(May 3; Las Vegas; Adrien Broner [right] against Carlos Molina during their fight at MGM Grand. Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)
A young boxer without hype is just one of countless hopefuls. Add hype and suddenly you’ve got a “hot prospect,” “a contender,” maybe even “the next big thing.” Hype attracts fans, sells tickets, gets you on the big cards. Early in a career, hype is your reputation. No one should therefore sneer at Adrien Broner’s mastery of self-promotion. He and Golden Boy are excellent salesman in a competitive business. Broner’s problem is that he sees only the hype. While self-belief is important, this is now an all-consuming arrogance.
Broner, set to return to the ring the weekend after next, has ignored the wake up calls. Fernando Quintero, Daniel Ponce De Leon and Paulie Malignaggi were all unlucky not to beat him. Broner is a gifted fighter with recurrent flaws. It’s possible to understand his lack of progress by understanding how he sees himself. Interviewed after beating Malignaggi, he was asked what he thought of Floyd Mayweather’s opinion that his footwork needed to improve. Broner brushed the criticism aside, saying that he had the footwork but just hadn’t needed it in that fight. He won’t get better until he stops believing that he’s the finished article and accepts that, like any fighter of his age , he is a work in progress.
Accepting the need to improve means accepting the need to work. From failing to make weight against Vicente Escobedo to admitting he was out of shape for Malignaggi, Broner hasn’t shown a great love of the gym. It seems to be a question of focus rather than laziness. Broner begins “AB,” a documentary about his life, by declaring: “Some people say I’m a professional boxer, some people say I’m a fighter. AB is a professional entertainer.” Boxing success is built on single-minded commitment, not a part-time rap career.
Watch a few minutes further into “AB” and you find “The Problem” gambling on dice rolls, insulting a waiter and messing around in the back of a limo. Does Broner really like boxing or just the lifestyle that comes with it? He loves the money, the girls and, perhaps most of all, the attention. And why not? Find me a 25-year-old man who wouldn’t. Yet Broner desperately needs to learn a lesson from the man he calls his “big brother.” Mayweather understands that his millionaire lifestyle is a reward for being a perfect professional: Broner sees it as his entitlement.
Broner still has age and ability on his side. With Mayweather as a supporter, he has an all-time great as a willing mentor. Yet even if he makes the right decisions, Broner is unlikely to fulfill his dream of being Mayweather’s heir. There’s no shame in that; it’s a goal too ambitious for almost any boxer. When Broner realises greatness is beyond him, he could still knuckle down and carve out a good career. Alternatively, he might walk away from the sport. From a pathetic dive to the way he stormed out, Broner’s response to the Marcos Maidana fight shows he sees defeat as an intolerable humiliation. He might look at debut movie star Victor Ortiz and start wondering whether there’s an easier route to the high life than getting repeatedly punched in the head.
His limitations as a boxer have not stopped him becoming a star. That over one million viewers watched each of his fights against Rees, Malignaggi and Maidana is proof that hype works. He’s learned at least one thing from Floyd: Fight fans will always watch a villain.