Brook ready for 'semi-final'
Kell Brook will climb through the ropes at the Sheffield Arena on Saturday night knowing he is a win away from a shot at a world title, just 14 months after quivering with nerves ahead of an innocuous bout at a leisure centre.
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The 26-year-old self-styled 'Special One' was under the management of Eddie Hearn for the first time against Lovemore Ndou at Hillsborough Leisure Centre in June last year, and told his new promoter in the build-up that he did not know if he was up to it.
He would see off the Australian on points, though, and has since grown in both confidence and reputation, so much so that if he beats Hector Saldivia in what amounts to a semi-final for the IBF welterweight title, he will be on the brink of ruling the world.
"Fourteen months ago, Kell Brook had his first fight with us, this will be his sixth," said Matchroom Sport boss Hearn.
"We had a plan straight away to become a mandatory challenger for the title, that was all we wanted to do. We didn't want a small purse or to give away options. We wanted to control our own destiny.
"We started off at Hillsborough Leisure Centre against Lovemore Ndou and he (Brook) was shaking. He was asking me what I thought, whether he'd get a good reception. He sold out with eight weeks to go - people had said he couldn't sell a ticket.
"We went from there to Ponds Forge, then we took the ultimate gamble by moving to Sheffield Arena where we sold 10,000 against Matthew Hatton. We haven't taken a backwards step. People believe in Kell Brook, he's breaking records on Sky and he's a superstar in the making."
Unfortunately for Brook, his last outing was anything but super. He clung on for dear life against the well-travelled Carson Jones, taking a majority decision that belied his broken nose and blood-stained shorts.
The close shave has proven to be a wake-up call for the unbeaten Brook, though, who has sculpted his body to new levels in order to preserve his 28(18)-0 record against Argentinean Saldivia.
With a crack at the title, which will be held by either Devon Alexander or Randall Bailey who also fight tomorrow night, on the line early next year as a reward, Brook has left nothing to chance in an intensive 12-week training camp and he admits that a new regime has sharpened his body and mind.
"I'm in the best shape I have ever been in. It's the best I have ever felt and the easiest I have made the weight. I'm feeling strong and I can't wait for Saturday night," he said.
Brook had previously thought he was in tip-top condition, but added: "It's a big eye-opener, you never stop learning and I have taken my body to places it's never been before. It's been crying in pain, not wanting to be there but it's had to go there because that's what I have been told to do. I'm now benefiting from the recovery, my heart rate is back down and everything is superb."
Standing in front of him is 28-year-old Saldivia who himself has an enviable record of 41(32)-2.
"He's no easy pickings," said Brook.
"He's earned his right to be ranked where he is, he's no walkover and is going to be very tough, you can tell he is and I am going to have my work cut out. I wouldn't want it any other way, I want to excite the fans and they are going to go home with a smile on their face."
On a stellar card, Brook will be supported by fellow South Yorkshireman Jamie McDonnell, who is also going through the mill of an IBF title eliminator at Bantamweight.
The Doncaster man takes on late call-up Darwin Zamora, the Nicaraguan seconded after Vusi Malinga pulled out, while there is a tasty-looking all-British tear-up between Robin Reid and Kenny Anderson.
Former world champion Reid, now 41, and Anderson will face-off for the vacant British super-middleweight title.