Kell Brook must resist the urge to keep chasing vanished shadows of the tempting boxing business

Kell Brook left the highest level of boxing on Saturday night in Las Vegas when he was rescued on his feet in round four against Terence Crawford.

His residency with the finest, a six-year journey through multiple world titles fights, now looks sadly over after a strange fight inside the sterile bubble at the MGM. Nothing happened and then it came to a sudden end when Crawford let his fists flow for the first time. The pair had danced a bemusing and cautious hitless affair, both looking too long, waiting too far out and generally waltzing in safe little pockets. The stand-off was odd.

Brook looked hesitant, Crawford looked patient, but the waiting game finished with just one punch and then in a matter of seconds Brook was hurt, staggered and rescued. Brook wanted to fight on, Crawford wanted Brook to continue, but the referee, Tony Weeks, stopped the fight at the right moment.

There was just something missing from Brook on Saturday night in that MGM ring, a tiny edge in speed, a definite lack of his old ring confidence, a belief in his power and perhaps his resistance has gone. “Nobody has ever done that to me before,” he admitted. A fighter at Brook’s high level only has so many nights against good opponents, so many nights at the end of three-month camps, at the end of three-month campaigns to control the weight; when that little special thing has gone it is the end and Saturday night was Brook’s 42nd fight in a career that started in 2004.

Brook can return at a higher weight possibly, and fight British boxers, perhaps even a belated scrap with Amir Khan, but in Las Vegas all the signs of the end were there, even if Brook is not stumbling and slurring. Brook’s short boxing journey now is to find what he has lost in a couple of more fights, and if he is left to measure his fading skills against inferior, but younger and stronger men, he will be part of the sport’s cruellest ritual. There are domestic fights, decent money to be made, but chasing vanished shadows in the ring is the boxing equivalent of a man bouncing around a padded cell in a straight jacket.

Read more: Kell Brook defeated by Terence Crawford – report

At the start of round four a hybrid hook and southpaw jab, not particularly clean, connected with the left side of Brooks face and he stumbled to the ropes. Crawford dashed after him, steadied his feet, found a space for a looping left and then, as the referee intervened to give a standing count, a much sharper right hook landed. Brook’s decline was sudden, his eyes wet with hurt.

Brook never hit the canvas, but the count was necessary as Brook stood on unsteady legs doing his best to convince the referee that he was fine. He was not fine, far from it, and he looked like a drunk trying to argue his case for entry on the door at the last chance saloon. Brook is not quite at that foul bar, but he is close.

Weeks let Brook continue and he barely moved, he seemed stuck close to the corner, his legs heavy, his hands slow and his eyes wide. He looked distressed. Crawford moved in, no hurry, shifted his shoulders and let his hands go. A nasty left was clean, some of the others were blocked, but the referee was closest as Brook stumbled again and he could sense the end. The fight was stopped officially at 1:14 of round four, but the hard, hard years had taken that soul-destroying toll on Brook that is impossible to measure even with modern gadgetry. A boxer’s heart and not his punch is the last thing to leave him: “I guess I’m just not wired-up right,” Brook had said before the fight. He is right, the best fighters are never wired right.

Crawford, who retained his WBO title, has some urgent business at some point with Errol Spence, who once stopped Brook in 11 savage rounds in Sheffield – a significant loss in Brook’s tough career. Spence and Crawford are both world champions at welterweight, both unbeaten, but they are reduced to onlookers because of their rival management, promotional and television deals.

Brook will return to Sheffield, assess the fight and wait for offers and they will not be kind offers. The truth is that losing to Crawford is not a disgrace, far from it, but the loss only covers over the cracks. Brook has nothing left to prove in British boxing, but his desire, which Crawford beat out of him for 30 seconds, and eager promoters will combine to make it unlikely that he will walk away before one or two more calamitous nights. That, my friend, is the boxing business.

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