What was supposed to be a showcase event for former IBF welterweight titlist Kell Brook at the Sheffield Arena this past weekend was instead a mediocre performance versus Michael Zerafa.
Brook, in winning, actually lost.
Instead of dominating the hand-picked Zerafa (25-3, 14 KOs) and taking him out in the early-to-middle rounds as expected, the 32-year-old Brook struggled down the stretch and had to settle for a 12-round decision. The scores (118-110, 119-109 and 117-111) don't reflect just how hard Brook had to work to stave off the Australian in the late stages.
On this night he was not-so-"Special K."
So now the question is: Is it time for the long-awaited UK showdown with Amir Khan?
For years they have circled one another but have never come close to squaring off in the ring. In the past it's been a battle of egos, wills and the usual garden-variety boxing politics that have kept this matchup from coming to fruition. Boxing is so fractured nowadays, rivalries are actually created when boxers don't face one another.
But after this tepid showing by Brook, is there any remaining buzz surrounding this matchup?
Brook (38-2, 26 KOs), came in at 150 pounds versus Zerafa for whatever reason. Perhaps he just needs to make the full commitment to junior middleweight. This contest was actually a WBA 154-pound elimination bout. When he faced Sergey Rabchenko back in March at 153.5 pounds, Brook looked much more stout in scoring a second round stoppage.
One of the key sticking points in making this bout is the insistence of Khan that this be a welterweight contest and that a rehydration clause be put into the bout contract. Brook, who lost challenging then middleweight world titleholder Gennady Golovkin in 2016, is a bit of a 'tweener at the moment. It doesn't seem like he can make 147 without emaciating himself, but the real problem is he may not be a full-fledged junior middleweight in an era when big, physical grinders like Jarrett Hurd, Jermell Charlo and Jaime Munguia currently reside in the division.
There was a time Brook might have been the world's best welterweight after defeating the hard-charging Shawn Porter in 2014 for the IBF belt. Unfortunately, he took on the forgettable trio of Jo Jo Dan, Frankie Gavin and Kevin Bizier in subsequent title defenses and his career stalled. After having his face shattered by the likes of Golovkin and then Errol Spence Jr., he is now considered damaged goods.
As for Khan (33-4, 20 KO), his career has certainly been eventful and full of defining moments -- in both victory and defeat -- and for years he has looked down on Brook.
Yes, while his English colleague was certainly a talented fighter, he never came with the amateur pedigree or the sizzle of Khan. Which is why the 2004 Olympic silver medalist was afforded the opportunity to venture across the pond early in his career and was consistently involved in major events, where Khan has played to decidedly mixed results.
Khan, 32, is a boxer who is physically gifted but deeply flawed. Blessed with a multitude of tools but cursed with a shaky set of whiskers, he's a fighter who can win or lose to literally anyone on any given day. In many ways it's what makes his bouts so fascinating. We watch many fighters for their dominance, with Khan, we watch him for his vulnerability.
There are now reports that Top Rank has reached out on behalf of reigning WBO welterweight champion Terence Crawford about a March showdown with Khan. Now, putting aside the money -- which is admittedly very important -- should Khan be thinking more about this opportunity? Is this the fight he should take?
While he'd certainly be facing daunting odds in taking on one of the premier boxers in the sport at his apex, this would be one last chance for Khan to exhibit what he has always believed -- that he is an elite prizefighter. And this time he wouldn't have to do so as a middleweight, as he did with disastrous results against Canelo Alvarez in 2016.
Khan-Brook at this juncture, it can be argued, is a regional rivalry. One that's expiration date as a truly world-class matchup was up in 2016. Perhaps this bout, like Victor Ortiz-Brandon Rios in America, will be one that will always have a curiosity factor attached to it, regardless of when -- and if -- it occurs.
For Khan, Crawford represents a chance to stay at the upper reaches of the sport and to prove that he is still a marquee performer. Some might scoff at such a notion, especially given the nature of his last showing against Samuel Vargas in September, when he was knocked down but recovered to win easily, but Khan has always had an abundance of self-belief. Some would say it's hubris, others would label it delusion. It's a part of who he is, love him or loathe him.
It's why he kept chasing his own tail in futile pursuit of Floyd Mayweather a few years ago. His seeming obsession with Mayweather became boxing's version of "Fatal Attraction," and while other careers moved forward, his stagnated for a couple of years. Now it looks like he has options and the ability to actually chart his own course.
Perhaps Brook and Khan do need one another.
Whether it happens or not, once again, will be decided by Khan.