A rivalry more than 10 years in the making will finally come to a head on Saturday 19th February, as Amir Khan takes on Kell Brook.
The 35-year-old South Yorkshireman wants to finally put Khan in his place, telling Johnny Nelson for bet365’s Tale of the Tape that the former WBA and IBF light-welterweight champion has never respected him.
Brook has spent much of his training camp in Fuerteventura, and says the motivation to beat Khan has kept him going throughout.
“This has actually been one of the best training camps,” said Brook. “It’s not been hard at all, because of what this fight means to me, I feel 23 again!
“We went out 20th December, so we missed Christmas and New Year. It’s the longest block we’ve done. We normally do two weeks, come back, then go back for two weeks, but this was a solid six weeks of pure graft out there.
“It has been worth it because I feel amazing and it’s down to all that hard work. The sacrifices, being away, people don’t see that I’ve been away from my family and putting that hard work in for six weeks over Christmas.
“It’s the lifestyle and waking up realising why I’m here in a foreign country. I live the other end of the city in Sheffield and driving back and forth in Wincobank can get on your nerves a bit, but when I’m out there everything’s there, the masseuse is there, the gym’s there, we’re all singing off the same hymn sheet and we’re all together.
“I’ve had it drilled into me that I’d go far and I put that pressure on myself, but it’s not over yet. I’m not happy yet. When they put your career together on Sky you get goosebumps and think ‘wow, that’s what I’ve done’, but this grudge match with Amir Khan is going to be the icing on the cake. I think I’ll be at peace with myself a bit more.”
Despite being tipped for the top from a young age, Brook didn’t get the instant success of his arch-rival Khan, who became an overnight star at the 2004 Olympics. Eight years into his professional career, Brook faced a welterweight title eliminator, which turned into a gruelling battle, showing everyone watching that he had the mettle to reach the very top.
“The Carson Jones fight answered the question. I was fighting on fumes that fight, I didn’t have a nutritionist.
“I boxed Matthew Hatton and thought ‘this is great, I just need to turn up to these fights’ and I didn’t take it seriously, I was cutting corners and not dieting right, then in the Jones fight I really had to have a word with myself and it was my heart that got me through that, because there were times when I was thinking ‘why? This is hard, this guy keeps coming, I’m hitting him with the kitchen sink and he’s still coming forward’!
“Obviously I broke my nose in that fight and was swallowing a lot of blood and I thought ‘this is hard’ but that lion in me and being a fighter and being a warrior made me see the final round and get through.”
Three years prior to the first Jones fight, Brook fought on the undercard of Khan’s world title win against Andreas Kotelnik, and despite wishing Khan well in the aftermath of his win over Michael Lomax, Brook has admitted that at the time he was thinking about facing Khan himself.
“I did. We’d been talked about from our first promoter, Frank Warren, when we were 18 years old that we’d be billed together, a bit like [James] DeGale and [George] Groves, that we’d fight a lot sooner, but it never came forward. I thought ‘that should be me’,” said Brook.
“It was a bit like Mr T in Rocky 3, coming through the hard way. No disrespect – he got a silver in the amateurs, because they love the upright style – Brendan Ingle’s style here was unorthodox and our style doesn’t work for them, and since then Frank Warren gave him that opportunity and really got behind him.
“He was the top of the bill and I wasn’t getting the due. Looking in, I wanted that. There was no jealousy, he put himself in that position but that’s what I wanted to do.”
After years fighting on undercards and battling his way to the top, Brook got his shot against champion Shawn Porter.
“I’d have to say it’s the proudest moment in my career so far, because I questioned if I was good enough,” said Brook.
“When you’re fighting a genuine world champion who at that particular time they were saying he was the next mini Mike Tyson.
“Paulie Malignaggi had been in with [Miguel] Cotto and had never been stopped, he had a great chin and Porter stopped him. I remember being in Vegas taking a big gulp thinking ‘I’m fighting Porter next and I’ve got an animal on my hands’. But winning that title in a 12-round hard fight was an amazing feeling, it’s what we lace the gloves up for."
It could be said their rivalry long pre-dates their professional career when they sparred as juniors. Khan would later claim he sparred with one hand, which Brook denies.
“There’s no truth in that at all,” said Brook. “I can remember that sparring, we were 15 years old, and I thought ‘this guy’s got the fastest hands of anyone I’ve been in the ring with’. After one round, I came second best with his speed, but I can adapt, and started timing him and getting my rhythm through and it was a completely different story in the second and third round.
“Him saying one hand was pathetic. That needle’s there. It’s genuine needle; I don’t like him. I think if you asked him the same question he’d say the same. It’s real.
“You could see when we had our face-off in the ring that we don’t like each other. It started from the fans saying he’s better, and not giving me that respect. It’s not from the Olympics. It’s from turning professional and being promised we’ll fight, and him saying ‘who’s this guy?’ and [pretending] he doesn’t know my name.
“It riles you up – he knows exactly who I am, but he never gives me that due, and I deserve that respect. He’s always thought he was better than everyone, but this is the game we’re in and I want to show the fans that I’m the best.
“When he was in the jungle, he came across as an alright guy, but when it comes to boxing, I think he’s deluded. He’s got a lot of people who’ll slap him on the back and bulling him up and he’s in a different world.
“I win by being me. Turning up 100%, not worrying about what he’s doing, just concentrate on what I need to do. I’ll be remembered for this fight, so I’ve made sure I’ve done everything I could possibly do to be the best I can be on the 19th. There’s no excuses.
“I’m not thinking I want to box him and go 12 rounds. In my mind I don’t want to go 12 rounds and stop the guy. We know he’s not got the best chin and I believe I’ll get hold of that chin and deal with him.”