by David P. Greisman
You could tell that HBO was infatuated with Adrien Broner from the very beginning.
You can tell now that, this time, it’s different.
It’s different than it was with Jermain Taylor from 2004 into 2007.
It’s different than it was with Andre Berto from 2006 into 2011.
It’s different than many other American prospects who have appeared on the network in recent years, particularly those advised by the powerful Al Haymon.
It’s different because Adrien Broner seems to have the proverbial goods. And it’s different because Broner also seems to be bringing in the ratings.
There had at first been a sense, and later a sentiment, that Taylor and Berto were being forced upon us, hyped up without earning respect or building a reputation. Taylor, despite his flaws, was established from the outset as the heir apparent to middleweight champion Bernard Hopkins. Berto, despite his flaws, was portrayed as the next great welterweight to follow in the footsteps of Floyd Mayweather.
Taylor went on to top Hopkins and ascend to the throne at 160, but he never seemed fit to be king. His nickname of “Bad Intentions” soon gave way to a derisive derivative: “Bad Decisions.” Berto, meanwhile, was good enough to become a titleholder but never showed himself to be great. His loss in 2011 to Victor Ortiz, followed by his defeat last year against Robert Guerrero, proved that he was worth watching for the excitement, but they also cemented that he might not have been worth the network’s investment.
This is what rankles boxing fans more than anything, when millions of dollars and valuable airtime is given again and again to a boxer who might not deserve it but who receives it at the expenses of others.
That seemed to be the case once again in 2011, when Adrien Broner made his debut on HBO and ended up appearing three times on the network that year. He had been introduced with a debated unanimous decision over Daniel Ponce De Leon. But what made it worse was that he was rewarded afterward with soft touches rather than truly proving himself, being given an easy evening with a first-round stoppage of Jason Litzau and then essentially being handed his first world title with a third-round knockout of Vicente Rodriguez.
Broner established himself in 2012 as a main event attraction, however, and is earning recognition as one of the most talented fighters in the sport. Last year, he took out Eloy Perez, who was a fellow prospect at the time, and then in his first headlining role dispatched of Vicente Escobedo, a capable veteran who had never reached the heights that had once been predicted of him. Broner also had failed to make weight for that bout, coming in three and a half pounds over the limit.
He wrapped up the year by dominating Antonio DeMarco, who was seen as one of the top names at lightweight. And this past weekend, Broner began his 2013 with another decisive victory, this one a fifth-round technical knockout of former 140-pound titleholder Gavin Rees.
He has fought four times in the span of 12 months, every bout ending early, and three of those concluding before the halfway point.
They are not the biggest wins — there are better opponents at 130 and 135 — but they have been impressive performances against the foes who have been available and who have been put in front of him.
And they are not just impressive performances, but entertaining, too. Adrien Broner can be captivating, and he is capturing the attention of viewers who will now tune in in increasing numbers whenever he is in the ring.
Boxing fans love to see great fighters face each other. Yet in lieu of that sort of matchmaking, boxing fans will also enjoy seeing great fighters showing their greatness against lesser foes.
Broner is making some very capable fighters look helpless and powerless; they are unable to give Broner much trouble, and they are unable to sustain Broner’s combination of speed and power.
This is not Jermain Taylor failing to distance himself from Winky Wright and Cory Spinks. Nor is it Andre Berto standing in with a string of has-beens and never-weres.
It’s also not Adrien Broner proving himself to be the best — not yet, at least.
It would be one thing if Broner were spinning his wheels, failing to convince viewers of his greatness, and doing so while HBO gave him millions for main events. That’s not the case this time. There is an increasing sense that this could be just the start for a future superstar.
The sense is that the big fights will come. That sense might just be why more are tuning in to see his victories in the interim against opponents who stand little chance against him. And those people tuning in are why HBO’s infatuation with him is for once justifiable, different than what we have seen before with other fighters.
HBO Boxing’s slogan was once “Building legends one round at a time.” If Broner is as great as he says he is, then that slogan will stand true.
The 10 Count
1. This was Adrien Broner’s second straight appearance in Atlantic City, and for the second time in three months, the merchandise stand at Boardwalk Hall was selling brushes, playing off the Cincinnati fighter’s gimmick.
Nobody bit and bought them in November, back when they were available for the asking price of just $20.
This time the price was dropped to $15. And this time, the merchandise stand began the evening with 20 brushes and ended it with 19.
Yes, they actually sold one — although a staffer at the stand indicated that the purchaser bought it as a gag gift.
Hope it was worth it. In reality, the brushes are Diane Professional 100% Palm Boar Brushes, which can be found online for as cheap as $4.
2. Most of the time when a boxer skips a post-fight press conference, it’s because he’s been taken to the hospital for observation.
Not with Gavin Rees.
Rees was soon seen at the nearby Toga Bar in Caesars Atlantic City, seemingly in good spirits — and seemingly drinking good spirits.
3. Bernard Hopkins, meanwhile, failed to show up for a scheduled media roundtable that was to take place on Saturday during the non-televised portion of the night’s undercard.
Which leads to this question — when was the last time Hopkins actually declined a chance to speak?
4. Given that the co-feature to Broner vs. Rees was supposed to be the rematch between heavyweights Johnathon Banks and Seth Mitchell, I got to thinking about the logistics of Banks’ career should he go forward as a fighter.
Banks needs to beat Mitchell again in order to position himself for a run at a title. Otherwise it seems highly likely that he’ll move into his new gig as trainer to Wladimir Klitschko, having taken over late last year as Emanuel Steward succumbed to cancer.
Banks has been able to get many fights through his time sharing Steward as a trainer and working as a sparring partner for Wladimir. Since March 2007, Johnathon Banks has fought 17 times — and 12 of them have been on the undercard of an event featuring one of the Klitschko brothers. Seven of those bouts were underneath Wladimir’s fights, while five were under Vitali’s.
If Banks is to stay on as Klitschko’s trainer, does that keep him from being able to have much of a career in Europe as an active boxer? He can’t exactly put himself in danger of being hurt on the undercard if he needs to be in Wladimir’s corner for the main event.
5. I only have three words to say about the new opening video to HBO’s “World Championship Boxing”:
What the truck?
6. Nice segment from HBO’s “Real Sports” on mixed martial artist Ronda Rousey, who is not only the first female fighter to appear in the UFC, but will be doing so in the main event of this Saturday’s pay-per-view.
The show played her up as the true athlete she is rather than as a novelty act. Though Rousey did appear artfully naked in ESPN The Magazine’s body issue, so too did many others from the sports world, including boxer Sergio Martinez. “Real Sports” provided a profile of Rousey centering on her background as an Olympian competing in judo and her subsequent entry into MMA. It also touched on her personal life, including the death of her father and the relationship she has with her mother, who was a former high-level judo competitor as well.
It’s the kind of segment that would be great for boxers. And it also brings to mind just how far boxing has to go for female fighters in our sport to receive more attention and respect. Female boxers are getting plenty of airtime outside of the United States, but it’s been forever since we’ve seen two of them sharing the ring on American airwaves.
What would it take for the networks and promoters to feature female boxers? And, as importantly, what would it take for boxing fans to cast their prejudices aside and to look at female boxers as being as legitimately skilled as their male counterparts?
7. Rau’shee Warren represented the United States in the Olympics in 2004, 2008 and 2012.
Richard Hernandez had fought five times as a pro between December 2011 and December 2012, losing in each and every one of those appearances.
Somehow a fight between a three-time Olympian and an 0-5 pro ended up being made.
This was up there — or down there, really — with the Jan. 26 bout between 2012 Olympian Errol Spence and a designated opponent named Nathan Butcher, whose only pro fight before then had been a decision loss to an 0-1 fighter in a small town in West Virginia.
Warren got the third win of his career, including his first knockout. He got a paycheck. And he got little else beyond that. How do you go from fighting against some of the best amateurs in the world to stepping in the ring with someone who’s never won as a pro?
8. If I were to tell you that there would be two title fights on American television this coming week — one between junior welterweights Lamont Peterson and Kendall Holt, the other between junior middleweights Cornelius Bundrage and Ishe Smith — which would you assume would be on Showtime and which would you think would end up on ESPN2?
9. Boxers Behaving Badly update: Long-troubled former featherweight titleholder Scott Harrison has lost his appeal of an assault conviction and could soon begin a four-year prison sentence, according to The Scottish Sun. Harrison, 35, had been found guilty of being part of a group in 2007 that assaulted three men at a Spanish brothel.
He “could now be hauled back to serve his sentence within weeks,” the newspaper said, citing an unnamed source that said Harrison has no ability to automatically appeal the conviction, though he could attempt a last-ditch effort to save himself “on constitutional grounds.”
Harrison was just released from prison in September 2011 after spending two and a half years there for an incident in which he assaulted a police officer and another man and attempted to steal a car.
He had last fought in November 2005 before returning in June 2012. Harrison won that fight, and came out victorious again this past September, bringing his record to 27-2-2 with 15 knockouts. Harrison had been slated to have his third comeback fight this past December.
10. Following the path of the WBC, this column will respond to Harrison’s coming four years in prison by naming him a “Boxer Behaving Badly in Recess.”
“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]