Facts are facts, and we'll lead with those. Adrien Broner won a world title in a third weight class at age 23. Even in an era of watered-down, often meaningless belts, this is definitely impressive. If you take away the belts, and look at what he's done so far, he's done a lot for a 23-year-old fighter.
Broner improved to 27-0 (22 KO) with a split decision victory over Paulie Malignaggi (32-5, 7 KO) tonight, winning the WBA welterweight title, adding to his past trinkets at 130 and 135 pounds. Scores were 115-113 Broner, 115-113 Malignaggi, and 117-111 Broner. BLH had it 115-113 for Broner.
The Cincinnati native looked good, as Malignaggi put it, in spots. But he had a curiously low punch output in the fight, with Malignaggi, 32, staying very active, particularly with his jab, going to the body and head, and controlling, in some ways, the pace of the fight.
As Broner stood and shook his head and relayed to Malignaggi that he wasn't and could not be hurt, rounds kept passing. Though it seemed that Broner would surely take over around the fifth round or so, that just never happend. Rounds came and went. Every three minutes, Malignaggi was still there -- and Broner was failing to pull away from him.
Broner, meeting a guy who doesn't always lob softballs in Showtime interviewer Jim Gray, didn't have the usual cheerleader to speak with after the fight, either. Gray refused to laugh or smile, or even chuckle or smirk, as Broner tried to explain that Paulie "couldn't hit (him)," and that yes, clearly he had won the fight.
The outcome itself isn't terribly in question. A score for Malignaggi was probably in the vast minority for the viewing audience, and Showtime's Al Bernstein, Steve Farhood, and Bernard Hopkins all scored the bout for Broner, too, on scores of 115-113 (Bernstein and Hopkins) and 116-112 (Farhood).
Seemingly sensing some rejection from the crowd -- and not just because he was on the road -- Broner defiantly said that he would let "the fans" pick his next opponent. Someone should alert Al Haymon to that idea, because if the fans have their way, they'll probably be sending Broner back to 140 to face Lucas Matthysse, or they'll demand that he fight Floyd Mayweather, or at best, he might find himself in the ring with a guy who will throw punches as Malignaggi did, but can actually make a dent. Perhaps a Marcos Maidana type.
We aren't even considering what our options will be. Would a group where the best name is Ricky Burns really surprise you?
Malignaggi got back on his familiar high horse after the fight, railing about boxing being "full of shit" and "political bullshit," stopping short of saying that the fight was "fixed," but noting that in boxing, close fights always go to the fighter better politically connected.
Gray stood his ground, rather than making a bug-eyed "oh, no..." face and awkwardly waiting for the moment to pass, seemingly begging for the microphone to cut out, or anything to save him from asking a real question or sincerely debating any of this.
But while Gray did bluntly ask Malignaggi if he was saying the fight was fixed, after Malignaggi declared judge Tom Schreck (117-111 Broner) "in Al Haymon's pocket, simple as that," Gray didn't have the time necessary to process another somewhat funny inconsistency: It was all of one fight ago, in October 2012 in the same building, that Malignaggi got the split decision over Pablo Cesar Cano.
"Does it make it right?" Malignaggi replied when Gray asked him if he should be used to this sort of thing now. Maybe Malignaggi was asking this to a larger audience than just Jim Gray, and if so, let's at least offer one take: No, it doesn't make it right. Of course it doesn't. And there's no "but..." here, either.
The bottom line on the fight itself is that Malignaggi surpassed expectations tonight, while Broner simultaneously failed to impress. It was a two-way street. It wasn't Malignaggi's great game plan that made Broner look "bad" tonight, nor did Broner's lackadaisical, arrogant approach turn Malignaggi into a better fighter than we thought. Malignaggi had a good game plan and stuck to it. And Broner, for whatever reason, simply didn't adjust. He never took over as he was supposed to do. That opens up a lot more questions.
Sure, Floyd Mayweather had his Jose Luis Castillo struggle. But did Mayweather have Fernando Quintero, Daniel Ponce De Leon and Paulie Malignaggi? No.
The future of the "next big thing" doesn't look terrible or anything like that, but if the question is whether or not he'll meet those Floyd-level expectations and promo materials, is anyone really seeing that at this point? There's a lot more to discover, of course, and it's not a black-and-white answer right this second, but if this sort of evaluation is an ever-evolving discussion, which I believe it should be, Broner took a step or two back tonight, and there are legitimate question he has not yet been asked to answer.
He got by tonight, and surely he knows that this was closer than it was supposed to be, deep down in places he won't talk about at parties or with TV cameras present. If one can be exposed while winning, that may be what we saw this evening.