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With hype gone, Adrien Broner can't afford another loss

Adrien Broner has not become the pound-for-pound type star he said he would be, and if he's not impressive on Saturday night, where does he go?

Steve Marcus/Getty Images

Adrien Broner was once one of boxing's most talked-about fighters. Not all of it was good, but all press is good press, or so goes the old saying. Broner made headlines as much for filming himself using the toilet at Popeye's as he did for winning HBO and Showtime main events. He made some fans, but he seemed to make a lot more "haters," and not just from boxing fans on Twitter or internet forums. Whenever Broner was shown on screen in the crowd at fights, he seemed to get near unanimous boos from the live audiences.

Broner, now 26, is not the headline maker he once was. He's able to claim world titles in three weight classes, but that sort of thing has become so close to commonplace in today's boxing landscape that few take the idea seriously. Further complicating matters there is that Broner's title wins and title reigns didn't exactly distinguish him as a standout fighter.

At one time, Cincinnati's Broner was criticized for being a creation of his power backer, Al Haymon, and the networks, notably HBO and later Showtime. A controversial HBO win over Daniel Ponce De Leon in 2011, back when Broner was a super featherweight, seemed to raise some red flags, but he was effectively rehabbed with wins against overmatched foes Jason Litzau, Martin Rodriguez, Eloy Perez, and Vicente Escobedo, before a strong win at lightweight over Antonio DeMarco in 2012, itself perhaps overrated because DeMarco was a figurehead fighter in what was a very weak division at the time.

Broner's win over Gavin Rees in February 2013 was his last as a lightweight, and the cocky young star jumped two classes to welterweight for another controversial win over Paulie Malignaggi four months later. Once again, the red flags emerged. Was Broner actually an elite fighter, or just good at creating drama and manufacturing his own stardom?

He wanted to be Floyd Mayweather, the fighter he has called "Big Brother" on countless occasions. Mayweather, meanwhile, has often hinted that he doesn't think Broner works hard enough, saying that he's tried to tell Adrien that there's a time to be the caricature to sell tickets and make money, and a time to "turn it off" and get down to the business of being the best you can be. Mayweather, for whatever real or fabricated issues he's had during his career outside of the ring, has never been out of shape, never been less than the best he could be on fight night. Broner cannot say that.

It all came to a head for "The Problem" in December 2013, when he faced rugged Argentine slugger Marcos Maidana in a Showtime main event. Broner was his usual arrogant self, dry humping Maidana early in the fight. But he was also dropped in round two, and again in round eight. Maidana, a limited but very determined fighter with no cruise control, gave Broner fits, and won a clear decision. A fight that could have propelled Broner to a new level of stardom instead served as a launching pad for Maidana, who leapfrogged Amir Khan and landed a pair of 2014 fights with Floyd Mayweather as a result of his then-considered-upset victory.

Adrien Broner v Marcos Maidana Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Broner, it has to be said, did not seem to take the loss terribly hard. While he might have been expected to be truly humbled, maybe even sent into some kind of downward spiral, by losing his "0" and being proven a false hope as some sort of Mayweather successor, he instead got himself down to 140 pounds and got back in the ring.

On the first Mayweather-Maidana undercard, Broner tuned up with a win over Carlos Molina, the sort of overmatched opponent he'd been beating during his run on HBO. At least this time, it was entirely designed to be a bounce-back fight. It wasn't an exciting fight, but it showed that Broner wasn't going to shrink just because he lost a fight. He never complained about the loss to Maidana, giving his opponent his due, and he got back to work.

Four months later, Broner had some trouble against the tough Emmanuel Taylor, winning a competitive decision, before taking six months off prior to a one-sided decision win over John Molina in March of this year.

Seeking a money fight at 140 wasn't working, so Broner and his team made the decision to schedule a 144-pound catchweight bout with Ohio rival Shawn Porter. "The Battle of Ohio" infamously took place on June 20 in Las Vegas. Broner, as always, talked a good game. And yet once again, faced with a different level of opponent, he came up short. Despite a courageous rally and a hard 12th round knockdown of Porter, Broner was beaten handily by his home state rival in a Premier Boxing Champions main event on NBC.

So here we are again, with Adrien Broner ready to come back from a loss. He's headed back home to Cincinnati to face Khabib Allakhverdiev for the vacant WBA title at junior welterweight. Allakhverdiev (19-1, 9 KO) is not an elite fighter himself, but he's no joke, either. "The Hawk," a southpaw from Russia, lost his last fight in April 2014 to Jessie Vargas, dropping the belt he'd won in 2012 against Joan Guzman. Vargas giving up that title means he's got a chance to get it back, and he's got a chance against someone with a lot more star power and name recognition, in that fighter's hometown.

Khabib Allakhverdiev v Jessie Vargas

But while the deck is seemingly stacked in Broner's favor, there is no reason to really consider him some sort of overwhelming favorite. We've seen Broner struggle with too many other fighters who couldn't really be called "elite" for him to be seen as a gimme in this matchup. To Broner's credit, he's never shied away from a fight, and this one isn't a layup like his last comeback effort following a defeat. This is a legitimate matchup against a guy who knows his way around the ring, a solid pro who won't be intimidated by any aspect of this event.

In truth, Broner (30-2, 22 KO) could quite easily lose this fight, or at the very least once again have public opinion against him to some degree, as we saw with the Ponce De Leon and Malignaggi bouts. As gifted as AB is, he has a tendency to make fights harder than it would seem they need to be, not always utilizing his tools the way he could. He often fights flat footed, at times banging away in the trenches when he seems at his best just outside the pocket, using his superb hand speed to land hard counter shots.

Defensively, he has never reminded anyone of his idol Mayweather, and that has been the biggest issue for him from a skills standpoint. It also means that whatever he does well can be neutralized, because he's just not that hard to hit for a guy who wants to be a slick fighter. Broner, when in any sort of trouble or a little uncomfortable, also has a habit of shying away from action, or making fights really ugly with a lot of clinching and grappling.

Nobody questions whether or not he's got talent. The question now is a two-parter: (1) how much does he really have, and (2) is he going to use it? Like any fighter sans a rare gem such as Mayweather, for the most recent example, Broner is not as good as his prospect hype. You can say that about anyone, including legitimate stars of the modern era like Miguel Cotto, Oscar De La Hoya, Shane Mosley, and so forth. All of those fighters have had great careers, and to me are obvious Hall of Famers, but prospect hype in boxing is such that the young stars are marketed as some sort of unbelievable, unbeatable force. In the end, it really does nobody any favors, because nobody is truly unbeatable, and the chatter betrays the fighter when inevitably they do lose, or are even seriously challenged by someone, be it because that fighter is also a top of the line pro, or because that fighter simply presents a tricky style matchup, as in the case of awkward guys like Ponce De Leon, Malignaggi, or Maidana, three very different fighters who are/were all very difficult in their own ways.

Perhaps Broner is the latest in a long line of good-but-not-great fighters who seem to have more talent than is often present in the evidence. A recent example of this would be Zab Judah, a major star for his era, a two-division world champion, and yet a fighter who never truly reached the level that was expected of him. The main difference between the two so far is that Judah seemed to take losses a lot harder than Broner does, and was a more emotional fighter in and out of the ring. Broner, perhaps because he's already made a lot of money and will make a lot more, seems a lot more practical in a weird way. Maybe the thought that he doesn't care enough to prepare is only part of the story. Maybe he just doesn't really care that much at all, and truly sees boxing only as a way to earn a living. If that were the case, he wouldn't be the first pro athlete to coast on his natural talents and never really go the extra mile.

Whatever the story is with Adrien Broner, he's back on Saturday night in a fight that in theory he needs to win, as long as he truly cares about being a main event TV fighter and a top star. A loss to Khabib Allakhverdiev at home in Cincinnati would be a lot tougher a pill to swallow than losses to Maidana and Porter, two guys who had bigger names and were at least well known to the majority of the U.S. boxing audience. If he can't get through Allakhverdiev, and impressively, then fight fans would not be wrong to wonder if we've already seen the best of Adrien Broner -- and if so, was that all there really was to him?

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