Saturday promises to be a bumper day of sport.
In amongst the raft of football fixtures following last weekend’s international break (which will include a couple of “sedate” derbies in Manchester and Glasgow) and with the Paralympics in full swing, an eagerly awaited boxing contest will also take place in the evening at London’s O2 Arena.
Now, boxing is a notoriously frustrating sport for those who take a keen interest in it. So-called “mega-fights” can take years to come to fruition, a plethora of belts awarded by various sanctioning bodies can lead to fans being unable to point to a definitive or so-called “unified” champion at a given weight class, and fighters are regularly accused of “ducking” their principal rivals despite the clamour from the boxing public.
It is against this backdrop that Saturday evening’s contest between Sheffield’s Kell “Special K” Brook and Kazakhstan’s Gennady Golovkin should be viewed, a fight which, when it was announced in July, took the boxing fraternity by surprise and sold out within 11 minutes of tickets going on sale.
What made Brook’s willingness to fight Golovkin so surprising, and the demand for tickets so voracious, was that, despite Brook being the current IBF welterweight world champion, he was eager to step up two weight classes in order to test himself against the fearsome Golovkin at middleweight. In Golovkin, who goes by the nom de guerre of “Triple G”, Brook will face a fighter who boasts an unbeaten record of 35 wins, 32 of which have, chillingly, come by way of knockout.
Whilst Brook also boasts a more than respectable unblemished record of 36 wins, such a sudden jump up two weight classes has rarely been successful in a sport where all but the most-talented have failed when attempting to do so. For every famous win by luminaries such as Sugar Ray Leonard, who made a similar jump from welterweight to middleweight to defeat the formidable Marvin Hagler in 1987, there are many painful defeats, a prime example being Amir Khan’s emphatic loss to Saul Alvarez earlier this year.
In addition, such resounding defeats lend support to those who, justifiably, raise concerns about the safety of the naturally “smaller” fighter who has to make such a rapid ascension through the weight classes, particularly in a sport that has seen a number of it participants suffer tragic injuries.
However, the build-up to Saturday’s fight, which has been marked by a distinct lack of braggadocio from either of the fighters and a healthy sprinkling of mutual respect, has focussed instead on whether Brook can transfer his speed and trickery from welterweight (assisted in part by not having to undergo the rigours of boiling down to his usual weight category) and defy the odds in beating the heavy-handed Kazakh.
If Special K does manage to succeed on Saturday evening, or even suffer a valiant defeat in attempting to do so, we may see an increasing number of fighters in both boxing and other combat sports agreeing to similar “impossible” assignments.
In a tough and unforgiving sport like boxing, where only a select few enjoy bumper pay days, the monetary rewards on offer may prove to be too tempting to turn down, win or lose.