It's hard to imagine, but Adrien Broner was once a regular nobody in the pro boxing world. A little over six years ago, he made his pro debut at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in his hometown of Cincinnati, knocking out Allante Davis in 32 seconds. The world didn't know, nor did it care.
Davis went on to fight four more times, never making it out of the second round, compiling a career record of 0-5 from 2008 to 2010. Broner, however, went on to become one of the most famous and infamous names in boxing, three years later making his debut on HBO, and eventually becoming a three-weight world champion, a huge indictment of boxing's current belt system, which hands out rewards as often as it does crown anyone legitimate.
Broner, now 25, is still a very young man in this game, but the questions have mounted over the 10 fights he's had on HBO and now Showtime in the last three years. Boxing media, fans, pundits, and observers are all very susceptible to buying into a manager's or promoter's hype, or a TV network's, and Broner benefited hugely from all of those. With Al Haymon backing his play, Golden Boy Promotions hosting his events, and both of the premium cable outlets pushing him to the moon, many of us believed in the idea of there being a "new" Floyd Mayweather in town, a dynamic talent with superstar potential.
Time has revealed, however, that Broner is far from another Floyd Mayweather. Though he appears to have studied Mayweather's mannerisms, accidental catchphrases, and speech patterns to an obsessive, stalker-like degree, his imitation shoulder roll has made him look more like Wes Ferguson than his "big brother," and his opposition has mostly inspired indifference, occasionally giving us the cold, hard reality that Broner is quite possibly closer to normal than he is great.
Broner's debut on HBO in 2011 was hyped as the coming of a new star. At 130 pounds, he faced Daniel Ponce De Leon, a rugged former 122-pound champion, slow and plodding, with wide punches and poor defense. Ponce De Leon was a quality fighter, but one that should have been easy work for what we were led to believe Broner was in the ring.
Ponce De Leon wound up with an argument for the win in that 10-round fight, though judges saw it 96-94 twice for Broner, plus an absurd 99-91 card from judge Tony Crebs. The struggle of that bout took a lot of the shine off of Broner, who was an unknown outside of the boasting of himself, his team, and the HBO commentators. But boxing fans and pundits have short memories, too, and were willing to forgive. Ponce De Leon, after all, is a southpaw with an awkward style.
Jason Litzau was called in next to give Broner a chance to look more spectacular, and the Minnesota club fighter did his job, stopped in 2:58 to mark Broner's return to HBO three months later. This time, Broner's vaunted hand speed and power showed up, and the flashiness that was supposed to be his calling card was present. Against an easier opponent, Broner looked excellent.
His first world title came in November 2011, when Martin Rodriguez of Argentina faced Broner for the vacant WBO super featherweight title. This was a gift, more or less, as Rodriguez was not a serious contender, facing a bunch of stiffs on the way to a No. 6 ranking by the WBO, as silly as most sanctioning body rankings, which reward a lot of things, merit and achievement not at the top of that list.
Broner predictably trounced the overmatched Rodriguez in three rounds, once again on HBO, with the network telling us that it was something special. It wasn't. It was a guy with talent beating up a guy without it. His next two fights were the same story. Eloy Perez was drafted in next. Though Perez was a favorite of some boxing writers, who perhaps fell in love with him watching him in gyms, he, too, was grossly out of his depth, hammered inside of four rounds, and hasn't fought since.
Vicente Escobedo was next. Broner missed weight -- quite obnoxiously, at that -- and Escobedo threatened to call off the fight before Haymon stepped in and saved it with a money offer that Escobedo could not refuse. With a pretty huge size advantage, and lacking the burden of having to actually make weight, Broner beat down yet another fringe contender, stopping a gutsy Escobedo in five rounds.
With his days at 130 behind him, Broner moved up to 135 and targeted Antonio DeMarco for a November 2012 bout. DeMarco held the WBC lightweight title at the time, and had just thrashed John Molina in 44 seconds on September 8. DeMarco wanted Broner, and the fight was put together.
Short memories came into play once again, with most of us quite guilty of overrating DeMarco's pedigree and achievements. We had forgotten his days scraping past the likes of Reyes Sanchez and Anges Adjaho, in part because not as many people saw those fights as witnessed his inspiring rally TKO over Jorge Linares, or the smashing of Molina.
Broner does deserve credit, however, for dominating DeMarco entirely, much the same way that Edwin Valero had in 2010. Valero stopped DeMarco after nine rounds, while Broner put him away inside of eight, neither of them having any trouble with the tough but limited Mexican fighter, who gave his all in each of those bouts, but was outclassed.
This was Broner's best win to date, and quite frankly, it's still his best win. A defense with undersized and underskilled Gavin Rees came next, Broner again manhandling a physical inferior. Rees came to fight, as he always has, and gave Broner some interesting looks early, before Adrien turned on the switch and put him away with ease.
That was Broner's last fight on HBO, as the network split away from Al Haymon and Golden Boy Promotions, leading Broner to a fight on Showtime against Paulie Malignaggi in June 2013. Broner skipped the 140-pound division to challenge for Malignaggi's WBA welterweight title at the Barclays Center, and won another disputed decision, this time a split that many felt Malignaggi should have won.
That's eight fights. Broner was 8-0 in those fights, and could easily have been 6-2. The theme of them was clear: when faced with easy opponents who matched up favorably stylistically, Broner could look great.
When faced with capable opponents, guys who didn't give Broner anything, and reduced him to more of a one-punch-at-a-time fighter, Broner didn't look so special after all. It's not as if Daniel Ponce De Leon in 2011 or Paulie Malignaggi in 2013 were world class, elite-level fighters, either. Both were solid second-tier guys in their divisions. One would expect the "next Mayweather" to wipe out such foes. Broner did not.
And then came Marcos Maidana.
The reason we got Mayweather-Maidana in May 2014 is simple: Maidana made the case to face Floyd and picked up huge buzz but beating Adrien Broner in December 2013, flooring the arrogant pugilist twice en route to a humbling, fairly dominant decision win. Broner looked positively lost at times against Maidana, who was not only capable like Malignaggi and Ponce De Leon, but physically strong enough to hurt him. Maidana's relentless barrage of offensive shook Broner mentally and physically, and Adrien was never in serious danger of winning the fight, though breath was held worldwide before the scores were announced and rightly awarded the fight to Maidana.
The immediate reaction was one of joy, for the most part. Broner's out of ring antics and overbearing character had made him one of the most easy to hate fighters in the sport. That was largely by design, but unlike Floyd Mayweather, who had made himself the best fighter in the world before completely "going heel" with the Money Mayweather idea in 2007, Broner had never really proven anything.
A comeback fight with Carlos Molina (the bad one) was scheduled for May 2014, and Broner spent the full 10 rounds toying with another opponent who never had a prayer of beating him. Nobody was particularly impressed, other than guys like Brian Kenny and Richard Schaefer.
That's a lot of words to say something very simple: Adrien Broner has not yet proven himself worthy of the status that he thinks he deserves. Three world title belts? Forget them. None of them meant a thing. One was decent (DeMarco), one was gift-wrapped (Rodriguez), and one was arguably stolen (Malignaggi). Adrien Broner has made one serious title defense with those three belts, and Marcos Maidana frankly embarrassed him. The three belts are press release material, nothing more.
Broner (28-1, 22 KO) returns this Saturday night on Showtime. He's back in Cincinnati for the first time since his win over Escobedo, coming home a bigger name, sure, but is he any better? Do his career prospects actually look brighter?
Zab Judah was once Exhibit A of a fighter that people overrated, and hand speed is a trait that media and fans seem to fall in love with too easily. Gary Russell Jr may be another fighter whose overall talents have been overestimated thanks to wins over weak opposition and pretty combinations against those sorry foes. Broner doesn't even really have the in-ring flash of Judah or Russell, but has made up for that by talking. A lot. All the time. And burning money in the bathroom at Popeye's. And having a sex tape "leaked." And everything else one could possibly do, really.
Emmanuel Taylor (18-2, 12 KO) is Broner's opponent this weekend. A competent but unremarkable fighter, Taylor is a 23-year-old battler from Maryland, another guy on the outskirts of being an actual contender. In March of this year, he lost to Chris Algieri in New York, setting up Algieri's upset of Ruslan Provodnikov, and his November date with Manny Pacquiao. He followed that with a fairly sluggish July 18 win over Karim Mayfield, a fight in which neither guy looked much like a serious player at 140.
Taylor didn't controversially lose to Algieri. He was beaten cleanly. And he didn't dominate Mayfield. He got off the canvas and edged past him. He's not coming in hot. He's just coming in.
So can Broner prove much on Saturday? Not really. Taylor isn't good enough that he should trouble Broner, and if he does, then it's time to wonder even more about how good Broner actually is, and if there's really much there at all. This is the same level of opponent he's been beating for years now, and with due criticism about their quality. All Adrien Broner can really do on Saturday is raise more doubts. To get real credit, he has to face a real contender. He's done it a few times, and it hasn't gone so well.