Amir Khan and Kell Brook are approaching senior citizen status in the boxing world, yet the build-up to their long-awaited grudge match this weekend has been built on the rivals bickering like children.
That is not to say their interactions would have been dissimilar had the 35-year-olds clashed seven years ago, when a bout between the Britons would have brought a much greater degree of competition and anticipation – though no more animosity than appears to still exist between the old nemeses.
And that is perhaps most crucial, for the fans, ahead of Saturday’s main event in Manchester. Both fighters’ speed, power and movement have diminished over the years, their fragility only increasing, but followers of the sport have never demanded a figurative chess match between Khan and Brook; fans have begged for a brawl, they are craving a knockout.
The combination of hostility and vulnerability that has been prevalent in the lead-up to this contest promises drama and atmosphere in the AO Arena, and they are the two most vital factors for this fight between former champions.
Khan and Brook’s rivalry dates back to their teenage years, when they sparred one another at the age of 17 as Khan prepared for the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, where he would become Britain’s youngest ever boxing medalist.
“He was quiet,” Khan recalled of Brook while speaking to Sky Sports this week. “We never shared any words. Kell was only there as a number.
“They let him spar just to check him out, but he took so much of a beating that he was never picked again. I was told to only use one hand against him. I was schooling him and had to take it easy on him. That was after doing rounds with two or three other people. That’s all I remember about Kell.”
For what it’s worth, Brook acknowledges Bolton-born Khan’s success in that sparring session.
“You’ve got very fast hands, probably the fastest hands I’ve been in with, yeah,” the Sheffield fighter said. “I will give him respect, he was pinging me until about halfway through the first round – I didn’t lay a glove on him, I couldn’t touch him.
“But then I adapted, the timing came. Timing beats speed for me, that’s what we’re gonna see in this fight.”
Thankfully for the fans, it is doubtful that timing and speed will be the most decisive factors in this 149lbs catchweight bout.
Rancour, ring rust and a likely lack of resilience will reign.
Fans have often been quick to question Khan’s chin – especially since it was near-obliterated by Saul “Canelo” Alvarez six years ago – while Brook’s eye sockets were almost shattered by Gennady Golovkin and Errol Spence Jr in back-to-back outings in 2016 and 2017. Both combatants will be cutting weight, with the catchweight and rehydration clause favoring Khan, who has not fought in almost three years. Brook, meanwhile, has been out of the ring for 15 months since his TKO loss to Terence Crawford, who also stopped Khan but has been in “King”’s training camp for Saturday’s bout.
It would be false to suggest that this fight is bigger now than it would have been in 2015, or even three or four years ago, but there is a genuine argument that the pair and their slackened skill-sets better position them to deliver the kind of contest that fans have truly desired all along.
“Let’s get onto the chin. On a serious note, both of us probably might not be the best at taking the best shots,” Khan admitted this week. “Obviously [Brook’s] eye sockets aren’t gonna help, are they? He’s already half-broken, he’s not gonna last.”
“Shall we stand in the middle of the ring and give the fans a war?” Brook asked his rival of him. “Do you want to do that?
“I’m gonna be over with you when you’re out cold. You’re getting knocked out. You know what it’s like to be knocked spark out, don’t you? It’s gonna happen again.”
It is difficult to imagine either man making it through all 12 rounds on Saturday. In that sense, and seemingly against the odds, Khan vs. Brook may well over-deliver.
Both fighters might just be past their expiration dates. Remarkably, this fight is not.