by Cliff Rold
This Saturday night, WBC Lightweight titlist Adrien Broner (26-0, 22 KO) will move up two weight classes to attempt to win a belt in his third weight division. The target, WBA Welterweight titlist Paulie Malignaggi (32-4, 7 KO), enters the underdog. Coming off a narrow escape against the slower, if larger, Pablo Cesar Cano, Malignaggi is seen by many as vulnerable.
Moving up in weight is always seen as sort of a de facto extra challenge, even when it’s not. In this era of day before weigh-ins, moves up the scale often represent a fighter simply growing into the weight class he might already have been in during another era.
Broner, while not particularly tall, has long had the frame of a smaller Welterweight. His struggles in attempting and failing to remain at Jr. Lightweight were well documented last year. In a defense of his Lightweight title in February, he was clearly the bigger man against more natural Lightweight Gavin Rees.
He was also clearly better.
While Broner has yet to face anything close to one of the sports premiere talents, his combination of speed and offensive artillery stands out from the crowd. A wealth of charisma and attitude, both of which make him an easy sell for television and a social media age ripe for self-promotion, increase his early significance.
Malignaggi, a fighter whose peak years came at Jr. Welterweight and one who has never been seen as a lethal puncher, makes for the ultimate illusion as a foe. He is higher on the scale and has a belt, so he can be proclaimed a step up. That he can also be seen as the weakest of beltholders in his class won’t be ballyhooed in the headlines if the fight goes the way it’s been designed too.
Broner is supposed to win. He’s supposed to look pretty good doing it. Malignaggi might be the best fighter he’s ever been in the ring with as a pro so there will at least be some objective growth displayed in the outcome.
But, assuming Broner lives up to the hype and wins clean this weekend, what’s the end game?
Put another way, if he wins this belt and elects to stay at Welterweight, what is he looking to get done there?
Put yet another way, why is Adrien Broner seemingly the one guy from 140-154 lbs. who doesn’t want to fight Floyd Mayweather?
Shortly after his win over Rees, Broner’s trainer Mike Stafford stated to BoxingScene’s Bill Emes, “My thing on that is, Floyd is Floyd and Adrien is Adrien. They will never fight each other so you can never really tell [which of them is better]. You let Floyd be great in his era and then you have to let Adrien be great in his era. That's two different divisions. Adrien is a lightweight and Floyd is a welterweight.”
It may well be that, after his fight with Canelo Alvarez in September, Mayweather decides to ride out the rest of his career at 154 lbs. If not, a return to Welterweight makes sense for the remainder of his deal at Showtime.
After Saturday, barring a loss, Broner and Mayweather won’t be in different divisions anymore. Broner, affiliated with Golden Boy Promotions and advisor Al Haymon, also joins Mayweather under the Showtime banner. Haymon fighters squaring off isn’t the norm, but this could be a unique situation.
There are plenty of cases of the new face not being able to get a crack at the old one. For instance, Michael Nunn couldn’t get Ray Leonard into the ring when it mattered in the late 80s.
But for the new face not to be calling for the old face to take his place on their mantle?
Look around and try to find someone who doesn’t say they’d love a chance to share the ring with the sports preeminent cash cow. Canelo has it. Amir Khan wants it. So does Devon Alexander. The winner of the possible Lucas Matthysse-Danny Garcia fight will surely be open to the call.
And yet, interviewed by the website BadLeftHook.com this week, Broner stated he has no interest and even explained why. “Our relationship. He's someone I can talk to about anything. I can call any time of the day, he'll pick up and answer the phone. If he misses the call, he'll call me back. He's really a big brother, a mentor to me. I've been looking up to him since I was 12 years old. I wanna' follow in his footsteps.”
If he feels like Mayweather is family, and at last check he isn’t, then it might seem sort of commendable to want to make his money somewhere else.
It also comes across as a bit odd. Speaking to Hasim Rahman many years ago, this scribe asked the former Heavyweight Champion if he really hated Lennox Lewis in the build to their second fight. Rahman laughed, saying he could never hate Lewis. Lewis paid for his house.
The message was clear: love them or hate them, fighting the big names in the sport is how the bills get paid. A fighter can’t reach the pinnacle of their profession without those opportunities.
There are cases where real family members elect not to fight each other. That makes fine sense. The Klitschko’s aren’t fighting because they really are brothers; it’s ghoulish to consider them in a ring together. The Marquez brothers, the Galaxy brothers, the Canizales brothers…they all made their way without having to hit each other for money.
This is different. Broner has gone out of his way to mimic Floyd, even creating an online alter ego named “About Billions” in “Money” fashion. The problem is, to get to the most millions, let alone billions, there is really only one road available.
Ric Flair, the classic professional wrestling performer never short on admiration in this corner, coined the phrase, “To be the man, you gotta’ beat the man.” Boxing has long lived by the principle. Ritualistic, and sometimes sad, as it turned out to be, the careers of Rocky Marciano and Larry Holmes had to go through Joe Louis and Muhammad Ali along the way.
This wouldn’t have to be like that. Mayweather is still close to the top of his game,
Floyd developed into stardom over a long span of years with his eye on the prize for many of them. The prize?
Oscar De La Hoya. De La Hoya might not have been “The Man” in terms of illusory pound-for-pound ratings, or even in the Jr. Middleweight division of 2007, but he was still the box office alpha.
Before De La Hoya, Mayweather had done some solid if not historically significant pay-per-view numbers. Paired with De La Hoya, he was one half of the most purchased pay show of all time, nearly doubling De La Hoya’s next closest megafight in terms of sales.
Mayweather has never looked back and continues to do monster numbers. It says a lot that a fight with Robert Guerrero that some have stated underperformed in the range of 800,000 buys (no official number has been released since Showtime made a clever statement that the show was tracking to surpass a million buys) would be anyone else’s galactic success.
Mayweather was a star without De La Hoya. He became THE star only by securing the fight that could expose him to the largest possible audience. Let’s imagine a world where Mayweather and De La Hoya liked each other (they don’t seem to in this one). Can anyone imagine Floyd ever saying he didn’t want that fight because he liked Oscar too much even if they did?
Simon Brown and Maurice Blocker were great friends outside the ring. Anyone who saw their 1991 Welterweight unification war knows they were better enemies inside it.
If Broner is serious about becoming the face of the sport, there are still obstacles ahead. He has to beat Malignaggi. He has to beef up a resume whose other highlights, along with that potential win, would be Daniel Ponce De Leon and Antonio DeMarco. Neither is a strong barometer of elite success. A valid case could be made that, even with belts in multiple classes, Broner doesn’t yet have the resume to deserve a fight like Mayweather.
But, assuming he gets there, ultimately what he has to do more than anything is secure the fight that can announce to the world that he can be the man.
Only one fight fits the bill.
Deep down, Broner has to know that.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]