Brook has wanted to fight his British rival for 20 years – now fierce grudge match takes place on Saturday
Kell Brook is worried. Not about fighting Amir Khan – that appears to hold little concern for the former welterweight world champion. His big fear today is that their long-awaited bout, 20 years in the making but now just a week away, may yet not happen.
“I’ll only feel at ease when I’m looking at him with his gloves on,” Brook says. “That’s when I’ll know it’s on.”
Little wonder Brook is anxious. This is a fight that was first floated in their amateur days, since which, Brook admits, Khan has never been far from his thoughts. Next Saturday’s bout in Manchester is the only way to escape his mental torture.
“This fight would haunt me for the rest of my life if it didn’t happen,” he explains.
The 35-year-old appears lean and sun-kissed, his jaw defined, as he speaks to Telegraph Sport from his training camp in Spain and details the moment the idea of fighting Khan became an obsession.
It was 2014 and Brook was a world champion following a stirring victory over the American Shawn Porter. Brook was 28 and in his prime. Khan, he felt, was the greatest fight out there, a bragging rights bout which “could have packed out Wembley Stadium”.
Instead, after protracted negotiations, they now meet eight years later at the 20,000 seat Manchester Arena. Tickets have been like gold dust and, although belated, it is a rivalry mired in genuine animosity. I have sat with Brook many times over the years and his eyes have grown dark at even the mention of Khan. Brook’s emotion is never far from the surface when his greatest foe figures in his imagination.
Now they meet – both 35 – in similar states of ‘decline’. This could be the last stand for the loser. “I tried everything and it never happened,” Brook says. “But now I’ll feel complete. I’ve still got a lot to give the game but I’ll feel complete because it’s a grudge match I needed on my record. For 20 years plus – since we were young amateurs – it’s been talked about and now the buzz is in the air and it’s finally here. But seriously, I won’t believe it until he steps into the ring with his gloves on, standing opposite me.”
Brook, who survived “an unprovoked machete attack” and was stabbed three times in the leg in September 2014 while on holiday with his pregnant wife in Tenerife, has come up the hard way, without the Olympic accolades, the training camps alongside Manny Pacquiao and the sojourns with fame in America, which Khan has enjoyed.
Those privileges Khan has enjoyed make Brook appear spiteful at times, but he insists that the bad blood is due to his feeling that Khan swerved him in his prime. “I know people go on about Fury and AJ as the biggest fight, but this fight has been a long time coming and now we’re here and we’ve got it,” he says. “This fight would haunt me for the rest of my life if it didn’t happen. I tried everything and it never happened. But now I’ll feel complete because it’s a grudge match I needed on my record.”
There is respect – as a fighter – for Khan. “This fight has got to be put up there,” he says. “He’s also done well in his career and become a world champion and fought in America against the big names. He’s another Brit close to myself, I’m Sheffield and he’s Bolton. We’re not even an hour’s drive from each other. We finally get the fight everyone wants to see. It will define me. It will show I’ve done absolutely everything in the boxing game. Fighting fights that shock people, moving up two weights to fight Gennady Golovkin, and fighting Terence Crawford and going overseas to win the title against Porter, winning the British title outright. But this is the icing on the cake for me. It’s right up there. This fight is mega. I can actually feel it.”
Better late than never, of course. But even Brook will admit to regret that this is a fight that did not happen in his prime. “I really wish we could have had a bigger arena. But it is what it is. It’s sold out in record time and it shows you this fight has not lost its appeal,” he says. “It would have been a lot better a good few years before but better late than never.”
Brook has been insulted by Khan’s comments that the Bolton man is “levels above” his Yorkshire foe, but that plays into the mindset, the game plan. “If he believes what he’s saying, he’s in for a rude awakening. I’m no average man, I’m a YY gene, a one off. It’s a mega fight however you look at it.”
Bragging rights will be on the line come Saturday night. After all the talk, all the hype, all these years, the fight. “The closer we get the bigger it will get. I think he’s looking more at the money, for me it’s real, not about the money,” Brook finishes.
“He lives a different lifestyle to me – if I wanted to get out of the game I could. This fight is more than money for me, it’s personal. I believe I can die a happy man with victory over Khan. I really can die a happy man. It’s a tough, dangerous game. I’ve been in with the pound for pounds, I’ve been to America and won a world title. To have this on the top of my resume is the icing on the cake for me.”
Amir Khan vs Kell Brook is live on Sky Box Office on February 19