Ashley Kates

ByBoxingAsylum

A Defining Spring for the Welterweight Division

By Ashley Kates

In recent years the landscape of boxing has been vague, a lack of distinction has caused confusion and dispute amongst boxing fans over where the sport is heading, and who the characters spearheading that movement would be. Wladimir Klitschko’s eventual demise at the hands of Tyson Fury in 2015 lead many fans to believe that the heavyweight division would once again lead the way in offering 50/50 fights and blockbuster events.

Sadly, but somewhat predictably, that belief was short lived. Failed drugs tests, politics, pay splits, whatever the excuse, the fights have not been made and fans have been left to dwell over what could have been, and although an April date at Wembley between IBF Champion Anthony Joshua and a rejuvenated Wladimir Klitschko may go some way to relieve the tension, questions over the motivation of ‘Dr Steelhammer’ have dampened the excitement for boxing’s more pessimistic followers.

Movement in the heavyweight division was short lived

Events in the 147lb division have followed a similar path whereby the long reign of Floyd Mayweather Jr came to an end after reaching the landmark of a 49-0 record. The activity within the welterweight division had long been determined by the actions of the self-proclaimed ‘best ever’, as a long line of gunning challengers attempted to manoeuvre themselves into position for a guaranteed career high payday. After his retirement top contenders including Keith Thurman, Danny Garcia, Kell Brook and Amir Khan were expected to battle it out for the supremacy, though what followed left little to be desired.

It does seem however, that there is change on the horizon, an announcement that a fight between Kell Brook and Errol Spence Jr will take place on May 20th at the Sheffield Arena follows the already confirmed bout between Keith Thurman and Danny Garcia, which is set for March 4th at the Barclays Centre, New York.

Spence at the time of Money May’s retirement wasn’t much more than an exciting prospect, but an impressive victory in April 2016, which also saw him become the first person to beat the durable Chris Algieri by stoppage ensured his right to battle at the top of the division. Following that came a trickier than expected encounter against Leonard ‘The Lion’ Bundu, but one that he ultimately ended with a KO victory.

Spence had too much for brave veteran Bundu

Kell Brook on the other hand has been on a somewhat different path. A string of derisory defences of his IBF strap against mandatory challengers Jo Jo Dan and Kevin Bizier highlighted the need for reform in the way governing bodies rank their fighters. With the gentle simmering of a domestic showdown with Amir Khan at Wembley in the background, neither fighter nor their promotional teams did anything significant enough to convince the public that it would ever actually happen.

Brook was however handed a gift-wrapped ticket back into the limelight in the summer of 2016, when it seemed like a contest between Chris Eubank Jr and Gennedy ‘GGG’ Golovkin was all but signed, only for the Eubanks to pull out in the final hour.

Bottled it: Eubanks didn’t really fancy Golovkin clash

Brook was given the opportunity to step in for Eubank Jr and fight Golovkin at middleweight live on Sky Sports Pay-per-view. What followed was a surprisingly resilient challenge from the Sheffield man, who also managed to land some effective shots of his own. The bout ended when trainer Dominic Ingle somewhat controversially threw in the towel following an eye injury that was visibly causing Brook serious distress. An unfortunate injury took nothing away from the fact that it was a sterling effort from Brook in a contest where few gave him a chance.

It could be said however that the match up with GGG could prove detriment to his cause against Spence in May. When broken down, there seem to be far more questions surrounding the champion in this instance than the challenger which isn’t common in such an eagerly anticipated world title bout. The first question surrounding Brook is whether or not the eye injury will withstand the threat of Spence. Orbital fractures are relatively simple for surgeons to repair but their unpredictability in terms of healing time and response to impact make it a definite cause for concern for ‘The Special One’.

The vulnerability of Brook’s eye becomes even more of a factor in this fight when you consider the extreme punching power of the man who calls himself ‘The Truth’. Spence’s KO victory over Leonard Bundu was something that another proven welterweight power puncher in Keith Thurman failed to achieve. That coupled with the impressive KO win over Algieri, who admirably lasted 12 rounds in punishing encounters with both Amir Khan and Manny Pacquiao, makes for an extremely dangerous challenger. The step up to 160lb was a big one for Brook, but one that he seemed to meet comfortably.

Insider: Amir Khan associate spills the beans on Brook negotiations during Asylum pod

It could be said that Brooks natural weight falls within the super-welterweight and middleweight divisions, so it will be interesting to see what sort of shape he is in come fight night. Struggling to make the drop in weight could have a major impact on Brooks conditioning which could see him suffer in the later rounds of the contest with Spence should the fight last that long.

Whether or not Errol Spence can target and exploit these possible weaknesses remains to be seen, but a well-executed game plan could catapult him to the top of the division. After making it clear that he would like to unify the welterweight division, fight fans could finally get to see the best in the division battling it out amongst each other should Spence get the victory on May 20th.

Kell Brook has made it clear that he would like to make a permanent step up in weight sooner rather than later, so a successful defence of his crown in this instance could be shortly followed by the belt being vacated and won by one of the IBF’s questionable pool of ranked fighters.

The script on the night is anyone’s guess, however what comes next for this great and historic division is fundamentally dependant on whether or not Spence can pull off a small upset, and take the IBF title back to the States.

Image Credits: Sky Sports