Adrien Broner, Once So Promising, Now A Cautionary Tale
Adrien Broner more than likely has had a hall-of-fame career, and that being said it is hard to not view him as an underachiever. So is it really a hall-of-fame career if you don't maximize your full potential? That is more of a rhetorical question, I suppose.
His first-round knockout of Jason Litzau was not dissimilar to Tiger Woods saying “Hello, World”, in his professional debut at the 1996 Greater Milwaukee Open. A large burst of excitement around a new athlete who looked to carry the sport forward. Broner did not just stop Litzau, a fighter who had a bit of buzz behind him, but had the famous “Can-Man” speech ready, and had his hair combed while talking.
Broner gave shades of Aaron Pryor, a vocal fighter, who fought as hard as he talked. Yet, the story didn’t end the same way.
Broner was being built as the next Floyd Mayweather, not in terms of his fighting style which was more of a pressure style, but in terms of his ability to merge fans of hip-hop, black American culture, and extending to general sports fans. Broner’s media appearances included The Breakfast Club as much as true sports journalism, as any media outlet wanted Broner, because he is one of the most compelling interviewees in the sport.
Broner was one of the few boxers a lot of everyday people knew and seemed to be the guy who could carry the sport into the next generation.
The humorous speeches would continue and have people talking, while he was providing major knockouts, despite an uncomfortably close fight with Daniel Ponce De Leon at 126 pound. If Broner’s life was a movie this would be the foreshadowing of late disaster.
This was best seen this past Tuesday afternoon on a conference call to promote his upcoming fight against Omar Figueroa Jr., another troubled fighter, who seemingly never reached his full potential either, for their bout on Showtime, Saturday, August 20th, in Hollywood, Florida.
“I feel like Al Haymon and Stephen Espinoza is bullshitting,” said a frustrated Broner via Zoom call. “…Why is we doing a press conference on a computer?”
This was minutes before Broner stated that Floyd Mayweather gets in-person press conferences for fighting YouTubers, as Broner put it, and promptly left the call.
BRONER BEING BRONER
This isn’t the first time Broner has lashed out at promoters as he got mad at Eddie Hearn for offering him a contract labeling it a “slave deal.” That changed the conversation from the pseudo-boxing business talk (which seems to be 90% of boxing journalism nowadays) to people’s view on racial equality in America. The other half just viewed it as Broner saying something outlandish.
The frustration of where his career is at is clear as day, and now Broner is seemingly down to his last shot as a viable main event fighter who carries a card, as young guns like Conor Benn, Rashidi Ellis, Vergil Ortiz, and Jaron “Boots” Ennis would love a chance to fight a star like Broner, and yes, Broner is a star.
Three things sum up Broner’s career: 1) immense talent, 2) struggling to stay at weight classes with troubling signs of focus and discipline, and 3) his lackadaisical performances outnumbering his moments when he looked to be a legend. At Broner’s best, 135 pounds, he looked to be the best lightweight I had seen since “Sugar” Shane Mosley, in terms of merging power, speed, and boxing ability. Armed with a crew of Rau'shee Warren and Robert Easter Jr., donning the “Bandcamp” moniker it looked as though Floyd Mayweather was the present, and Broner would the pay-per-view guy of the future, with a new universe of boxers set to follow his growth.
The weight issues occurred early in his career. Broner would miss weight against Vicente Escobedo, which would cloud his stoppage win over his foe.
His two best consecutive fights saw him have a hall-of-fame performance against Antonio DeMarco who had just stopped John Molina Jr. in one round on HBO and defeat Jorge Linares via stoppage late in their bout to win the WBC lightweight title. Broner annihilated DeMarco in a fashion we haven’t seen since, as the Cincinnati product stopped the best fighter in the division, but not just did he defeat him, Broner overwhelmed him.
Broner looked to be a different tier of fighter against the best guy in the division..and that night in Atlantic City, New Jersey, Broner became the next star in boxing.
Broner would bully and batter Gavin Rees on his last appearance on HBO Boxing, as it was now at a fever pitch for an entertaining boxer both inside and outside of the ring. It seemed Broner would be the next guy in the sport.
PEERS ASCEND, AB STAGNATES
His peers at this time were Keith Thurman, Danny Garcia, and Leo Santa Cruz, all of whom were emerging in their own right and with the same team behind them. Broner was the guy, and modern-day greats like Deontay Wilder sat in the shadow of Broner during this time period.
Yet, Broner’s success began to stagnate, as in 2013 Broner gave up his lightweight belt to move to welterweight and fight Paulie Malignaggi, a superb boxer, not known for his power punching. Broner seemingly looked to hand select a world title at the most popular and financially fruitful division – the 147 lbs division, completely by-passing the 140 lbs division.
This was when the doubts entered. The fight was built upon chauvinism and sexism, as Broner claimed to have slept with a girl Malignaggi had been with. Some wondered if now he wasn’t being “colorful,” but instead was getting distracted by antics. Also; in a fight Broner was doing well in, he was not all that active as it was fairly debatable who won, based on Broner's low punch output. Broner would win the fight on the cards, but it didn’t sit well with most.
Malignaggi gave him hell, pretty much. Broner was supposed to be the guy, but many felt Malignaggi had beat him, and his outing didn’t separate him from the pack in a manner that an all-time great should in his Showtime debut.
That is the major issue with the Broner story in hindsight. Since the start, we held him to a legendary standard, so he was graded as such, and often got a passing grade of a C, when we wanted an A performance.
TROLLING OR DELUDED, THAT IS THE QUESTION
Deeper frustrations seemed to manifest from Broner’s arrogance as he never seemingly showed frustration with his performance and always felt he either won or did great. This is best seen when he famously stated he thought he beat Manny Pacquiao. (Broner has sparred with interrogator Jim Gray a bunch of times. His post-fight interviews are now more anticipated by some former rooters than his bouts.)
It was absurd to any rational fight fan, but it also spoke to the fact that Broner is not unlike the cool guy in high school, who has an infectious personality and is willing to say things that would entertain – but are not always true.
When writing this it is hard to say, but it has been roughly nine to ten years since we have seen the best version of Adrien Broner. Think about how hot he must’ve been coming into a sport to still be a massive draw, after having performances that are consistently not the standard we had hoped for.
Broner’s career would forever be altered when he would lose to Marcos Maidana on Showtime in a bout that was originally set for PPV, but then moved to standard television. The fight saw Broner dropped for the first time.
Robert Garcia, one of the best coaches in the modern era of boxing, trained Maidana sagely. Broner leaving the ring, looking beyond humbled, became a meme that is still used to this day.
The unsung aspect of the fight is, Broner never quit in this fight. Broner is one of the toughest fighters in the ring I have seen at the highest level as he has no quit in him. This was best seen in the later rounds, Broner was walking down Maidana at the end of the fight, not unlike Vasyl Lomachenko walking down Orlando Salido in the late rounds.
The fight was a damnation though. So many fight fans wanted to see Broner humbled and him losing in such a manner, giving them more fuel to mock him. Broner at every turn behaved like a fighter, never showing remorse or a desire to change, like a George Foreman making a return to the ring later in life. Rather, he would antagonize that core base even more, infuriating the haters.
HATERS KEEP HIM RELEVANT
In many ways, Niccolò Machiavelli was right, you need to love your enemies since they keep your spirit alive more than your loved ones, and in Broner’s case, I think part of why he is still relevant is based on vocal and passionate boxing fans disliking him, which preserved his name.
After the Maidana fight, Broner went down a rabbit hole. His rap career continued to exist, he toured with famous rappers, and began to feud with his former idol, Floyd Mayweather.
His subsequent three wins were shaky. There was a very uninspired comeback win over Carlos Morales that looked far too similar to the Ponce De Leon fight or the Malignaggi fight, with his face being on his socks was the most notable thing about this fight. And a razor-close fight with Emanuel Taylor that saw Broner knocking him down in the 12th round being the difference in the fight, and then a one-sided dominant performance against John Molina Jr. on the first Premier Boxing Champions card, that saw Broner follow Molina around the ring too much.
Having been rebuilt, Broner in 2015 had a chance to be the guy again, facing Shawn Porter at a catchweight of 144 lbs. Yet again, Porter outworked him, and not unlike the Emanuel Taylor fight, Broner would drop Porter in the final round, but it was far too late.
Porter went on to fight all the notable names, as he upset Broner who now had two losses, but was still a viable attraction in the sport.
The situation was strange. Broner was someone people wanted to see, but it was becoming glaringly real that above 135 lbs., Broner’s style was not nearly as effective and his lifestyle outside of the ring didn’t give him the chance to still be at that weight class, let alone perform in a manner he needed to win.
Broner would rebuild again. He won a world title against Khabib Allakhverdiev, who had given Jessie Vargas a hard fight, as he stopped the fighter late, and dominated from start to finish.
Yet, a lot of media and fans were frustrated with Broner, this is best seen by a Bad Left Hook article from this time, in which an author tried to make a case that Broner was losing the fight, which is untrue, but shows the disdain Broner had created amongst a vocal group in boxing.
Broner would stop Ashley Theophane, who was signed to Mayweather Promotions. After the bout, Broner would release a single over the beat of Desiigner's song, “Panda,” called “Slammer.” Not long after this Broner would be arrested for an alleged robbery of someone in a bowling alley parking lot, after a night filled with gambling.
Broner was making news, just not in the ring.
He became a sad cautionary story of what could happen rather than of the achievement of boxing greatness that we had hoped for.
The endearing part of Broner is the fact he has real demons, not unlike all of us. Broner similar to Ric Flair in pro wrestling has to be the life of the party, and seemingly one of his kryptonites is loyalty to people who didn’t always deserve it. Broner was the first wave of the social media generation, and it seemed to affect him in the worst ways.
NEW BRONER, SAME AS OLD BRONER
The last five years of Broner’s career have looked nothing like the start. The Adrian Granados fight was yet another close fight in which Broner got the edge of a close split decision, but just was not at the level it should have been. Many pundits felt Granados deserved the nod. Same theme of many of these fights moving forward, Broner just didn't look spectacular, but seemingly got every benefit of the doubt on the judges' scorecards.
Broner would lose to Mikey Garcia, have a draw with Jessie Vargas, and lose soundly to Manny Pacquiao. All fighters who would fight on PPV or had been on PPV, and none of the bouts really had an exciting moment for television to be remembered. The Vargas bout was the best, but Vargas took the fight on late notice after Omar Figueroa Jr. withdrew.
During the Pacquiao camp, Broner trained with Kevin Cunningham in Florida. So, not just did the pre-fight programming tell you it was the best camp of his life, but it also was stated off the record by the insiders with the closest information to the camp. Add to the fact, that Broner trained side-by-side with Gervonta “Tank” Davis. Even with all of that, Broner just was far too content to follow Pacquiao around.
In short, Broner was becoming the most amazing gym fighter but just was unable to adjust to a pro fight, as it looked like his style had built a way to win a fight to a death with his hands held high waiting on his opponent to tire, but not so effective to win a 12-round world championship prize fight. The blazing fast hand speed and power we saw at the lower weights – it just wasn't there anymore, or at least it didn't look the same.
Two years later, after a sad proceeding that saw Adrien Broner arrested and humiliated in front of a judge who felt Broner had mocked a question in the court of law, he was incarcerated, and said he was broke, having to get help from friends to stay afloat.
ANOTHER COMEBACK, MORE OPTIMISTIC TALK, MORE SAME OLD AB
The comeback saw Broner documenting a lot of his return. A lot of fight fans whether they said it or not wanted to see the now faded fighter return to form. What we got was a lesson in mortality. Unheralded Jovanie Santiago lost a unanimous decision to Broner, but Showtime’s official card scored it for Santiago. The issues Broner had at the start of his career are now worse with age, and seemingly not being a full-time athlete, or at least during times in his career, have just made it worse. To make matters worse, Gary Antuanne Russell stopped Santiago in Santiago’s next televised Showtime bout.
Not unlike trying to go back to a 8th-grade history class and being humbled by how much you forgot or never knew, Broner is now no longer able to get by on a foundation of bad habits he built during the prime of his career.
Broner last I heard was in Colorado somewhere training for this upcoming bout. The return of Broner is muted this time, and facing Omar Figueroa Jr., who has also publicly battled demons, somewhat shows this his last chance as a viable A-side fighter before having to be an older fighter facing young guys for money he might need later in life.
Everything about this fight somewhat states the cold hard truth about where Broner is in 2022. The fight is in Florida, and despite training at times in that state, Broner typically either fought at home in Ohio, or major media markets such as Las Vegas, New York City, Texas, Washington D.C., or even Los Angeles, California.
I would like to say the fans want to see Broner return or triumph, but I think the Broner story has neared the point of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.” We have heard this story far too many times prior to Shawn Porter, Mikey Garcia, Manny Pacquiao and unknown Santiago, as a viewer I think a lot of fans have moved on. Broner has to fight the fight of his life, but if he doesn’t things will only get more tragic.
The most tragic part of the Broner story, in my opinion, is that I think he meant well oftentimes, or tried to at least, and couldn’t control his own vices, demons, or spending habits. The outside influence of the world was far too much for someone who wanted to be well-liked. As fighters like Andre Ward were obsessed with greatness, Broner was obsessed with being relatable to his peers, and being a memorable person in someone’s life outside of the ring.
Broner is struggling to keep his Instagram account active, let alone his boxing career. It feels like things have just gotten away from him, and despite only being 32 years old, he feels like a fighter at the end of his career rather than one who might preserve a bit of his legacy at the backend.
The Broner story is sad as he should’ve been one of the major figures in the sport, but bad decisions cost him. Now it comes down to accountability and performance. Broner obviously has the talent, it is the focus he has lacked – can mortality and an end in sight motivate him like never before?
I would like to think so, and I suppose that is why we watch. To see the old Broner, the one who stood above the rest on two or three occasions, but I am not sure that guy still exists.