By Paul Mason
This Saturday inside what is now known as the Fly DSA Arena in Sheffield (Formerly the Sheffield Arena), Kell Brook attempts to come back bigger and stronger than ever. He makes the jump up to Super Welterweight (I Still prefer to call it Light Middleweight!) after outgrowing the Welterweight division. He returns from high profile back to back defeats to Gennady Golovkin and Errol Spence Junior, and eases into the division by meeting former European Champion, Sergey Rabchenko. Sky Sports televise here in the UK. Here I preview the contest and undercard.
Kell Brook (36-2, KO25) v Sergey Rabchenko (29-2, KO22) – 12 Rounds Super Welterweight, WBC Silver Super Welterweight Title
For Kell Brook, Saturday night sees the start of a new chapter in his career. He steps up a weight class to seek new challenges after repeatedly being tight at the weight while at Welterweight. He hopes that the extra seven pounds will make all the difference as he seeks to finally secure a showdown with long-time rival, Amir Khan, or hunt the big fish in the division. Current World Champions at the weight are Erislandy Lara (WBA Super), Jermell Charlo (WBC), Jarret Hurd (IBF) and recent Miguel Cotto conqueror, Sadam Ali (WBO). It is likely Brook would have to travel to the USA to try and capture World honours at a second weight, as all four Champions are based there. Hurd and Lara attempt to unify on April 7. Brook dips his toes in the Super Welterweight waters against Sergey Rabchenko, and of course the fight managed to get a governing body to put a meaningless Title on the line! In this case it’s the WBC Silver Title up for grabs.
“Special K” turned professional in September 2004 and built a 16-0 record before challenging for the British Welterweight Title. He defeated Welshman Barrie Jones, who came in a short notice for the fight by 7th round TKO. He followed this up by spectacularly defeating Kevin McIntyre, knocking him down three times in a first round win. Brook captured the coveted Lord Lonsdale belt outright after wins over Stuart Elwell (TKO2) and Michael Lomax (TKO3). His next three fights were more ranking builders, but Brook wanted to headline shows, and left Frank Warren for Eddie Hearn in 2011, promptly topping the bill in his Sheffield hometown in a unanimous points victory over Lovemore N’Dou. Three more wins followed, including one over Matthew Hatton (UD12), Brook also overcame Carson Jones in a much tougher than expected war, where he was tested severely and was close to being knocked down in the final round, but did enough to triumph via majority decision on the cards.
Next up was Hector Saldivia in a final eliminator for the IBF title. Following a third round knockout win, Brook then sustained an ankle injury, postponing the title fight with then champion Devon Alexander. When Alexander then tore his bicep ahead of the rescheduled date, the fight was off, and Brook marked time for the next available shot at the title with TKO wins in a rematch with Carson Jones, former Ricky Hatton conqueror, Vyacheslav Senchenko and Alvaro Robles to finally land his attempt at the IBF Welterweight Title.
The bout was to be against Shawn Porter, a highly regarded American fighter, expected to beat Brook and retain, when the fight was set for the StubHub centre in Carson, California, in the August of 2014. Porter came out aggressively as he put pressure on Brook, relying heavily on looping shots. Brook kept his composure, however, and showed solid defensive skills, strength, and clean punching throughout the fight. Brook defeated Porter to win the title at by a majority decision. Brook’s joy was to be short lived, as he was attacked whilst on holiday, stabbed three times in the leg and once in the arm by a machete. Brook showed courage and bravery to come through the ordeal and recovery and was quickly back in the ring in March 2015, in his first defence, against the overmatched and overwhelmed Jo Jo Dan (Corner stoppage between rounds 4 and 5). He next defended against Frankie Gavin in an all British affair. Brook wasn’t troubled at all in a sixth round stoppage win. He then had another routine win, this time a second round stoppage against the hapless Kevin Bizier.
In September 2016, Chris Eubank Junior was scheduled to sign to meet Middleweight monster Gennady Golovkin, but when the Eubanks’ hesitated in signing, in stepped Brook to challenge for the IBF, IBO and WBC Middleweight Championships, two weights north of his normal weight class. In a shoot-out at the 02 Arena in London, Brook gave Golovkin all he could handle, before the Kazakh broke him down, causing damage to Kell’s eye, which was later confirmed as a broken eye socket. Brook’s trainer, Dominic Ingle wisely saved his charge for another day, pulling him out in the fifth round.
Rather than making an immediate weight class move, Brook was intent on defending his IBF Title that he still held at Welterweight. To do this, he was ordered to defend against the dangerous and unbeaten Errol Spence Junior. The match was made for June 2017 at Bramhall Lane, home of Brook’s beloved Sheffield United. It would be a heartbreaking homecoming for Brook, as he unraveled late in the fight, taking a knee in the tenth round, and again in the eleventh, and the fight was waved off. He again fractured an eye socket, this time on the opposite side to the Golovkin fight.
Sergey Rabchenko is designed to make Kell Brook look as good as possible on Saturday, but he will have designs on ending the Sheffield man’s career, just as he did to another Sheffield son in Ryan Rhodes back in 2012. The Belarussian turned over in September 2006, and has fought in France, Czech Republic, Ukraine, USA, Australia and the UK, as well as his native Belarus throughout his 31 fight career. After 15 straight wins, Rabchenko aligned with Hatton Promotions, and picked up wins over Martin Conception, Bradley Pryce and Kevin McCauley here in the UK.
After two more wins, Rabchenko won the vacant European Title by stopping Ryan Rhodes in seven rounds in what would be Rhodes’ last paid contest. He defended by outpointing Cedric Vitu via split decision in Manchester, and then knocking out Adriano Nicchi in two rounds in Monaco in March 2013. He then defended the belt in Bulgaria, widely outpointing old foe Bradley Pryce in a pretty pointless voluntary defence of his European Title, and acquiring the same belt he fights for this weekend, the WBC Silver Title. Rabchenko would suffer defeat for the very first time, travelling to Melbourne to meet Anthony Mundine. In a tight, subjective fight, Rabchenko dropped a split decision. He rebounded with two stoppage wins over journeymen in Bulgaria and Walsall, before stepping up again, this time in Brooklyn, New York in July 2016.
In an IBF Title eliminator, Tony Harrison stopped Rabchenko in nine rounds. Rabchenko was one dimensional, charging forward without purpose. When Harrison looked for the opening in the ninth he found it with a short right that felled the Belarussian. Although he beat the count, he was out on his feet and the fight was waved off.
Since this setback, Rabchenko has scored two knockout wins in his home country against boxers with a combined 29-31-5 record.
This all leads to the classic theory that every time Rabchenko has taken a significant step up, he comes up short, and I expect Saturday to be no different. Rabchenko seems tailor made for Brook, his come forward style will lead to Brook being able to slip shots and fire back at will. I think that Brook will adopt a safer approach than previously seen, and he will negotiate his way to a convincing points victory.
An intriguing clash on the undercard sees Doncaster’s Gavin McDonnell (18-1-2, KO5), who came up short in a challenge for the WBC Super Bantamweight Title against Rey Vargas in Hull last February, meet rising star and Birmingham boy Gamal Yafai (14-0, KO7) for the WBC International bauble. This will be a tight affair, but I can see Yafai taking over in the later rounds to pull away on the cards.
David Allen (12-3-1, KO9) attempts redemption for his failed bid for the Commonwealth Heavyweight Title last June, when he meets Jamaica’s Lenroy Thomas (22-4, KO10). Their first encounter at Bramhall Lane was scrappy and messy, and hopefully “White Rhino” Allen has made the necessary adjustments to pick off Thomas this time, I edge towards him on points.
Sam Eggington, Rocky Fielding and Kid Galahad all appear on the card in marking time fights.