By Lyle Fitzsimmons
If nothing at all else, Adrien Broner knows how to answer adversity.
The 23-year-old from Cincinnati struggled mightily in a made-for-TV showcase against former 130-pound champ Daniel Ponce De Leon in March 2011, escaping with a unanimous decision from a fight that many – including long-time HBO judge Harold Lederman – claimed he’d lost.
Since then, he’s not left nearly as much room for viewer dissent.
In fact, none of five subsequent outings has come close to reaching a final bell, instead ending in a combined 21 rounds as the fighter labeled “The Problem” has vaulted from regional title-holder to consensus No. 1 quantity at both 130 and 135 pounds.
He’ll go for a sixth straight stoppage – and a 26th consecutive victory – when he meets Wales-based veteran Gavin Rees in the main event of another seashore premium cable broadcast from Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.
And, in keeping with the brash persona he’s already begun to master, the two-division phenom spends little time enhancing the threat posed by his imminent foe.
“Who is that? Who are you talking about?” he said, when asked for any pre-fight knowledge of Rees, who’s lost once in 39 fights since turning pro in 1998. “I don’t know him.”
We caught up with Broner in the final days of camp to discuss the Rees fight, his immediate plans at 135 (and beyond) and his own view of where he stands in the perpetual pound-for-pound discussion.
Fitzbitz: Talk to me about the fight with Rees, specifically the preparation. How long was your camp?
Broner: I’ve been training since the Monday after my last fight, Nov. 19.
Fitzbitz: Was the work leading up to it largely the same as with past opponents, or do you drastically change things up?
Broner: All the same. I don’t train for a fighter. I train to stay in shape. I make my adjustments in the ring.
Fitzbitz: Lots of guys tell me that they taper everything down – mentally and physically – to make sure they’re where they need to be on fight night. How do you prefer to spend the final few days? Are you focused on the fight? Do you try to distract yourself with other things? Anxious? Calm?
Broner: I train every day like it’s the last day of my life. I’m going 110 percent and 120 percent at all times. I’m forward-focused all the time. I don’t think about the fight, I just train and at the end of the day I just have fun.
Fitzbitz: He’s clearly coming into this fight – both because it’s away from his home and because you’re the champion – as a big underdog. Put yourself in his shoes. Do you think you’d be extra motivated and extra dangerous in that spot? Or a little concerned about traveling to unfamiliar territory?
Broner: I don’t know what he’s going to do, I’m glad he accepted this fight and for getting an ass-whooping on the side. I fight whoever they put in front of me. I don’t know who he is. I don’t know his name and I can’t spell it. I’ll be ready for whoever they bring to the table. I’m ready to rob the bank. This is an illegal bank robbery. I should be going to jail.
Fitzbitz: Clearly, the last 18 months have been important for you. You went from a tough fight with Ponce De Leon to four straight KOs at 130, and you’re now considered the No. 1 lightweight. Has it unfolded the way you expected it to, or was it better or different than you were anticipating?
Broner: Even when I was on an undercard, I always thought people came to see me. I would still have the best fight on the card. I always thought I was No. 1. I knew what I was doing.
Fitzbitz: Along those lines, you’re also mentioned these days in the pound-for-pound conversation, either on people’s top 10 lists or right on the edge of being included. If you’re making a list of the top 10 or so guys across any weight classes, who’s on it? Are you? Is there a 135-pounder in your class?
Broner: I’m No. 1. Actually I’m the one. There is nobody in the game like me. Everyone fighter has similar qualities, but at the end of the day there is only one Adrien Broner.
Fitzbitz: When people watch you fight, obviously the first person they’re going to think of is Floyd Mayweather Jr. I’m guessing it’s flattering to a point. But does it at some point become less so? How important is it for you to be identified solely as Adrien Broner, and not as a Mayweather clone? What needs to happen for that to occur?
Broner: When they see me fight, they automatically see another African-American superstar. Floyd Mayweather is the best of all time in his era. I bow down to him. He is an elite fighter, a special guy. He has a couple more fights in him and after he’s done I’ll take over boxing. It’s the start of a new era.
Fitzbitz: With two division championships in hand – and not too many big names at 135 – many people are already looking for you to jump to 140. Can you talk about the physical element of all that? How much different has it been for you to take punches from a 130-pounder, and now a 135-pounder? Can you feel a tangible difference? And what changes do you make as you add more weight?
Broner: It doesn’t matter what weight I could go to. People say they are vicious at 135, or at whatever weight I’m at, then I move up and all of a sudden no one is there. So they will say I need to go up again. I call it “The Floyd Mayweather Syndrome.” He doesn’t get credit for the things he does. And neither do I.
Fitzbitz: You’ve fought as high as 140 once and in the high 130s a bunch of times. Does that mean it won’t be that hard of a transition to make when the time comes? What weight do you feel most comfortable going into the ring at? Are you a guy who puts on a lot between weigh-ins and fights?
Broner: I’m comfortable at any weight. I’ll fight whatever.
Fitzbitz: With the talk of 140 comes the talk of you against a number of guys – Rios, Garcia, Khan, Matthysse, etc. What sort of reaction do you have to each of those names? Are there one or two that immediately make you think, “Yeah, I want that fight right away”? From the outside looking in, who’s the best in that division and what would you have to do to consider yourself the best?
Broner: I will fight anyone willing to fight me. There are a lot of guys not willing to fight me.
Fitzbitz: The city of Cincinnati has had a pretty good stretch in terms of sports lately, with both the Bengals and the Reds making their playoffs. Is it a good sports town? Are you a sports fan outside of the ring? Is it easy for a championship-level pro boxer to get recognized there, or are you still pretty anonymous when compared to the football and baseball players?
Broner: I love watching professional teams and athletes from Cincinnati. But I’m the most talented and most unique guy from Cincinnati.
Fitzbitz: What sports did you watch growing up? Was it always in your head that you’d fight for a living, or did you imagine yourself on a high level in something else? If boxing is abolished tomorrow, what does Adrien Broner do next in terms of athletics?
Broner: I love all sports. Football, basketball, gymnastics, baseball, soccer, swimming, I did it all. I’m a perfectionist. I was always winning ribbons in whatever I competed in. Yes, I competed in gymnastics. I could still go back and be a gymnast.
Fitzbitz: Going back to your style, clearly a lot of casual fans will identify you with the hair-brushing thing, etc. Is that good or bad to you? How important is it for athletes these days to have something more than just a style, and instead have more of a persona? Do you get a lot of comments from old-school people who don’t like the way you do things? What do you say to them?
Broner: If you get a chance to know me, you will understand me and why I act this way. I’m not disrespectful. I say ‘Yes, ma’am’ and ‘No, ma’am’ to anyone older than me. I always take advice. I always listen.
Fitzbitz: You’re only 23, so obviously the end of the line is way off in the distance, but have you ever given any thought to how long you want to fight? Do you see yourself as one of the guys who does it into their 40s – or have you set a deadline to accomplish everything that’s needed by age 30, or something similar?
Broner: Negative. I look at my career and I understand boxing and where I am in the game. Half of my career is over. I don’t have time to mess around. I see myself fighting for another seven years and then I’m out of the game. I’m not going to build a legacy and then keep going just because and then destroy it. I’m not going to hurt myself. I hope I get out the game at the right time and then go into entertainment.
Fitzbitz: Some fighters have had success based on a crowd-pleasing style. Others, like Bernard Hopkins, openly say that it’s their non-violent style that allows them to have longevity in the ring. As a boxer, how do you approach that? How far down the line do you look when it comes to your health? In your experience, are fighters these days more worried about long-term injuries – especially with all the recent news about football players? Is there a way to make the sport safer, without changing it?
Broner: Guys like me don’t worry about getting injured. I don’t get hit. I’m not a fan of another man with his shirt off, all sweating, getting his hands on me. I don’t get hit. So I’m not worried about that stuff.
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This week’s title-fight schedule:
Vacant IBF junior featherweight title – Tijuana, Mexico
Alejandro Lopez (No. 1 contender) vs. Jonathan Romero (No. 2 contender)
Lopez (24-2, 7 KO): First title fight; Unbeaten in 12-round fights (2-0)
Romero (22-0, 12 KO): First title fight; Fifth fight outside Colombia (4-0)
Fitzbitz says: “In a match where there’s little to separate the Mexican from the Colombian, go with the guy who’s on home turf. In Tijuana, that means the Mexican.” Lopez by decision
IBO strawweight title – Kempton Park, South Africa
Hekkie Budler (champion) vs. Renan Trongco (No. 25 contender)
Budler (21-1, 6 KO): Second title defense; Held IBO title at 108 (2010-11, one defense)
Trongco (12-3, 8 KO): First title fight; Second fight outside Philippines (0-1)
Fitzbitz says: “Budler may not be the world’s ultimate 105-pounder, but he should be more than capable against a challenger with barely a legitimate win on his record.” Budler by decision
WBC lightweight title – Atlantic City, N.J.
Adrien Broner (champion) vs. Gavin Rees (No. 15 contender)
Broner (25-0, 21 KO): First title defense; Held WBO title at 130 (2011-12, one defense)
Rees (37-1-1, 18 KO): Third title fight; Held WBA title at 140 (2007-08, zero defenses)
Fitzbitz says: “Two-division champ shows little respect for visiting Welshman outside the ring and figures to be just as punishing inside it on continued climb to pound-for-pound heights.” Broner in 9
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full- fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
Last week’s picks: 1-0
2013 picks record: 3-1 (75.0 percent)
Overall picks record: 376-122 (75.5 percent)
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.