffirmed that he will retire if he loses.
“If I don’t win this fight, I will be hanging up my gloves. But there’s no chance of that happening,” he says. “A win isn’t enough, I don’t want to go the distance, I want to make a statement with this fight. I’m on a completely different level to DeLuca.”
If, as expected, Brook comes through unscathed, then he will be eyeing a world title shot at either welterweight or super-welterweight.
World title shot
A rematch against Spence inevitably appeals and he says an all-British clash with Liam Smith, 31, would be “an unbelievable fight”, although he is only interested in facing “whoever is in the way” of a second world title.
It is perhaps not the all-British fight that fans would have hoped for, but Brook says a much-anticipated showdown with Amir Khan will never happen.
“I’ve come to the conclusion that he won’t fight me, but will fight Canelo [Alvarez] and Crawford, not because he’s scared of me, but because he’s scared of losing to another Brit. He knows if we fight he will lose,” Brook says.
Promoter Eddie Hearn once said that when there’s hunger in Brook’s heart, he is one of the best fighters on the planet. The hunger appears to be back as he looks to settle some unfinished business.
He concludes: “I don’t want to leave the sport without having given it everything. I want to be able to live at peace, knowing I gave it my all.”