by David P. Greisman
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — The more we see Adrien Broner fight, the more we understand why his nickname of “The Problem” is so fitting.
And if Gavin Rees didn’t understand that before he faced Broner on Saturday night at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, then it’s absolutely clear to him now. Broner knocked Rees down twice and defeated him by fifth-round technical knockout in front of an announced crowd of 4,812.
Broner is too fast. He is too skilled. He is too much better than so many others who think that they can be more of a problem to him than he will pose to them.
Rees thought he could give Broner difficulty. And while he was game for five rounds, it wouldn’t be long before Broner had found a way to distance himself from Rees and for the game to be over.
Broner had been playing a mental game with Rees even before the fight had begun, starting with his usual trash talk and his derisive, dismissive comments during press conference and interviews. That mental game continued in the first round of the bout, when Rees misses with a left hook and a right hand, and Broner responded by shaking his head. Broner soon landed a jab of his own and nodded.
It’s not just mental for Broner, though, but physical as well.
Broner appeared significantly taller than Rees, but rather than keep Rees at a distance, he chose to walk Rees down. Rees welcomed this, using his opponent’s close proximity to advance forward with lefts and rights to the body and left hooks toward Broner’s head.
Broner showed no sign of feeling threatened. He landed a good left hook counter shot early in the second round, then soon followed with another left hook. He began to taunt Rees, who responded by hitting Broner on a break. Broner didn’t need such measures to find success; toward the end of the round, he put together a flashy combination of a right uppercut followed by a left hook and concluded with a right hand.
Rees only had one way of trying to get back at Broner, and that was to come in. That led him into a Broner counter left hook earlier in the third. Somehow this only emboldened Rees, who decided later in the stanza to drop his gloves to his sides and dodge a few Broner punches.
It might have been the only time he was successful at doing that. Broner would go on that round to land a right uppercut, then a left hook counter, then a pair of chopping right hands and a left hook to the body, followed by another right hand, the combination of all of this driving Rees to the ropes
Soon Rees would be driven to the canvas.
In the fourth, with both men standing in close, Broner used his left forearm to create room and then threw a perfect right uppercut that sent Rees backward and down to the mat. Rees got up and came back forward, but his bravado wouldn’t do anything to change the momentum. Broner soon landed another significant flurry.
Broner only distanced himself even further in the fifth, breaking Rees down. Toward the end of the round, Broner landed a left to the body and a right to Rees’ head, sending him down again. Rees rose once more, too brave for his own good.
Rees’ trainer, former middleweight Gary Lockett, said afterward that he had considered stopping the fight after the third round, and again during the fourth. As the fifth round drew to a close, Lockett rose up the ring steps, waving the white towel.
The time of the stoppage was 2:59.
“I knew he was going to come to fight. He’s a world-class fighter. I had to see how much gas was left in that Toyota,” Broner said afterward. “He kept coming through every shot like it was his best shot. I knew he would pay.”
Broner’s trainer, Mike Stafford, explained their strategy further:
“We knew Gavin was going to come in. I wanted Adrien to take his time and pick his punches,” Stafford said. “We knew Gavin was going to be game and make mistakes, and Adrien countered each mistake he made.”
Broner landed nearly half of his punches, going 149 of 309, a 48 percent connect rate. That included an astonishing 61 percent of his power punches — 131 of 214, according to CompuBox.
Rees, meanwhile, was 88 of 262 (34 percent), including 72 of 186 power shots (39 percent).
In the final three rounds, Broner outlanded Rees 105-44 in power punches, according to CompuBox.
Rees said afterward that he was disappointed in his performance, though he was effusive in his praise of Broner.
“I made a lot of mistakes, and I believe I have a better skillset than that,” Rees said. “He hits incredibly hard for a lightweight. I knew he hit hard, but the power just stunned me. In the third and fourth rounds he really began to land his shots, and I got reckless and that was pretty much the end of the fight. But I was always going to get back up. I would’ve gone on until I was knocked out cold. I disagree with Gary pulling me out, but he knew I would’ve gone on until I was knocked out.
“He’s the best I’ve ever been in with,” Rees said. “It’s not a case of whether he’ll go on to be a superstar. He’s already there. He’s going to go a very long way.”
This was Broner’s first defense of the World Boxing Council lightweight title he won last November over Antonio DeMarco. The 23-year-old from Cincinnati, Ohio, who also held a belt at junior lightweight, improves to 26-0 with 22 knockouts.
Rees, a 32-year-old from Newport, Wales, falls to 37-2-1 (19 KOs).
David P. Greisman is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Follow David on Twitter @fightingwords2 or send questions/comments via email at [email protected]