Saturday Interview: Brook keen to prove he is fighting fit again

While he lay on a hospital bed in Tenerife, his leg strapped up and his life in the balance, Kell Brook dared not contemplate whether his boxing career was over. Whether he would walk again, was the more immediate concern.

Kell Brook
Kell Brook

This should have been a moment when he was still walking tall, less than a month removed from the greatest high of his professional career.

But after a night out in Tenerife last September his whole world came crashing down around him when he was attacked by a man who pretended to be a fan before slashing at his leg with a machete.

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Brook needed 32 staples in a leg wound he said looked like a shark bite. He needed a blood transfusion and looking back now, says he was about 10 to 15 minutes away from losing his life.

He is indebted to the doctors and nurses who saved him, and thoughts of them and the incident that changed his life will not be far from the surface two weeks tonight when he steps into the ring at the Sheffield Arena to defend his IBF world welterweight title.

“It’s been very hard to climb over that wall and get back on the horse,” Brook tells The Yorkshire Post. “I’ve needed good people around me which I’ve had, strong family and friends.

“As I was laying in the hospital bed, I thought ‘am I ever going to walk again, never mind box?’

“It wasn’t so much that it nearly ended my career; I was 10, 15 minutes away from losing my life. The doctors and nurses out there saved my life.

“It was tough mentally but I’ve put that behind me now. I’m a strong person and I’m just looking to the future.

“I’ve been given a second chance and I’m still world champion, I’m still unbeaten and I’ve still got the fight inside me.

“Someone is obviously looking down on me, smiling and looking after me.”

That the attack came so quickly after his crowning glory was a cruel twist. On August 16, 2014, Brook had beaten Shawn Porter by a majority decision in Carson, California, to win the IBF welterweight title.

Becoming world champion had been his life’s ambition, and in a professional career spanning 32 unbeaten fights and 10 years, he was certainly made to wait for it.

“It took the gleam off the world title,” he says of the Tenerife attack. “Winning was an unbelievable feeling and for a couple of weeks after I was on an insane high.

“Then that happening left me feeling like I was at the bottom of the ocean.

“I am indebted to the people around me, and I get to enjoy it all again and I’m determined to make the most of it.

“I’m sure the emotion of it all will coming rushing back to me once I win on the 28th.

“Because it’s been such a hard time. It was slow at the beginning but now I’m running towards my next fight and I’m back up to full speed. I just want to show that nothing’s left me and when I get back in that ring, I want to show I’m an improved fighter.

“It’s an episode that has given me greater determination.

“My mindset now is very much that that incident is in the past. I’m a strong person and I’ve dealt with it.”

With the incident in perspective, Brook is looking forward with renewed vigour to the first mandatory defence of his world title against Romania’s Jo Jo Dan at the Sheffield Arena on Saturday, March 28.

It is the first chapter of what he believes to be his second chance... in life and in boxing.

During his first coming, he was very much a man who was made to wait. Ever since his first professional fight, just down the road from the Sheffield Arena at the Don Valley Stadium – when he defeated Peter Buckley on the undercard of a small show – he has worked towards his goal for world domination.

“I’ve always believed and dreamt that one day I would become world champion,” says Brook, who was 18 when he made his professional debut in 2004.

“I felt very nervous that first fight. There was probably a couple of hundred people there, it was such a buzz to walk out in front of a few fans, as an amateur going into the professional ranks without the headguard.

“It was a different experience completely, but I took to it like a duck to water and I’ve continued on to where I am now.

“You don’t think about the things in between. It’s been a long road but I have got there.

“When my career is over I’ll be able to look back on it and smile because I’ve had my ups and downs, I’ve had everything that a fighter can go through, but I’m still here.”

Before his equilibrium was shook with the euphoria of Carson and the horror of Tenerife, Brook’s career had been one waiting to explode.

Time after time, the welterweight unearthed by Brendan Ingle at his Wincobank gym, had to deal with title fights collapsing and rivals like Amir Khan jumping ahead of him in the pecking order.

Patience, therefore, became a virtue for an unbeaten fighter whose self-belief never wavered.

When he finally got the chance against Porter he showed what he could do.

Now Brook wants to start making headlines purely for his boxing feats, starting with the headline act on a home-town bill in front of a huge crowd.

“It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do, be involved in massive fights in my home town. That I’m a world champion is an extra bonus.

“And the extra incentive this time around is to show that I’m back and I’m here to stay.

“It’s been a long road, I’ve had a bit of a crazy career so far but I’m onto a new chapter and I cannot wait to defend my world title in my home city.

“It’s what dreams are made of, fighting at the Sheffield Arena in front of a packed-out crowd.”

As mandatory challenger, Dan comes with a pedigree.

The 33-year-old southpaw has lost just two of his 36 fights but Brook is confident that when the emotion of the night is put aside, he has the talent and strength to defend his title.

“Jo Jo Dan is a tough customer. He’s awkward, as the mandatory challenger he’s there for a reason, he can fight and he’s used to winning,” says Brook.

“He’s defeated unbeaten fighters before so he’ll come into this fight with a lot of confidence.

“But whatever he brings I’ll adapt to what I need to do. I’ve had different kinds of sparring with tough middleweights, people coming forward at me.

“But I’m fit and this is what I do for a living.”

Should he win, and with a story that tugs at the heart strings and a promoter in Eddie Hearn who knows how to sell a fight, Brook is set to go far.

A ‘War of the Roses’ has been muted with Khan, but as Brook points out: “I’m the world champion, not him.” So he should not have to chase.

A big fight in America, or at a British football stadium – preferably Bramall Lane for the Sheffield United fan – is the aim.

No-one should doubt Brook’s capacity to achieve those goals. Like all great champions, he has proven adept at picking himself up off the canvas.

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