Kell Brook vs. Michael Zerafa – Preview & prediction
By Tim Royner: Kell Brook (37-2, 26 KOs) has a crucial fight tonight against fringe contender Michael Zerafa (25-2, 14 KOs) at the Sheffield Arena in Sheffield, UK. Zerafa comes into the fight with just 2 defeats on his record, losing to Arif Magomedov at middleweight and former WBO 160 lb champion Peter Quillin at super middleweight. Arif has been fighting at 154 since 2018, and he seems to be a lot better at that weight than he was at 154.
Zerafa hasn’t fought any contenders at junior middleweight since he moved down to this division. His power appears to be better at junior middleweight, but we don’t know how much better it is due to him facing only weak opposition since moving down in weight.
Brook has been saying that he feels revitalized since teaming up with new trainer John Fewkes, who replaced Kell’s long time coach Dominic Ingle. Brook has fought once in 2018, beating fringe contender Sergey Rabchenko by a 2nd round knockout last March at 154. Brook looked good, but he wasn’t facing one of the good fighter at junior middleweight. Brook felt good at 154, but he wasn’t tested properly. It’s possible that if Brook had fought someone like Julian ‘J-Rock’ Williams, he wouldn’t be taking about how fresh and energized he now feels.
“Brook has got the fire back. He looked good against Sergey Rabchenko and I’m expecting him to be even better,” former super middleweight champion Carl Froch said to skysports.com. “The 154 lb division is full of dangerous fighters and Zerafa should find out that Brook is one of them.”
Froch is right that Brook will look even better against Zerafa than he did against Rabchenko last March. What Froch isn’t saying is that Zerafa isn’t as a good a fighter as Rabchenko. Brook is taking a step down in competition rather than a step up, thanks to the careful match-making by his promoter Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Boxing. Hearn has picked out a guy in Zerafa, who was belted around the ring by Peter Quillin in 2015. Zerafa had no defense against Quillin’s shots, and from the earliest moments of the fight, he was taking monstrous shots that had the crowd shocked and wondering how long the mismatch would last. Zerafa looked like someone with no boxing experience at all that had walked into the ring from the crowd. Zerafa showed no sign of talent. It was an embarrassing mismatch. Although Zerafa has won his last eight fights since the defeat to Quillin, but he’s done it against woefully bad opposition. Zerafa has been arguably been padding his record against 2nd and 3rd tier opposition since the Quillin fight.
The Brook vs. Zerafa fight is a World Boxing Association 154 title eliminator for a mandatory spot against WBA junior middleweight champion Jarred Hurd. Brook fighting for that spot seems to indicate that he and his promoter Eddie Hearn want to keep their options open if they’re unable to get the Amir Khan fight or a match against any of the elite in the welterweight division. Hurd could be a last resort option for Brook if he has nothing else going, and if he’s willing to take a major risk with his career like he previously did against Errol Spence Jr. and Gennady Golovkin. Brook failed in both of those fights, although it wasn’t entirely his fault. Brook’s body couldn’t hold up to the hard pounding from GGG and Spence, so he had to quit after suffering a broken eye socket in both fights.
The 32-year-old Brook wants to end 2018 with a nice victory over Zerafa, and then move into 2019 looking to face Khan. That’s the fight that both guys want, but they’ve been unable to agree on the terms. Khan has been clear from day one what he wants in the negotiations with Brook. He wants Brook to agree to a 10 lb rehyration clause. That’s been the hangup all this time in the recent round of negotiations. After tonight’s fight with Zerafa, 26, Brook might decide that it’s best that he give Khan what he wants by agreeing to his rehydration limit so that the fight can get made. If Brook had other options for winnable fights against the best at 147, he would likely go that route and see if Khan changes his mind. It’s not going to be easy for Brook to get the top welterweights to fight him. He’s too big for the welterweight division, and the promoters for the elite fighters aren’t going to want to match their guys against a fighter that is likely going to be weighing in the 170s on the night of the fight. Even Spence, who Brook lost to in 2017 by an 11th round TKO, doesn’t want to go through the hassle of fighting him again unless there’s something on the line like a world title at 154. Brook is not interested in fighting world champions at junior middleweight, and that rules out a rematch against Spence from happening.
Khan is heading towards a title shot against World Boxing Organization 147 lb champion Terence Crawford on March 23 on ESPN PPV. Following Khan’s lead, Brook said that he’ll also go after one of the world champions at 147 after his fight with Zerafa if he can’t get a fight against Amir. Brook also says he might fight one of the champions at 154. His WBA junior middleweight title eliminator tonight against Zerafa would enable him to earn the mandatory spot to fight either WBA Super World junior middleweight champion Jarrett Hurd or WBA ‘regular’ 154 lb champion Brian Castano (15-0, 11 KOs).
It would be a courageous move on Brook’s part to fight Hurd, but it’s more likely that he would take the far easier fight against the 29-year-old Argentinian Castano. Both fights would be very difficult for Brook, but he would major problems against the 6’1″ Hurd. Castano is also 6’1″, so the 5’9″ Brook could be too small for him as well. Either way, it’s going to be tough for Brook to beat one of them. That’s why Brook’s main objective is to get the Khan fight. If that fight can’t get made, then Hearn will try his best to lineup a fight for Kell against WBC 147 lb champion Shawn Porter, WBA ‘regular’ champion Manny Pacquiao, WBA ‘Super World’ champ Keith ‘One Time’ Thurman or IBF champ Errol Spence Jr. Hearn has deep enough pockets to get a fight for Brook against one of them, but depends on whether this is something the Matchroom promoter wants. Assuming that Hearn absolutely doesn’t want Brook tangling with the likes of Thurman, Porter or Spence, he could drag his feet in the negotiations by offering low ball offers or flat fees like he’s arguably done with the Anthony Joshua vs. Deontay Wilder negotiations. If Hearn wants to ruin the negotiations between Brook and one of those fighters to ensure the fights never take place, he can certainly do it by offering purses that their management would never in a million years agree to. That’s why it’s in Brook’s best interest to have his manager keeping a close tab on Hearn to make sure he’s really trying his best to put together fights between Kell and the other fighters not named Khan.
We know that Hearn wants the Khan vs. Brook fight. What we don’t know is if Hearn fancies the idea of Brook fighting Porter or Spence again or Thurman. Brook got lucky in beating Porter in 2014 when the referee let him hold all night to keep Shawn from being able to get his shots off. Brook would throw a punch and then collapse forward to grab Porter immediately. The referee should have given Brook several warnings to stop with the holding, and if he didn’t comply, he should have taken points off. Brook literally got away with murder in the way he was allowed to hold Porter all night. The chances of that happening again without Brook being penalized and/or disqualified are slim. Brook would have to fight Porter the second time around, and not just look for an angle to smother his offense by bending the rules.
Hearn thinks there’s a 50-50 chance the Khan vs. Brook fight will take place. Just how Hearn knows that is unclear. Without Brook agreeing to the 10 lb rehydration limit that Khan is asking for, the negotiations will go nowhere. There’s no point in Hearn talking about the Khan-Brook fight until he can get Brook to agree to the rehyration clause, as he’s the B-side in the promotion and isn’t in the position to dictate terms.
Brook’s new trainer John Fewkes won’t make a difference tonight or anytime in the future. Brook beats a limited guy like Zerafa even if he trained himself or took the fight with no training camp. This is just a plain old fashioned showcase fight. It’s not designed to be competitive. It’s designed to make Brook look good, and to make sure he doesn’t lose again. Fewkes won’t change anything when or if Brook steps it up against the good welterweights or junior middleweights. Unless Fewkes can take the punches for Brook, Kell is going to have just as many problems fighting the murderer’s row at 147 and 154 that he’s had in his stoppage losses to Gennady Golovkin and Spence.
Brook will make short work of Zerafa in stopping him in the 3rd round. Brook has the ability to end this mismatch in round 1 if he wants to, but he’ll likely string it out to the third round in order to showcase his talent against the punching bag Zerafa. It’s too bad the British Boxing Board of Control didn’t insist on Brook fighting a better opponent than Zerafa, but he’s technically a contender now with the new WBA’s rankings. Zerafa wasn’t ranked in the top 15 by the WBA last month, but he’s suddenly there after the fight was made with Brook.
On tonight’s Brook vs. Zerafa undercard, welterweight contender Josh Kelly faces former WBA World welterweight champion David Avanesyan, and Anthony Fowler and Jono Carroll are also on the undercard.