by David P. Greisman
Let’s get two things out of the way.
This is not Shane Mosley moving from lightweight to welterweight and later going on to meet and defeat Oscar De La Hoya.
Nor is this Floyd Mayweather moving up to the next weight class after being the champion and facing some of the top names at 130 at 135.
That doesn’t take away from the intrigue. Adrien Broner will likely be moving up two divisions to challenge titleholder Paulie Malignaggi in a bout that already has boxing fans talking nearly as much as the two loquacious prizefighters have been doing.
Let’s not overstate Broner’s move — at least, not yet. But let’s not understate it either.
No, Broner’s reigns in the junior lightweight and lightweight divisions don’t approach those of Mayweather.
Like Broner, Mayweather was precociously young when he captured his first world title, a 21-year-old stopping Genaro Hernandez to become the true champion at 130 pounds. Mayweather went on to defend his belt eight times, culminating with victories over Diego Corrales, Carlos Hernandez and Jesus Chavez. Then came lightweight, a controversial win over Jose Luis Castillo followed by a clearer one in their rematch, establishing Mayweather as the top guy at 135.
And no, Malignaggi is not De La Hoya, whose only pro loss prior to the Mosley fight in 2000 was a highly debated defeat against Felix Trinidad.
While Malignaggi is respected for his skills, heart and accomplishments, he does not stand out in a division that has titleholders in Mayweather, Devon Alexander and Timothy Bradley, and also includes Juan Manuel Marquez and even Robert Guerrero, Andre Berto and Victor Ortiz. Mosley’s win over De La Hoya, meanwhile, established a new lineal champion in that division in the wake of Trinidad’s departure for 154, according to Cyber Boxing Zone.
Broner’s speed, power and overall ability have allowed him to be regarded as the proverbial cream of the crop. However, he’s yet to actually earn the recognition of being not just one of several titleholders, but a true champion.
His final five fights at 130 were a disputed decision over Daniel Ponce De Leon, a gimme knockout over Jason Litzau, a gimme knockout over Vicente Rodriguez that gave him a vacant world title at the age of 22, an impressive win over prospect Eloy Perez, and a stoppage of Vicente Escobedo in a bout that saw Broner come in more than three pounds over the weight limit.
Broner’s done well since at lightweight, dominating in Antonio DeMarco a fighter who was considered to be one of the best in the division, then dispatching former 140-pound titleholder Gavin Rees with an emphatic conclusion earlier this year.
There are other claimants in these divisions, though. Broner could easily be the betting favorite in matches against each of these. Alas, fights are not resolved on paper. You cannot become king without pulling someone else off — or away from — the throne.
Mayweather came up at a time where there were more established names in his divisions fighting in the United States. That wasn’t the case for Broner when he was at 130, and now that he is at 135 he is at the mercy of circumstances.
Broner’s handlers have long sought to get him a shot at fellow titleholder Ricky Burns — first when Burns was at junior lightweight, and now at lightweight. Instead, Burns opted for a unification bout with Miguel Vazquez. As for Vazquez, he is promoted by Top Rank, which has not worked well with the company that puts on Broner’s shows, Golden Boy Promotions. The fourth beltholder, Richard Abril, just fought earlier this month and does not bring much excitement or money to the table.
The lack of depth at lightweight has left Broner answering questions about when he would move to junior welterweight nearly immediately after he arrived at 135. The pool of talent at 140 is much deeper, including stable-mates Danny Garcia, Amir Khan, Lucas Matthysse and Lamont Peterson, plus veteran contender Zab Judah.
Broner won’t be facing any of them in the near future, according to Golden Boy Promotions executive Richard Schaefer. Rather, Garcia will be facing Judah in April, and Matthysse could be meeting Peterson in the ring in May. Schaefer told reporters recently that he plans on putting the winners of those two bouts in with each other, with Khan possibly ending up with the victor of that fight.
Schaefer has wanted to make Broner vs. Burns, and sought to do so again after Burns-Vazquez got postponed due to Vazquez falling ill during training camp.
That fight would have suited Broner just fine, given that his confidence crosses over into cockiness — though his words are backed up with actions.
“I’m sorry to say, but I’m a legal bank robber,” Broner said last month after stopping Rees. “As long as HBO keeps paying me to fight these lightweights. I ain’t never been on a farm, but I’m milking the cow real good.”
Broner and his team likely saw the Burns fight as another winnable bout that would have been another HBO main event, another seven-figure payday while they passed the time waiting for even bigger opportunities and even better challenges.
They also see the Malignaggi fight as winnable. But that fight is a gamble for all involved.
It’s a gamble for Broner, who has comfortably made lightweight, to add more pounds to his frame. His body looks like he can handle the extra weight without losing too much speed and power. That remains to be seen, though, and also is contingent on whether Broner’s move to welterweight will actually see him step on the scales at 147 or opt to come in lighter. Malignaggi has little power, but he had spent most of his career at junior welterweight before moving up about two years ago.
Broner and his team, including Golden Boy, hope that Malignaggi will be seen by the fans and networks as posing enough of a risk that Broner would be rewarded with praise for taking him out — or, conversely, that he would not lose much credibility were Malignaggi to come out the victor.
Malignaggi, meanwhile, hasn’t faced an upper-level opponent since losing to Khan nearly three years ago. He has battled for respect in a sport that does not necessarily hold in high regard a boxer who almost always has to settle for decision victories. He had to fly to Ukraine last year for his title win over Vyacheslav Senchenko, and he has not found many lucrative opportunities available since. Facing Broner is his best option, even if a loss means his career will be that much closer to its conclusion.
A win over Malignaggi would bring respect for Broner, though such a win would also be the product of careful matchmaking, just as Roy Jones became a heavyweight titleholder by taking on John Ruiz rather than some of the other top big men who were competing at the time.
Then again, it would only be Broner’s first fight at welterweight. Mosley’s ascent from 135 to 147 didn’t bring him directly to De La Hoya; victories over Wilfredo Rivera and Willy Wise came first.
Broner could seek shots afterward at some of the other top names at welterweight, or he could drop back down and do the same at 140. This move to face Malignaggi is not the end game, but rather is him pushing some of his chips to the center of the table and seeing what winnings he can earn for making that move.
It is a gamble — but it is also an investment.
The 10 Count will return next week.
“Fighting Words” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com. 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]