“IS HE a sensation in the making?” asked Sky Sports commentator Adam Smith of Errol Spence Jnr and then waited for Kell Brook to help supply him with the answer.
Brook, the chubby kid who would walk up and down the Ingles Gym on his hands as a boy, had been told by an uncle growing up that he would one day fight at Bramall Lane, the home of Sheffield United Football Club.
It happened on a Bank Holiday weekend in May 2017, four weeks after heavyweight titans Anthony Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko had punched each other dizzy in front of a 90,000 crowd at Wembley Stadium.
“The scene was set for Kell,” said Johnny Nelson, Brook’s former gym mate who was at the show for Sky Sports. “He was fighting in front of his home crowd on a summer’s night and the place was packed. He wasn’t going to feel the pressure. It was going to lift him.”
Spence wondered what was waiting for him in Sheffield, as Andy Scott remembered.
The Sky Sports reporter was in the taxi that took Spence from the airport to Sheffield for a press conference and remembered a character who was “so chilled.”
Scott said: “They asked me to bring along some healthy food, so I got them a salad from a supermarket and spent three-and-a-half hours talking to them, mainly about soccer. They seemed to know about big clubs like Manchester United and Liverpool, but didn’t know about Sheffield United or what to expect at Bramall Lane.”
Waiting for Spence was a crowd of more than 27,000 – and every single one of them wanted him to lose and let him know it.
Spence just smiled and once the fight started, he kept his cool and kept finding answers. He found a way to make Brook miss with a fast counter jab to his own lead hand that landed repeatedly in the early rounds and had Shawn Porter screaming at ringside: “Offense to defence.”
Brook had taken the IBF welterweight title off Porter in California on a memorable night in August, 2014, and defended his belt three times.
He took a gamble after Chris Eubank couldn’t agree terms with Gennady Golovkin and was left with a broken jaw and eye socket by the middleweight champion.
Following that, there was talk of Brook moving up to 154lbs, but he stayed where he was and came down from around 173lbs to make 147lbs.
Spence had been flawless in 21 previous fights against the likes of Chris Algieri, possibly softened up by beatings against Manny Pacquiao and Amir Khan, and 41-year-old Leonard Bundu and Brook was sure to be better than them.
The sleepy-eyed Spence and Brook duelled for control of a fast-paced, high-quality chess match early on. Brook countered sharply, Spence went to the body whenever possible.
“Spence never panicked,” said Scott. “I don’t think there was ever a moment in the fight where he thought he might lose.”
He responded to his mouth being bloodied in the fifth with a smile and an arched eyebrow as if to say: ‘What have we here?’ and when Brook knocked him off balance at the start of the sixth, Spence opened up with both hands to seize control.
He stayed in control.
“I know how good Kell is at his best,” said Nelson. “He is a fighter who’s outstanding in the gym and then takes it up a level on fight night. I didn’t expect to see what I saw that night. Spence outsmarted him and broke him down. He made him look ordinary at times and Kell wasn’t an ordinary fighter.”
Brook’s left eye started to swell in the eighth and Spence had him shaken up for the first time in the fight in the final minute of the next.
Brook was firing back at the bell to cheers from his home crowd and fought back bravely in the 10th after taking a count early in the round.
There was to be no turnaround. Brook couldn’t hide the pain he felt from his left eye and was blinking from the start of the 11th until he had to accept defeat and was counted out.
The scorecards showed Spence had pulled away from the middle rounds to lead by five, three and one point on the scorecards.
Scott remembers the victor being “humble and classy” when interviewed in the ring afterwards and rating his performance as “B minus.”
“Do you believe this is the start of a long reign at the top of the welterweight division?” asked Scott as his final question to the new belt-holder.