Showtime's recent cards have been tough to sell. The Haymon Showcase Series of summer 2013 has not been my favorite thing, and surely hasn't been yours, either. The August 16 card -- Showtime's last -- did feature Kell Brook upsetting Shawn Porter in the main event, and at least that was a legitimate fight between two young, quality welterweights, and it made that one easier to talk up.
The August 9 card, which featured Danny Garcia committing assault against Rod Salka, was crap on paper, crappier in execution, and a stain on our boxing schedule. And that's saying something, boxing being the way it is and all.
Tonight's fights are closer in spirit to the Garcia-Salka card than the Porter-Brook event. Adrien Broner, Lucas Matthysse, and Andre Berto are all getting what appear to be soft touches. But there are still some decent reasons to tune in tonight, and on this score, at least, it's better than the Garcia-Salka travesty.
1. Adrien Broner: Fresh/fly/flashy or another boring walkover?
Adrien Broner is, like Zab Judah used to be, one of my favorite fighters to think about and watch. The talent in both is obvious. Judah seemed to shrink under the pressure of a tough fight. On the other hand, Broner's problems are also mental, but they seem to be more delusion than a "lack of heart," or whatever you'd call Judah's fatal flaw.
Broner sometimes denies trying to be like Floyd Mayweather, but a more Single White Female-level attempt at imitation you will not find in professional sports. He has Floyd's mannerisms, parakeets his favorite sayings, and even does the imitation shoulder roll, something becoming more famous for failure than the shoulder roll is for success.
When Broner gets to unload combinations -- or when he chooses to -- he can be an exciting fighter, and one where you see the potential for true stardom and maybe even greatness, something far more elusive than we're often led to believe. However, Broner is too often caught trying to show off a defensive prowess he simply does not possess, leading him to throwing one punch at a time, admiring his work, and trying to impress ... someone? Probably Floyd. Or whatever deity he has imagined Floyd to be.
Used to be, you could kind of count on Broner to entertainingly thrash lesser opponents. But in May, he went the full 10 rounds with Carlos Molina, a middling non-contender who hadn't fought in a year and a half. It was a fight Broner should and could have won overwhelmingly, and while the idea of getting some rounds in after his first pro loss was enticing, there came a point in that dull shutout that Broner should have tried to make a statement. He never did.
Emmanuel Taylor is better than Molina; I have no doubt about that. But Taylor is a mid-level non-contender, too, and the Broner of Broner's dreams, and the Broner of the hype circus, should trounce this guy. Will he?
2. Lucas Matthysse vs the unknown
Roberto Ortiz is undefeated, but hasn't fought anyone on the higher levels yet. The Mexican fighter will look to make a huge statement against top contender Matthysse, a brutal puncher whose offense can be truly destructive, whether against mismatch foes like Mike Dallas, or titleholders like Lamont Peterson.
Matthysse's limitations were showcased somewhat a year ago by Danny Garcia, but he remains probably the division's best pure puncher, and he has a knack for action, be it one-sided in his favor, a gritty attempt to stem the tide in defeat, or a two-way war like he had earlier this year with John Molina. I don't know what to expect of Ortiz, really, but logic says that he's going to be in over his head here. We see lots of matchups like this all the time, and it's rare that the unproven underdog shows himself to be a bad choice for a stay-busy fight. Even if we don't know much about Ortiz, someone who made this fight happen probably does.
3. The return of Andre Berto
Andre Berto is another former star of the machine, a much-hyped, endlessly-showcased fighter who was never as good as what we were sold. But over time, he at least became an action star, putting on some of the more entertaining fights in recent memory, including brawls with Victor Ortiz, Robert Guerrero, Jan Zaveck, Jesus Soto Karass, and Luis Collazo.
Berto is one of the least cerebral name boxers I can think of in recent times. Though he has speed and quickness and athleticism, and he's not a great inside fighter or anything, he just tends to wing power shots when in doubt. That's fine with me, honestly. I'll take a guy who's as consistently fun to watch as Berto on my TV any day. But he may be trying to change that, as he's linked up with Andre Ward's trainer Virgil Hunter, who has also tried his hand at reclamation projects recently with Amir Khan and Alfredo Angulo, with mixed results.
One thing about Hunter that most people seem to ignore, I think, is he doesn't really try to change fighters. One assumes he understands that these guys will fight the way they fight, and that he's not going to undo over a decade's worth of them developing their games at various levels. Fighters are who they are. What Hunter does try to do is refine guys. With Ward, he was given excellent raw materials and helped mold a master boxer from childhood. With the other guys, the jury's still out, but there's probably too much pressure from some people for Hunter to do something heroic with these guys. How many trainers really can do something like that? All great trainers have their "failures," but that falls more on a fighter's limits than a trainer's methods, or at least I am generally inclined to think that. Not always, of course, but generally.
Anyway, Berto's back with a soft touch tonight in Steve Upsher Chambers. It's a fight the old Berto would have won convincingly, and a fight he should still win convincingly, at least if he's in shape and has his head on right.
4. Adrien Broner will be cheered (probably)
Broner generally gets booed everywhere he goes by a good portion of the audience, particularly if he's shown ringside on the big TVs on a Showtime broadcast. Then he really hears it in New York or Vegas or LA or wherever. But fighting in his hometown, he should get a hero's welcome. That's a rarity, and he might not have many more Cincinnati fights left, so tune in for novelty!
5. Mayweather vs Maidana II is seven days away
And if you might have forgotten, you won't tonight!