Amir Khan vs Kell Brook may have come a few years too late, they may be past their best – but their February 19 showdown will still be a massive event for one reason, a genuine and bitter dislike of each other.
If there was any notion that these two British stars are just chasing one last payday, Monday’s heated press conference suggested otherwise.
The tension, animosity and distain for one another was palpable and both are under no illusion that for all they have achieved, this fight is one they’ll be remembered for.
Amir Khan and Kell Brook’s February 19 showdown has been a long time coming
Khan said he ‘schooled’ Brook when they were both training with the England team
So why is there such an intense rivalry between two men who have never fought as professionals?
The pair first crossed paths as teenagers battling for a spot on the Olympic team, a time Khan took great pleasure in recalling with a grin on Monday.
Not that those sessions have any relevance whatsoever now but the 34-year-old gleefully quipped: ‘I used to school him in Olympic training camp, the trainers used to say “just go in and use one hand against him today!”
‘You will see on February 19 how I school and play with this guy, just like the early days. Why is it I got picked for the Olympic team? Because I was schooling Kell Brook with one hand.
‘I’d ask, “do you want the jab, left-hook or uppercut” and they’d say “just throw the jab”.
‘You’re delusional’, Brook interjected.
And when asked to elaborate on the story later on, Khan added: ‘I was training in Sheffield, just before the Olympic camp I was there for the England camps and I remember sparring Kell Brook there, and being told to use only one hand against him because I was literally schooling him and I had to take it easy on him.
Khan and Brook were on Ringside on Sky Sports together in 2013 and their rivalry has been heating up over a decade despite the fact that they’ve never fought as professionals
‘This was after me doing two-three rounds with other guys before. I didn’t think much of Kell Brook then, that’s the only thing I remember of him. He admits that we sparred but not that I was told to hit him with one shot.
‘I could pick a shot and keep hitting him with that shot.’
Clearly this anecdote is not in itself the root of all the bad blood here but it does illustrate why Brook feels such strong animosity.
He sees Khan as dismissive and disrespectful and feels belittled. There’s no question that of the two, Brook feels the sting of this rivalry more than Khan.
While both men have faced some of boxing’s greats, Brook claimed to have chased the fight for years – putting Khan up on a pedestal and thinking it will be his magnum opus.
Khan on the other hand brushed aside talks with a man he does not consider on his level, which of course infuriates Brook further.
Khan and Brook came face-to-face for the first time since finally agreeing to fight each other
Khan (left) was defeated by Canelo Alvarez back in 2016 in a Las Vegas encounter
A clash between them has been on the radar for a long time and in 2013 they appeared alongside one another on an episode of Ringside. They were generally respectful, but when Brook was asked how Khan would fare stepping up against him, he said: ‘If he gets in with me it is not going to be good. Accuracy beats speed and we know he can’t take a shot. It would only be a matter of time.’
This fight should have happened five years ago.
Back in 2016, Brook was the IBF welterweight champion, Khan moved up to the same division and defeated three former world champions in succession – that would have been perfect timing.
Brook was desperate for it but Khan’s eyes were rolling with dollar signs as he pursued Floyd Mayweather.
‘Money Man’ proved elusive but instead he banked a mega payday against Canelo Alvarez, stepping up two weight classes in a brave but foolish move that saw him KO’d in the sixth round after five technically brilliant ones preceding it.
Not to be outdone, Brook picked a fight with a monster of his own. Gennady Golovkin fractured his eye socket in a fifth round finish.
Brook opted to face Gennady Golovkin but was no match for the powerful puncher
The narrative, that Brook himself does nothing to dispel, is that Khan is a ‘celebrity’ and ducked him out of fear of reputational damage, especially with the close proximity of both hometowns.
But that doesn’t quite wash, especially because the fight is now on when the damage to either man’s career will be terminal with defeat.
Khan does not need the money but understands how a win over Brook in front of a packed MEN Arena will add to his legacy. Brook knows he will be defined by the outcome of February 19 and his blood was already boiling at the fight announcement.
‘I want to hit him right now. He’s lied about why he kept me ducking me so long. Hatred is a strong word but I despise him.
‘I would have gone to my grave irritated and angry if I’d not smashed him to the ground.’
Negotiating a fight like this is always tricky but the tectonic plates of British boxing have moved favorably to make it happen but combined with Brook’s desperation to get it over the line.
Khan and Brook both turned up the temperature and went back-and-forth on Monday
Eddie Hearn upped sticks with Matchroom to join DAZN, leaving Sky Sports to scramble to salvage their boxing coverage.
They duly signed a deal with BOXXER as their in-house promoter and knew that delivering this fight would signal their ambition.
With the backing of the broadcaster’s marketing, Khan vs Brook should sell plenty of pay-per-views and although the timing for fans comes five years too late, it has worked out perfectly for Sky.
Brook has conceded the A-side and will even give up six-figures for every 16 ounces over the 149 catchweight limit. He bent over backwards to have the fight made and promised a ‘car park scrap’.
His stepdad Terry Thompson was involved in the negotiations and admitted that the spectre of this fight has loomed large and ‘haunted them’ for so long.
It has taken a long time since their early sparring session to make this fight but it is almost here
‘We’re just grateful he’s got the chance to finally put this fight to bed that has haunted us, haunted our life forever and a day, since he was young.
‘It would have been so sad if we left this sport without this fight ever happening.’
The bad blood that has built up over a decade makes this fight compelling. As much as they might use it for fuel, on February 19 they will contemplate the future.
Khan and Brook know that in another 10 years, the comments in the streets of Bolton or Sheffield will be about next year’s all-or-nothing grudge match.