ANY intrigue surrounding Saturday’s super-welterweight fight between former IBF welterweight champion Kell Brook and America’s Mark DeLuca owes as much to Brook’s supposed decline as any supposed danger DeLuca carries.

In meeting at this stage of their respective careers, with Brook deemed on the slide and DeLuca considered hungry, an otherwise low-key, humdrum main event is given greater meaning and importance. That’s something at least.

Had they met a few years ago, back when Brook was a world champion, the assumption would be that the Sheffield man is levels above DeLuca and could do to him exactly what he wants. We would consider DeLuca untested and unworthy of such a fight. We would believe he was out of his depth. The result would be a foregone conclusion.

But it’s 2020 now and Brook, by his own admission, doesn’t know what he has left, as either a welterweight or super-welterweight. All he knows is that he is happier than he has been for some time, and that he would quite like another world title, and that he is determined not to leave boxing – whenever that might be – with any regrets. He says he could be even better now, too, despite being 33 years of age and having suffered a couple of punishing defeats to Gennady Golovin and Errol Spence Jnr, two of the eminent stars of the sport.

“I’ve gained more patience and ring craft,” he told Boxing News. “I feel that I’m fitter. I feel that I’m faster but know people will say, ‘How can you be faster at 33?’ All I can say is tune in and see. See what I’ve got left. I’ll also see what I’ve got left. It might be all well and good doing what I’m doing in the gym every day, but this conversation will mean absolutely nothing if I get in there and I just haven’t got it no more. If that happens, it’s time to call it a day, isn’t it? I don’t believe that will happen, though. I believe you will see something special. The real Kell Brook is going to turn up.”

Should the real Kell Brook turn up against Mark DeLuca this Saturday in Sheffield, it will be hard to imagine DeLuca living with the former champion, much less upsetting the odds and beating him. Yet even Kell Brook cannot be sure of this. He can’t be sure because performing in the gym and in the ring are two different things, and because Father Time isn’t one to RSVP, and because he has been inactive since December 2018 and knows ring rust can be a very real problem.

What also adds to the feeling of stepping into the unknown is the fact that Brook, as is his custom, has seen no footage of Mark DeLuca in action and has no desire to change this anytime soon. Acting only on the feedback of his coach, Dominic Ingle, Brook has given DeLuca the swerve in favour of concentrating solely on what he has to do to get back on track and win another world title. The opponent, he says, is effectively irrelevant.

“I don’t need to watch him,” he said. “I’ve been told what he’s like, but this is what I do and all I’m bothered about is me. Forget about him. When I get in there, I’m going to get my shots off and do what I want with him. That’s what I know is going to happen.

“I’ve got a lot of pressure on me. If I don’t look good, questions are going to be asked and I’m going to be asking them. The confidence I’m getting in the gym will all be for nothing if I can’t produce on the night. That puts a lot of pressure on me. I’ve also had a lot of time out.”

Kell Brook's next fight
Brook has had plenty of ups and downs

If pressure and inactivity are his primary obstacles, DeLuca, unlike pressure an inactivity, is the one person capable of inflicting damage on Brook this Saturday.

Known as ‘The Bazooka’, the American, two years Brook’s junior at 31, has lost just once in 25 pro fights – a decision defeat to Walter Wright in 2018, one he immediately avenged – and is a southpaw comfortable going the distance. He is the naturally bigger man, having campaigned mostly at higher weights, and possesses a three-inch advantage in reach, if able to put it to use.

Annoyingly, though, DeLuca’s competition has not been the best. The Wright revenge win is a highlight, as is a decision against the previously undefeated Brandon Brewer, but not one of DeLuca’s opponents, including the two mentioned, can be described as a top 10 contender, let alone a contender with world championship pedigree. In that respect, his fight against Brook in England represents a giant leap in class. It is one for which he is woefully unprepared, on paper at least, and would be derided as a pointless exercise were it not for the question marks surrounding the favourite.

Furthermore, Brook’s last opponent, Michael Zerafa, had been plucked from the same production line before facing Brook in December 2018. He, like DeLuca, was untested and ridiculed beforehand. He was expected to roll over and head back to Australia on the next available flight. Yet Zerafa, in pushing Brook for 12 rounds, did better than anybody expected. Not only that, he created further opportunities for himself, including recent fights against Jeff Horn back in Australia.

“I felt okay, but I think I was trying too hard early on,” Brook said, recalling his decision win against Zerafa. “I think it took longer and he was more awkward than I thought. He was a bit of a bogeyman. He made me look bad. He was one of those opponents you beat but don’t look good against.

“I want to put that behind me and show everyone that he was just a bogeyman opponent. Although they say you’re only as good as your last fight that’s not a fight I want to hold on to. I’m looking forward to the day after this DeLuca fight and everybody raving about my performance and forgetting that one.”

This time it’s seemingly more about the performance than the opponent for Brook, which makes sense when listening to him explain his insecurities. Essentially, he needs to perform. He needs to show others and, more importantly, himself that he still has what it takes to not just beat the likes of Mark DeLuca on home soil but perhaps do greater things, the kind of things he used to do, in the future.

More than that, Brook, 38-2 (26), needs to get active again because time is fast slipping away. At 33, he understands he can scarcely afford another defeat, especially not one as violent as those suffered against Golovkin and Spence, and he also now knows what it feels like to sit out for an extended period of time, contemplate retirement and imagine a life without boxing. His fuel today is both hunger and fear.

“Last year was very frustrating,” Brook said. “It was a bit of a rollercoaster for me mentally. I don’t know what I was hunting for or what I was doing it for anymore. I was more or less just in the gym for no reason. I didn’t have a goal. I wanted to fight and if a big fight had come about I probably would have kicked into gear. But it never did.

“The talk of retirement was serious. I felt like if I wasn’t getting the fights to excite me, I would hang them up. What else could I have done? I’ve never had this in my whole career.

“But that’s all behind me and I feel reborn now. I feel like this is a complete and utter new me. I’ve never experienced this joy and excitement. I’m looking forward to performing and I’m looking forward to the future.”

There’s that word again: performing. And it’s clear now, based on Brook’s approach to this fight, that the outcome most desirable is not a decision or stoppage win over the unheralded Mark DeLuca but a performance, one to rank up there with the best. One to bring back memories of him dethroning Shawn Porter to win his old IBF welterweight title in 2014. One to have the rest of us remembering why Kell Brook has long been considered one of Britain’s most naturally gifted boxers. One that has fellow contenders at both welterweight and super-welterweight suddenly looking over their shoulder and remembering what Kell Brook can do when properly focused and prepared.

It’s hard to say for sure whether Brook will produce the kind of performance he is chasing on Saturday against DeLuca, for even he seems uncertain. But what is safe to say is that Brook, unless he has faded beyond all recognition, should be plenty good enough to dominate the American and secure either a late stoppage or a lopsided decision victory.

Kell Brook
Kell Brook back when he was champion (Action Images/Carl Recine)

Supporting Brook in Sheffield is his stable mate Kid Galahad, 26-1 (15), who takes on Claudio Marrero, 24-3 (17), of the Dominican Republic in a 12-round fight at featherweight.

This will be Galahad’s first outing since losing a very close one to IBF featherweight champion Josh Warrington in June and he will be eager to get back to winning ways and launch another run at a world title.

Southpaw Marrero, meanwhile, is a former WBA interim champion at featherweight whose last defeat came in January 2019 against Tugstsogt Nyambayar, an unbeaten US-based Mongolian, who outboxed the 30-year-old to take a 12-round decision.

Also on the Sheffield bill is a WBC female super-featherweight title fight between Terri Harper, 9-0 (5), and Eva Wahlstrom, 23-1-2 (3).

Wahlstrom, the champion, boxed Katie Taylor for the WBA and IBF titles at lightweight in December 2018 and came up short on the cards after 10 rounds. Since then she has recorded a draw against Ronica Jeffrey in defence of her belt and an eight-round decision victory over Consolata Musanga.

Harper, on the other hand, had a very productive 2019, competing four times and remaining unbeaten. She started the year with a 10th round stoppage of fellow Brit Nina Bradley and ended it with an impressive decision win over Viviane Obenauf, the Brazilian best known for upsetting Natasha Jonas in 2018.