Kell Brook faces former world champion Vyacheslav Senchenko this Saturday night in a fight that's being viewed as an IBF eliminator. If Brook wins, he's rumoured to be in line to fight the winner of Devon Alexander v Shawn Porter in late March or early April next year.
Despite holding the WBA belt for over three years, Senchenko is best known in Britain for ending Ricky Hatton's comeback. The Ukrainian went into the bout on the back of losing his title to Paulie Malignaggi, his first and only defeat to date. Senchenko overcame a slow start to finish Hatton off in the ninth round with a crushing left hook downstairs, a hook that could be called Hatton-esque.
Senchenko has only had one bout in the year since his victory over Hatton, a routine stoppage victory over Carlos Adan Jerez in August. At 36 years of age, the slight inactivity of the past year or so might have done Senchenko good, he's always fought regularly during his career and looked jaded in the Malignaggi fight, the short breaks he's had both before and after the Hatton fight looks to have recharged his battery.
Brook has also been inactive recently, various injuries destroying his scheduled title fight with Devon Alexander a couple of times and limiting him to just one fight in the past twelve months, an impressive stoppage victory over Carson Jones, who'd given him the hardest fight of his career a year earlier. The Jones rematch was at a catch weight of 151lbs, Brook says making 147 won't be a problem but with rumours of weight making difficulties aplenty, it could be an interesting weigh-in.
Both boxers have been respectful towards each other in the build-up to this fight, which makes a nice change, but one thing that's stood out is Brook's attitude, he's had an edge to him this week and looks like he's relishing the chance to put on an eye-catching performance. He's said he's got "itchy knuckles" and that Senchenko will know he's in with a monster within the first round.
Nine times out of ten you can ignore such comments as they're so common in boxing. This looks like one of the times where a fighter truly believes his words and isn't just saying them for effect. Brook's words have a hint of nastiness about them, he looks to be angry at the way injuries have slowed his progression and is in the frame of mind to to make sure nothing else stands in his way, similar to the change in Darren Barker's attitude after losing to Sergio Martinez.
Whilst Senchenko isn't a massive puncher (23 early in 35 fights), he does hit hard enough to gain an opponents respect, and as Hatton can attest to, he's a very good body puncher. Brook can't afford to be gung-ho, he may want to make an early impact but rushing Senchenko isn't the way to go about it.
The longer armed Ukrainian will want to control the fight with his jab, and whilst Brook can have success on the inside, he'll have more success using his speed advantage to counter punch, looking to come over the top of Senchenko's jab with an overhand right or moving to his left and beating Senchenko to the jab.
It should be an entertaining fight for the fans, and with both men knowing a win will all but secure a world title shot, you can expect them to be at their best. If Brook performs as well as he's spoken this week then Senchenko could be in for a hard night. Senchenko is the best opponent Brook's faced and will come to fight, he possesses a solid chin but can cut easily, which caused his fight with Malignaggi to be halted early. Some of Brook's punches have a slashing style to them, especially his left hook and uppercuts, it's not hard to envisage Senchenko spilling blood at some point.
If Brook is on form and fights with a new-found nastiness, it's not inconceivable that he stops the usually tough Senchenko late. Brook's speed and accuracy could start to sicken a bloody and tiring Senchenko around the eighth and the stoppage may come in the following couple of rounds.
The pick of the undercard sees Brian Rose take on Javier Francisco Maciel. This is a considerable step-up in class for Rose, his Argentine opponent is a very decent operator and carries respectable power.
Maciel has only lost twice in twenty-nine fights, most notably against unbeaten Dmitry Pirog in 2011 in what is his only fight outside of Argentina. There's no disgrace in losing to Pirog and Maciel has won all nine fights he's had since, albeit against distinctly average opposition.
Lancastrian Rose has shown great improvement in the past couple of years, he's won a British title outright and has had dig deep to battle his way to victory over Joachim Alcine and Alexey Ribchev in his past two bouts. Rose is a solid all-rounder and the recent battles he's had proves he's got heart, unfortunately he just seems to be lacking the bit of magic needed to succeed at the highest level.
If Maciel isn't effected by fighting away from home, I fancy him to cause an upset here. Rose is a battler and won't fold easily but Maciel is a crafty boxer and holds advantages in speed and power. Rose needs to establish his jab if he's to stand a chance of winning, he'll also have to be wary of Maciel's left hook, both to body and head, the Argentinian also throws a sneaky lead uppercut which looks tailor made to catch the upright Rose. It'll be a close fight but Maciel should be busy enough to edge a close decision.
The undercard also features hot prospects Callum Smith, Khalid Yafai and Anthony Joshua.