Time has not diminished the animosity between Amir Khan and Kell Brook. After six years of talk, fight fans -- specially in the United Kingdom -- will finally get to see the welterweights clash on Saturday. From 2016 to 2018 it appeared that the English rivals were on a collision course, but time and again their careers have taken different routes.
A bout between the two has always seemed a natural fight to make. The 35-year-olds live about 50 miles apart, they have operated at the same weight class since 2014 and openly admit their displeasure with the other. But disputes over purse splits, options for bigger fights and egos have gotten in the way.
Khan (34-5, 21 KOs), from Bolton, believes the rivalry is one-sided and driven by Brook's "hate and jealousy."
"There's no rivalry between us from my end," Khan told ESPN. "I just feel like it's just another fight for me, another day at the office, he's just from England like me and talks a lot. He hates me because he envies me and wanted to do what I did in boxing. A lot of people out there want to see him shut up because you have seen how quickly the fight has sold out."
Khan gained popularity by appearing in the mainstream reality TV show I'm a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here! in 2017, but says his ability and hard work got him where he is and points to his total commitment to the sport for his achievements.
"I'm dedicated to this sport but I don't think he was ever dedicated enough," Khan said. "He thinks he should have gotten the same publicity and bigger names I've got, but it's because of those reasons [I got them]. I've worked for it and that's where the hate and jealousy comes from. I don't care about what he thinks...."
Brook (39-3, 27 KOs), from Sheffield, says it's a lack of respect and recognition from Khan over the years that created the feud.
"Amir is a deluded man, he believes the yes men behind him and he's living in cloud cuckoo land," Brook said. "He's never respected me, never acknowledged me as a great fighter. We're the same weight, same age, from the same country. But I've always acknowledged him: he's done great in his career and I've never dissed him in any way.
"I don't like his face basically."
After such a delay, is it still the right time for the fight to happen? Khan denies it is happening too late, where seemingly both are beyond their primes and have multiple KO defeats on their records.
"I didn't want to walk away from the fight and never get the chance again," Khan said. "If the fight fell through now, it would never happen."
They have history...
Khan and Brook first stepped into the ring together in 2004, as 17-year-old sparring partners. Khan was preparing for the Olympics, where he would win a silver medal.
But their rivalry became serious in March 2015 after Brook challenged Khan to a summer showdown following a first defense of his IBF welterweight world title against Jo Jo Dan. Khan, who by then had stepped up to welterweight after reigning as a junior welterweight world champion (2009-2011), responded by telling Brook and his promoter at the time, Eddie Hearn, they were "pathetic" for calling him out and dismissed the prospect of fighting Brook that June.
The intention early on, it seemed, was always to make this fight as big as it could be.
Khan said on Twitter on March 31, 2015: "My team spoke to Eddie 2 weeks ago and he knows June 13 is a no.... And they still called me out. Pathetic. This could be the biggest fight the UK has ever seen and you want to do it all in two months?"
In early 2016 Khan-Brook was back on the agenda. Khan claims Hearn, who wanted to match them at London's Wembley Stadium in June that year, reportedly offered £10 million as part of a 60-40 deal in Khan's favor. Khan instead signed for a huge fight against boxing's biggest superstar Canelo Alvarez at middleweight in Las Vegas in May.
It was a bold move to jump two weight classes, but one Brook also took in September 2016, when he faced Gennadiy Golovkin for the other middleweight titles. Both Khan and Brook suffered brutal knockout losses, but that did not stop talk of them meeting in 2017.
Talks again broke down. In a public war of words between Khan, Brook and Hearn on Twitter, Hearn accused Khan of demanding a 70-30 split. Khan insisted Brook would still earn more than he did for the Golovkin fight.
Big fights remained for both of them in 2017. Khan was chasing -- in vain it turned out -- a fight against boxing legend Manny Pacquiao, while Brook did face Errol Spence Jr. in a mandatory defense of his IBF welterweight world title. It was a big night for Brook, in front of a home crowd of 27,000 outdoor at soccer stadium Bramall Lane, but on that cold night in May, Brook suffered a broken eye socket for the second consecutive fight and was knocked out in the 11th round by Spence.
After talks of a fight with Pacquiao amounted to nothing, Khan did not fight again until 2018. After a two-year absence, Khan resumed his career with the same promoter as Brook: Hearn. Khan and Hearn put aside their previous spats to work with each other for two fights in hopes we would get the Brook fight at last. But Hearn again failed to make Khan-Brook happen, and in April 2019, Khan challenged Terence Crawford for his WBO welterweight world title, a sixth-round TKO loss.
"[The fight with Brook] didn't happen because the Terence Crawford fight came up for me, it was a bigger fight, more money and I was told if it was then or never, I had to take it," Khan said.
Like Khan, Brook was also stopped by Crawford when he challenged him in November 2020 and both boxers' futures seemed in limbo -- until talks of a fight between the two resumed last summer. This time it was 28-year-old promoter Ben Shalom, of promotional company BOXXER, who was the mediator, and a deal was finally struck.
"This is a fight that has forever captured the imagination of the UK and [now] we are getting the fight we thought we'd never get to see," Shalom told ESPN.
"When you break it down this is a lad from Bolton and a lad from Sheffield who went on to the pinnacle of the sport who now fight to ultimately answer the question they've been batting off their whole career.
"These are two guys who have achieved more than any of us dared to dream -- won world titles, conquered the world and America -- and to get two fighters like this in the welterweight division at the same time is extremely rare. One is an Olympian and one did it the hard way. This is going to be a monster of a fight... They are superstars here in their own right."
No world title belt is on the line Saturday, but for Brook and Khan this fight is as important as any other.
"I have been in with the pound-for-pound best and been a world champion, fought at Brammel Lane, but I've never had this bad blood, grudge fight and I will tick that box with this fight," Brook said. "It would mean everything to me to win the fight because all the fans have always been asking, 'when are we going to see you fight Khan?' I think this will bring the best out of me, it's a fight that's hard to split and it will mean absolutely everything to me to beat Amir."
Khan said Brook wants to give himself confidence by talking himself into the fight, "but I'm the one who made this fight, and I did it because the fans wanted to see it.
"I've always had a big name in the sport and fought the biggest names in America -- Canelo, Crawford, Danny Garcia -- and there's so much opportunity out there for me there but there's not much opportunity out there for him anymore. He will get destroyed against any of the top five now and I'm basically giving him that pay day in this fight. There's no question who is the A-side for this fight."