by David P. Greisman
This is an era in which seemingly anyone can be a world titleholder, with four major sanctioning bodies offering belts and baubles for everyone from the highest ranked to the highest bidder.
This is a business in which seemingly everyone’s career is navigated strategically, when an undefeated prospect is also often an untested one, and when even the true top talents have their opponents selected carefully to provide the appearance of accomplishment until they are truly ready to prove themselves.
And this is a sport in which the fans will doubt everyone and everything, with their opinions colored by their emotions and their expectations.
It’s no surprise, then, that what boxing fans thought of Adrien Broner’s win over Paulie Malignaggi depended on one of two things: what they thought of Broner before the fight, and what they thought would happen during it.
Broner has followed the blueprint of his boxing idol, Floyd Mayweather Jr., incorporating elements of his style and his shtick. Like Mayweather, he has positioned himself as an antihero to some and an antagonist to others. He is loved and loathed, rooted for and rooted against.
And like Mayweather, Broner has adopted “easy work” as his mantra. But while Malignaggi left the ring Saturday night with a swollen face and Broner left with a swollen ego, the win did not come easily — it came with work.
It came in the form of a split decision, the closest call in Broner’s career since the last time one of his bouts made it all the way to the final bell and the reading of the scorecards. On that night in March 2011, Broner had escaped with a unanimous decision over Daniel Ponce De Leon that some had seen as undeserving.
Broner deserved the win against Malignaggi. The discrepancy between the three judges’ scores — one saw Malignaggi winning seven of the 12 rounds, another had Broner winning seven, and a third credited Broner with winning nine — displayed the differences between what those arbiters saw as the story of the fight.
Tom Miller, who had it 115-113 for Malignaggi, rewarded the Brooklyn-born boxer for his activity, reflecting the 843 punches CompuBox counted him as throwing, an average of about 70 per round, contrasting with the 524 shots sent out by Broner, an average of about 44 per round.
Tom Schreck, who had it 117-111 for Broner, recognized that the 23-year-old from Cincinnati was more effective and more powerful, landing 246 punches in total, a 47 percent connect rate, and 32 punches more than Malignaggi landed. That number included 214 power shots landed out of 418 thrown, a 51 percent connect rate, and 120 more than Malignaggi landed. Further accentuating that gap was the fact that Malignaggi’s punches were not seen as landing as crisply as Broner’s, nor as carrying as much force.
Glenn Feldman, who had it 115-113 for Broner, fell somewhere in the middle. There were rounds that Malignaggi took with quantity, but not as many rounds as Broner won with quality.
Both sought to make statements, and not just because of the heated trash talking that started from the moment they inked signatures to contracts, carried on during pre-fight press conferences and even continued through to the interviews televised in the ring immediately after the bout had ended.
Broner was moving up two weight classes, a former 130-pound titleholder who presently has a title at 135, and yet was jumping all the way up to welterweight to challenge for Malignaggi’s belt.
Malignaggi was being set up as the fall guy for the latest promotional sensation, and he knew it and loathed it. To Malignaggi, Broner was the one being given everything instead of having to earn it. He felt that Broner had been handed his first world title against a handpicked opponent, had won his second title against foes who never stood a chance, and was receiving a brighter spotlight and bigger paychecks on the strength of accomplishments that Malignaggi felt were weak.
Three of Malignaggi’s four losses had come against fighters who physically outmatched him: Miguel Cotto in 2006, Ricky Hatton in 2008 and Amir Khan in 2010. The fourth, a decision defeat against Juan Diaz in 2009, was described by Malignaggi as the product of hometown judging, a wrong that was righted in an immediate rematch.
Malignaggi believed that nothing was being given to him the way that it was to Broner. After all, Malignaggi had to travel halfway across the globe to Ukraine, where he beat Vyacheslav Senchenko for a world title that would ensure he could remain viable in this sport, that he would still have a prominent place on major cards and broadcasts. Losing to Broner could mean losing his last remaining bargaining chip.
A fighter cornered in the ring is in danger. A fighter cornered in his career is dangerous. Zab Judah, motivated by what had the potential to be his last big fight, fought valiantly in defeat against Danny Garcia this past April. Malignaggi was driven by the same desperation, boxed the kind of fight he knew he needed to. He flicked out jabs as 55 percent of his voluminous output, and followed with hooks and crosses, many of those aimed at Broner’s body, the proper target when the head shot isn’t necessarily there.
Broner, however, was plenty capable of blocking what he wasn’t slipping. Malignaggi was throwing a whole bunch but landing a whole little. Broner took stock of this situation, then turned up his own offense. He’d started slow, averaging barely 30 punches thrown per round over the course of the first four rounds. He’d average 50 per round for the rest of the fight.
Malignaggi needed to work to win, but he was leaving himself within range of a fighter who was just as fast and much more powerful. Both men’s talk had turned to threats beforehand. Broner said he’d be “knocking him the fuck out,” while Malignaggi told Broner he was “going to beat your ass.” Malignaggi soon learned that it’s difficult to shut someone up if you cannot hurt him and cannot always make him miss.
Broner was credited with being incredibly accurate. CompuBox had him landing 40 percent or more of his punches in 8 of 12 rounds, with more than half of his punches landed in four rounds, including 64 percent (32 of 50) in the 9th round. With power shots, Broner had a connect rate better than 40 percent in 10 of 12 rounds, 50 percent or better in five rounds, 60 percent or better in three rounds, and 72 percent (31 of 43) in the 9th.
Broner didn’t knock Malignaggi out, however, and that is being held against him by those who expected that he would.
Malignaggi had long ago proven his toughness, though. Also tough is the move from lightweight directly to welterweight. This was not Manny Pacquiao slaughtering slower foes with his speed. This was more akin to Robert Guerrero still carrying enough pop at welterweight that he could grind down those able to take his shots.
It remains to be seen whether the 147-pound division is where Broner will remain. This was a keep-busy bout, in essence, a challenge undertaken while he waited for a big fight at lightweight or for one of the big names at junior welterweight to become available. In the meantime, there are other potential opponents at welterweight, too.
It was a respectable win, giving Broner his third world title in as many divisions — with a few caveats. The title he had at 130 was a vacant belt won against an undistinguished opponent; he defended it once before dropping it at the scales. At lightweight, Broner had dominated a legitimate titleholder in Antonio DeMarco and defended against game challenger Gavin Rees.
Malignaggi, despite his world title, was not seen as one of the best welterweights, and some boxing observers felt that his sole defense of the belt before this bout — a split decision over Pablo Cesar Cano — should have gone the other way.
But this is boxing. We can find faults and flaws in everything and everyone.
This was a good win for Broner against a good boxer in Malignaggi. Broner and those who love him will make more of it. Those who dislike him will minimize it.
Reality is somewhere in-between. But the one truth that no one will deny is that we will tune in to see who he faces next — and how he performs against them.
The 10 Count
1. I like Seth Mitchell — he’s a likable person and athlete, despite the tendency of boxing fans and observers to root against those who they feel have been undeservingly overhyped. Mitchell, with his good story and his good personality and his being an American heavyweight and his having a powerful adviser in Al Haymon, has received a spotlight that other heavyweights haven’t.
I like him, but I still don’t think he has a chin for this sport.
Mitchell did what he needed to on Saturday, taking a unanimous decision over Johnathon Banks and, in his mind, making up for the stunning second-round technical knockout loss he’d suffered to Banks last November.
Mitchell worked patiently, grinding out the win rather than trying to get an early knockout. He survived some rough moments, times that we thought he and his career would come crashing down once again.
He’s not going to get as much credit as he deserves, though, because those who watched feel that while Mitchell did what he was supposed to do, they also feel that Banks didn’t. Banks once again had Mitchell reeling and holding on, but then took his foot off the gas. He barely threw, which allowed Mitchell to stick to his strategy.
Every win from Mitchell earns himself one more major fight, and earns him a few more months to keep improving — and to prove me wrong. And despite what you might think about sports pundits, there’s nothing I like more than to be proven wrong, for a fight that I believe will be one-sided to turn out to be competitive and entertaining, and for a fighter that I think has reached his limit to end up succeeding and surpassing the expectations of his doubters.
2. One of the topics brought up by the coming fight between Canelo Alvarez and Floyd Mayweather is the 152-pound catch-weight and whether Alvarez will be affected by needing to drop an additional two pounds below the junior-middleweight limit.
If you ask Donovan George, the answer is “yes.”
George had been fighting at or around super middleweight prior in recent years but began dropping down in his bouts this year — BoxRec.com lists him at 164.5 pounds for a fight in February, 163 for a fight in March, and 161.75 for his fight this past Friday against Caleb Truax.
Truax won by a dominant sixth-round technical knockout. George took to Twitter afterward and said he’d been in rough shape before ever stepping into the ring.
“I had nothing tonight,” he wrote at one point. Later, he wrote, “The weight killed me. I was 175 all camp. The last week was murder. Going back to super middle.”
It’s also possible that George’s fan-friendly style is beginning to wear down on his punch resistance, and that could have been compounded by the weight cut. Last October, he went 12 rounds with Adonis Stevenson before succumbing in the final round.
3. There’s no hard and fast rule. Boxers know best what their bodies can and cannot handle — though many boxers will gamble on that, particularly when tons of money is on the line.
That’s why Canelo Alvarez will drop to a weight he hasn’t made since March 2011 — when he came in at 151.8 pounds for his bout with Matthew Hatton (the contract for that fight asked for 150 pounds).
And that’s why Bernard Hopkins, a career middleweight, was 156 pounds for his fight with Oscar De La Hoya (and that was below the limit at which he needed to be).
4. It’s also why now-former light heavyweight champion Chad Dawson negotiated against himself in saying he’d go down to 168 to face super middleweight champion Andre Ward — and why new light heavyweight champion Adonis Stevenson is now doing the same thing.
Stevenson, speaking to BoxingScene Radio last week, said this: “I have no problem going to the United States. It isn't far for me. I said I would go to Oakland and fight Andre Ward at 168 and then we have the rematch at 175 in Montreal. I still haven't got a response from Andre Ward.”
Ward has only fought once outside of California in the past four years; the “Super Six” finale took place in Atlantic City. As for Stevenson, 20 of his 22 fights have taken place in Quebec, with a majority of those in Montreal.
Stevenson was at 168 as recently as October and at 171.75 pounds this past March. He’s only been pro for about seven years, but he’s also 35 years old and needs to strike the proverbial iron while it’s hot.
5. Boxers are damned when they do and damned when they don’t.
We get mad at them when fights fall apart during negotiations — and then we criticize them for accepting terms that could prove to be to their disadvantage.
6. Truax, by the way, also made one heck of a point after watching a Showtime video feature on Adrien Broner during Saturday’s broadcast.
The video showed Broner in his native Cincinnati, visiting the house he grew up in — and his mother, who still lives there.
Tweeted Truax: “Broner spends $20k at a strip club and his mom still lives in a shit hole in Cincy?”
7. Boxers Named James Behaving Badly, part one: The self-sabotage of James Kirkland’s career apparently has another installment, with the junior-middleweight contender’s arrest in Texas on June 15 for allegedly assaulting his girlfriend.
The arrest, first reported by the Austin American-Statesman and explored further by BoxingScene’s Rick Reeno, came after Kirkland allegedly twice grabbed his girlfriend by the neck while she was driving them home from a nightclub. They had been arguing before leaving the club; the woman told police that Kirkland had been checking out a former flame with whom he has a child.
Kirkland was released from prison in the fall of 2010 after serving about a year in prison on a charge of being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm; at the time of his arrest, he was on probation for a 2003 armed robbery.
He fought twice before suffering a stunning first-round stoppage loss to Nobuhiro Ishida in April 2011, but was able to bounce back with four straight wins, including a November 2011 victory over Alfredo Angulo and a controversial disqualification win in March 2012 against Carlos Molina.
He hasn’t fought since. Last August, he sued his promoter, trainers and managers; the trainers and managers also sued him, according to Lem Satterfield of RingTV.com. The 29-year-old is stuck at 31-1 with 27 knockouts. Now he’s not only dealing with civil court cases, but possibly another criminal trial, too.
8. Boxers Named James Behaving Badly, part two: Kirkland isn’t the only James who’s been in and out and in and out and allegedly back in legal trouble. Former welterweight titleholder James Page was arrested earlier this month and accused of robbing eight banks in California over the course of three months, according to the San Jose Mercury News.
Page, 42, went by the nickname of “Mighty Quinn” when he was in the ring. But he allegedly became what police called the “Button Down Bandit” during a crime spree that would mark another run afoul of the law.
“By the time he won his title, he had already served two stints in prison, including 10 months in San Quentin in late 1996 and 1997 after he was convicted of theft from a Concord athletic club,” the newspaper article said. “He was stripped of his title after he failed to appear at a mandatory fight in November 2000. In December 2001, he was arrested in the robbery of a bank in Atlanta and later sentenced to 11 years in federal prison.”
Page had a comeback fight last November, losing a second-round knockout to an 8-9 opponent named Rahman Yusubov, according to BoxRec.com. That loss dropped his record to 25-5 with 19 knockouts.
9. Boxers Not Named James and Not Behaving Badly: Would you believe it if I told you that Scott Harrison was found not guilty of something?
Harrison, 35, was facing a few charges stemming from allegations that he’d forced his way inside his ex-girlfriend’s home, “shouting, swearing, damaging a TV and scaring her,” according to BBC News. But the woman testified that she’d opened the door to him and that the argument had been “blown out of proportion,” the article said.
The troubled former featherweight titleholder isn’t in the clear, though. He still has a four-year prison sentence looming in Spain for a case dating back to 2007. Harrison was part of a group that assaulted three men at a brother in that country. In May, The Scotsman newspaper said Harrison “has been given just two weeks to comply with the demand to begin serving his jail sentence.” Obviously that’s not yet happened.
He previously spent two and a half years in prison for an incident in which he assaulted a police officer and another man, and attempted to steal a car. He was released in September 2011. Harrison came back to the ring last year — his first bouts since November 2005 — winning twice. His most recent bout was in April, when he lost a unanimous decision to lightweight prospect Liam Walsh. That defeat dropped his record to 27-3-2 with 15 knockouts.
10. How bad was the rematch between Seth Mitchell and Johnathon Banks? Even Wladimir Klitschko, seated at ringside in support of Banks (who trains Klitschko), found it boring.
“There’s not a lot of action,” Klitschko said mid-fight, seemingly without any sense of irony…
“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]