Former welterweight titleholder Kell Brook hasn’t fought since Dec. 2018, when he beat Michael Zerafa by decision in a fight that he and Matchroom Boxing both hoped was going to set up an overdue showdown with longtime medial rival Amir Khan.
Khan, however, took a big offer from Top Rank to face Terence Crawford. It’s hard to blame Khan for such a move — it was a bigger fight internationally and a chance at a world title — but it did leave Brook (38-2, 26 KO) without his obvious dance partner.
There came talk of Kell facing Liam Smith or Jessie Vargas. Neither fight happened. And when 2019 came to a close, Brook, who turned 33 last May, had sat out a full year.
He’ll end his absence on Saturday, climbing into the ring in his hometown of Sheffield to face American Mark DeLuca, a relative unknown.
“Everything is for a reason,” Brook said. “I probably wasn’t ready. I was looking for the big fights but maybe mentally I wasn’t there.”
Brook, who didn’t exactly impress many spectators with his decision win over Zerafa the last we saw him, had to fight someone at some point, and since the big fights weren’t coming his way, or just didn’t get done for whatever reason, it’s DeLuca (24-1, 13 KO) who will oppose him.
Being frank, there’s not much Brook can do against the New England club fighter that’s going to surprise anyone, other than possibly losing the fight or struggling to any real degree. But it does get him back in the ring, does put his name back out there as an active fighter looking to fight.
“It’s my time to prove why I am ‘The Special One,’” he said. “Why I belong where I belong. We’ll see on Saturday night what I’ve got. This is my chance to show everyone that I’m back, and I’m 100 percent mentally, physically, spiritually.”
DeLuca comes over from Massachusetts simply expected to lose, in all candor. And while some may suspect there’s a shot at the upset with Brook possibly rusty or just getting older, DeLuca isn’t looking at it that way.
“He’s trying to get back to where he once was. That’s a hunger that I think is still in him,” he said of his opponent. “He has to get by me in order to do that. I’m not listening to the naysayers, I think I’m getting a really dangerous and strong Kell Brook.”
DeLuca expressed respect for Brook due to his past fights with Gennadiy Golovkin and Errol Spence Jr, which resulted in losses (and broken facial bones) for Brook, but proved his willingness to fight the best.
“There’s no quit in Kell,” DeLuca said. “His two defeats were against two bogeymen that nobody wanted to fight, Triple G and Errol Spence. He was the only man to step up and face that challenge. He’s a game guy.”
One can expect DeLuca to come and give his best effort, but if Brook is at or near his best, it’s clear this is a fight he should win, and it’s one he’s designed to win. Beating DeLuca may not raise Brook’s standing, really, but it could set up something bigger at either 147 or 154. Liam Smith is still out there. The winner of the Feb. 29 fight between Mikey Garcia and Jessie Vargas will be out there. And yes, Amir Khan is still out there; even if that fight can never be what it would have been a few years back or even a year ago, it would still kick up significant interest in the UK.
But Brook has to win. Even if he’s not at his very best, he has to win to set up anything else. And for DeLuca, of course, it’s the chance of a lifetime. An upset here and he gets that shot of notoriety and a chance for another payday against a name fighter. The pressure is all on Kell Brook this weekend.