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Welterweight Kell Brook ready for next step in IBF title challenge

Kevin Iole
Yahoo Sports
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Kell Brook works out during media day last week in Las Vegas. (Getty Images)

A bit more than 24 years ago, a lanky but somewhat unheralded welterweight with freakish punching power stood on the precipice of greatness.

Thomas Hearns was 29-0, but living in the enormous shadows cast by the likes of Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran when he landed a title bout against Pipino Cuevas.

Cuevas was on a 12-fight winning streak, all coming in WBA welterweight title bouts, and was developing a reputation as a big-time puncher. In those 12 title bout wins, Cuevas scored seven knockouts in five rounds or less.

So when Hearns knocked out Cuevas in devastating fashion in the second round of their Aug. 2, 1980, match at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, it was a sign that he had arrived as one of boxing's biggest stars.

Englishman Kell Brook finds himself in a very similar position heading into Saturday’s IBF welterweight title bout at the StubHub Center in Carson, Calif., against champion Shawn Porter on Showtime.

Brook is 32-0 with 22 knockouts, but he's largely unknown to the American audience outside of the hardcore boxing fan. But a win over the undefeated Porter, who is 24-0-1 with 15 knockouts, would be a wakeup call to the fighting world.

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Kell Brook, right, lands against Alvaro Robles during Brook's March victory. (Getty Images)

Kell Brook, right, lands against Alvaro Robles during Brook's March victory. (Getty Images)

He has the makings of a star – he's no Hearns, but few men in boxing history could compare favorably to the legendary "Hitman" – and seems on the verge of big things.

But first, he needs to get past Porter.

"I was born to do this," Brook said. "For most of my life, from my earliest days, I wanted to be a world champion. I've sacrificed a lot and given a lot of myself to get here to this stage. And now that I'm here, I want to finish the job.

"There is no pressure because this is what my whole life is about. I've wanted to get this title shot and win that belt for so long. I've thought about it for years."

Thinking about winning a title and winning one are two vastly different things. Hearns proved himself to be one of boxing's greatest champions and he engaged in several of the most famous bouts in boxing.

His 1985 middleweight title bout with Marvelous Marvin Hagler is regarded by some historians as the greatest fight in the sport's long history.

Brook hasn't had a big-time fight yet, nor does he have the kind of names on his résumé that would make anyone stand up and pay attention.

But, as Brook points out, he can only fight those who are in front of him. He's won all of them, usually impressively, and has rarely had to extend himself.

Brook is fast, slick and has surprisingly good power. The confidence he's gained by winning, by reeling off victory after victory, may be his greatest attribute.

Speak to him for even a short time and it's clear he's oozing with confidence.

"Winners expect to win," Brook said. "You get used to winning and you learn the habits that winners have and you go out there and you don't think about losing. You don't think about what might not be quite right or may not go perfectly. You just believe you're going to find a way, and I feel like each time I get in there, I'll find a way to come out on top."

Brook has a little more than a two-inch height advantage on Porter, but Porter actually has a longer reach.

Porter had plenty of questions surrounding him, but he’s blossomed in his past two outings, routing Devon Alexander and then violently knocking out Paulie Malignaggi.

If Brook can stand in front of this powerful and quickly improving man and come out on top, it's a positive sign for the sport. It would also mean yet another entrant into the Floyd Mayweather Derby.

Brook's got plenty yet to prove, but a memorable performance on Saturday will send his career trajectory skyward.

He's fighting outside of England for only the second time in his career, but he isn’t fazed.

"Everybody starts somewhere and you win the fights that you get and when you get the big opportunity, you step up and seize the moment," Brook said. "I'm as ready for this fight as I could possibly be. This is where I always wanted to be, in a world [title] bout and I plan to take advantage."

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