All of Adrien Broner's preening with brushes, all of his talking in the third person, all of his weight-missing antics and Twinkie diet boasts, all of his stunts like in-ring faux marriage proposals — it's all amusing enough, or magnetically enraging enough, or both, and it's all a part of who he is, and it's no small part of what makes him captivating, and it's no small part of why he's one of HBO's ratings darlings. But what the hardcore boxing fans have most wanted from him is to test his sublime speed and power truthfully. No more fringe contenders, no more televised mismatches. We know who Adrien Broner, the spectacle, is. We want to know who Adrien Broner, the boxer, is.
Antonio DeMarco is the answer Saturday night in Atlantic City.
And it's hard to conceive of a bad answer. If Broner creams a sturdy, determined, lightweight upon his entrance into the division, someone who's like a blown-up, better version of his last authentic challenge — Daniel Ponce De Leon — most of us will be in awe of the arrival of a genuine new megatalent. If DeMarco beats up Broner and makes him bleed and wince in pain like he did the last phenom he faced, Jorge Linares, it will please the masses who find Broner's punk-ass routine (and even those who love him would have to admit the routine is punk-ass) insufferable. If Broner is pushed to the limit and skates by, or is pushed beyond the limit and is narrowly edged on the scorecards, it will satisfy the fans who crave action above technical masterpieces, and anyway, who doesn't like a good, hard-fought, competitive bout?
It wasn't that long ago that I doubted whether DeMarco could prove this kind of measuring stick for Broner. Broner has been a giant junior lightweight, so giant he outgrew the division in his very last fight, a shameful over-the-limit stoppage of Vicente Escobedo, a fighter as honest and salt of the earth as they come, so as to make Broner's childish charades magnified by comparison. And DeMarco has, at times, struggled. He beat up Linares in the end, but spent the first half of the fight being outclassed most magnificently. He withstood the elemental and since deceased Edwin Valero, to the point that you wondered whether you could hit DeMarco with a chimney and he'd remain on his feet, but ultimately succumbed to a stoppage loss. He has periodically managed to make fringe contenders look good by comparison.
But in his most recent fight, against John Molina, DeMarco was a picture of veteran poise. Molina was outclassed, too, but few expected the outclassing to be so severe. DeMarco hurt Molina right away, and didn't let up, and he had an early night: a 1st round technical knockout. Watching that performance against a top-10 worthy lightweight, DeMarco looked like a fighter who had found himself, perhaps in his last fight against Linares, when he was able to outlast and fend off the ghosts of Valero against Linares. And most importantly, he looked like De Leon 2.0.
With one shocking exception (Juan Manuel Lopez) De Leon has been the very picture of gritty, impervious, grinding, educated Mexican brawler. That's what he was in the spring of 2011, too, when he nearly beat Broner, and beat him on the scorecards of many observers, mine included. Then began the string of unnecessary Broner mismatches, starting with Jason Litzau, continuing to Vicente Rodriguez, getting a bit better with Eloy Perez and ending with the weight mismatch against Escobedo.
DeMarco has most of the essential traits of De Leon, but he's even more technically proficient, even sturdier, just as southpaw and he's naturally bigger; De Leon was moving up in weight when he nearly upset the Broner hype machine, and now it's Broner moving up in weight. DeMarco might be slower than Broner, he might be less powerful, but on paper, he's a better version of the man who virtually beat him a little more than a year ago.
There are, however, key differences that play into Broner's hands between De Leon then and DeMarco now, and Broner then and Broner now. De Leon smothered Broner with aggression, forcing Broner to cover up and curtail his punch output. Broner has since become more willing to lead, and he's also found homes for his counter shots more frequently. His mini-Floyd Mayweather act has moved forward, he's more aggressive offensively but still not the defensive maestro Mayweather is. Nonetheless, he's also gotten better defensively, and that will help him, too.
DeMarco doesn't do aggression like De Leon, either. He tends to wait on his man too much. It's one of his biggest flaws, perhaps THE biggest. And he is, somehow, more hittable than De Leon. De Leon pulls back after his shots in a way that leaves him less vulnerable; DeMarco over-commits, leaving himself as obvious as a fat snail on a pretty blonde's face.
We don't know if Broner will carry his power up, but we do know he'll be more powerful than Linares, who was a light hitter for a 130-pounder, let alone a lightweight, while Broner was top-notch in the power department at 130. DeMarco won't be walking through Broner's shots the way he did Linares'. Broner will hit him hard enough to make him think, and DeMarco overthinking matters exacerbates his worst tendencies of waiting too long and too often.
I can see DeMarco winning if he comes out and puts intense pressure on Broner from start to finish, and I do think he can withstand what Broner throws at him if he decides to do that. But I don't know why DeMarco would have turned that corner of fighting every second of every round. It doesn't seem to be in his nature. Rather, I see Broner controlling the early action, DeMarco surging late and Broner doing enough toward the end to keep DeMarco off him to win a comfortable decision — albeit a fight that feels less-than-comfortable for him, in the end. He'll be tested, and he'll know he was.