Kell Brook said Errol Spence Jr was one of the best kids Ive been in with after the 31-year-old from Sheffield lost his IBF welterweight title following an 11th-round stoppage
For Kell Brook it was a night that promised so much but ended in gut-wrenching failure. In front of his own people, at a venue he fell in love with as a child, the 31-year-old was determined to triumph, but ultimately he was defeated by the American Errol Spence Jr via an 11th round stoppage, losing his IBF welterweight title in the process and suffering the sort of setback that it may take him some time to recover from.
That much could be taken from Brooks expression as he contemplated his second successive defeat, having been stopped inside five rounds by Gennady Golovkin nine months ago. He looked broken and beaten, and yet again it was an eye injury that played a part in his downfall. Brooks right eye had been broken at the hands of Golovkin at the 02 Arena in London, leading to his trainer Dominic Ingle throwing in the towel. Here it was the Sheffield mans left eye which took a pounding, and while there was no intervention from Ingle, there was also no chance of Brook continuing through heavily restricted vision as Spence unloaded a barrage of shots to his opponents body.
Brook fell to his knee, going down for the second time in this contest and the referee, Howard Foster, called an end to proceedings one minute and 47 seconds into the penultimate round. As Spence celebrated, many of the 27,000-plus crowd headed for the exits. Many more, however, remained and applauded Brook for the spirit he showed in what must have been almost unbearable circumstances, fighting in almost total darkness against a high-class opponent.
Eddie Hearn later confirmed Brook was being treated in hospital for a fractured eye socket. Its the same injury as [sustained against] Golovkin, but in the other eye which is unbelievable. But no complaints, Kell was beaten by the better man.
Spence, a 27-year-old Texan, arrived on these shores with a 21-0-0 professional record and a reputation as one of the smartest, deadliest fighters around, with Sugar Ray Leonard describing him as the real deal.
The question was whether he could live up to the hype in his first contest outside north America and ultimately he did, going from mandatory challenger for Brooks IBF crown to the latest world champion in the welterweight division.
Hes one of the best kids Ive been in with if not the best, said Brook. I got caught in the seventh round in the left eye. The double vision just stuck.
A fascination before this fight was how Brook would cope coming back down two weight divisions having faced Golovkin at middleweight last September. Brook has made no secret of the difficulty he has boiling down to the 147lb limit but he ultimately decided to go through the pain again, and entered the ring here amid an expectedly fervent atmosphere, a capacity crowd making no secret of their allegiance on a cool evening in south Yorkshire.
This was Brooks first fight at a place he first visited two decades ago as an awestruck Sheffield United fan with his Uncle Johnny, the man who predicted Brook would one day return here as a headline fighter. This, then, was not just a fight for Brook but the fulfilment of a family ambition, and if there were any nerves on his part they did not initially show.
The first round was a cagey affair in which the champion worked well behind his jab. Spence Jr started to show his skills from his tricky southpaw stance in the second, connecting with a right jab and hook, but Brook replied with a counter overhand left. Both fighters traded further shots in the third but here came the first genuine indication that the challenger had what it took to worry the champion, forcing him to stumble back with one testing right hook.
The fourth and fifth rounds saw a further trading of blows. It was compelling, too-tight-to-call stuff and it was only in the seventh when the tide truly turned.
The swelling around Brooks eye became particularly noticeable in the eighth, and while he continued to battle hard and apply pressure it was obvious he was in trouble. Two rounds later he hit the canvas for the first time after being pushed against the ropes by a flurry of heavy punches from his American opponent. He survived Fosters count but could not do the same in the next round.
I live to fight another day but Im gutted that, in front of my home fans, Ive lost my belt, said Brook, whose record now stands at 36-2-0. Where he goes next is a matter of intrigue. After recovering from yet another painful injury he may pursue a rematch or even decide to move up to light-middleweight, or even back to 160lb.
For Spence Jr, the sky appears the limit. Sugar Ray was right all along.
Groves on top of world at fourth try
There was a mix of relief and ecstasy for George Groves in Sheffield on Saturday night after he became a world champion at the fourth time of asking with his sixth-round stoppage of the Russian Fedor Chudinov. Groves claimed the vacant WBA supermiddleweight title with a gutsy display at Bramall Lane, the home of Sheffield United. The 29-year-old had been put on the back foot for the opening three rounds but eventually exerted pressure over Chudinov and secured victory after his opponent failed to respond to a barrage of shots.
Grovess three previous title attempts against Carl Froch, twice, and Badou Jack had ended in disappointment and he admitted beforehand that it was a case of now or never. Groves was confident, though, having won his four bouts since losing to Jack in September 2015 and having teamed up with the trainer Shane McGuigan.
Groves also maintained a size and height advantage over Chudinov but that did not tell in the opening stages as the man from Bratsk dictated the pace of proceedings, forcing Groves against the ropes and catching him with a number of hooks and one eye-catching shortarm left hand to the chin in the second round.
But Groves fought back and stopped Chudinov in his tracks with a right hook to the side of the Russians face in the fourth. He followed that up with a thudding left to the body.
A nick to Grovess left eye following a clash of heads appeared to be causing the Londoner problems in the fifth, but he rallied and in the following round took full control, rattling Chudinov who won the WBA title himself with victory over the German veteran Felix Sturm two years ago in only his 13th professional bout before losing it to the same opponent in a rematch last year with a series of his own punishing hooks. Referee Steve Gray eventually stepped in to stop proceedings.
This is the end of a lifetimes work, said Groves, who as well as becoming a world champion has also extended his record to 26-3-0. Shane McGuigan has resurrected my career. I feel like Im the best in the division Im willing and ready to fight anyone.
A clash with the IBF champion and long-time rival James DeGale could well be Grovess next assignment, something which the 29-year-old described as logical before this fight. The pair met in 2011, with Groves coming out on top.