Though Saturday's stacked card at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn is garnering most of the attention in boxing circles, welterweight contender Kell Brook's IBF elimination fight in Sheffield carries its own significance and will have far reaching consequences on both sides of the Atlantic.
Adding to the intrigue is that the result of Brook's fight against Argentine Hector Saldivia will be known to American audiences by the time Randall Bailey defends his IBF welterweight title against former unified junior welterweight champion Devon Alexander. Of course, should Brook (28-0, 18 KO) win, he will become the mandatory challenger for either Bailey or Alexander.
Brook's name has carried championship buzz for quite some time. An athletic, skilled contender, Brook has meticulously built his record, capturing the British WBO Inter-Continental, WBA Inter-Continental and IBF International welterweight titles as he has moved up the ranks.
While Brook's level of opposition has hardly been elite, he has strung together a solid run of victories over Lovemore Ndou, Rafal Jackiewicz, Matthew Hatton and—most recently—Carson Jones.
Despite his recent verbal sparring with rival Amir Khan, in a piece by Harry Pratt ofRingTV.com, Brook insists that he is completely focused on defeating Saldivia (41-2, 32 KO). Especially after badly fading in the second half of his fight against Jones and only escaping with a majority decision victory:
When preparing for Jones, like always, I did my own diet and thought I know best. I was getting a bit lazy, really, thinking I’m packing the arenas in Sheffield and all I have to do is turn up. Before I knew it, the fight was around the corner. And he just kept coming at me and later on in the fight I felt my legs weren’t there.
Nobody was happy afterwards. But I learnt a lot too. That I have a big heart because there was nothing left in the tank. The will to win got me there and now I know for this next fight, I can go 15 or 20 rounds and mix it and still come through. I feel much stronger because of my new diet.
In evaluating Brook's fight against Jones, two schools of thought emerge. The first and more pessimistic outlook is that Brook was somewhat exposed against the tough but limited Jones; the second is that Brook has learned from the grueling experience and has made the necessary adjustments to succeed at the championship level.
Brook is certainly saying all the right things, and given his skill-set it is probable that the experience against Jones has been a valuable lesson to Brook and will help him moving forward. Regardless, the likelihood of Brook losing to Saldivia, who sports a glossy record but has fought no one of major consequence, is practically nonexistent.
Challenging for a world title will enhance Brook's profile with boxing fans outside of the UK, especially given that his bid for the IBF strap will come against an American. Should Bailey defeat Alexander, Brook will almost certainly lure Bailey to Sheffield for a home date.
However, if Alexander wins, which appears likely, negotiations could be somewhat more complicated as Alexander does have a fan base in St. Louis. A Brook-Alexander fight is a tantalizing prospect and would promise a display of world class skill and action. Some might consider it a pick-em fight, and it certainly isn't a foregone conclusion that Brook will inevitably become the IBF champion should he get past Saldivia.
Until Brook truly tests himself at the elite level and captures the IBF title he has diligently worked towards, major fights against the likes of Amir Khan or Ricky Hatton might remain just out of reach. Luckily for fans and pundits, Brook appears on the verge of stepping up.