by David P. Greisman
More than one story about Adrien Broner mentioned another once-promising prospect to come out of Cincinnati, a man who once seemed a local hero destined for stardom, only to become the disappointing protagonist within a cautionary tale.
Ricardo Williams Jr. fought out of the same gym, shared the same trainer. Broner, eight years younger, at first could look at Williams as a role model to admire. But as Williams squandered his potential, sabotaged his own career and was sentenced to prison on cocaine trafficking charges, Broner could only recognize the poor decisions as examples of what to avoid.
“It hurt me because he was somebody who I’d seen who really had a chance to be one of the biggest, biggest guys in the sport,” Broner told Bryan Armen Graham of Sports Illustrated last year.
“He’s a big brother to me,” Broner told Jay Caspian Kang of Grantland earlier this year. “I know where I come from. I came from nothing, and I have a chance to do something that happens once in a lifetime. There are only a couple people who can wake up and say that they're a world champion, a multimillionaire, and a successful superstar. I don't want to mess this up. Ever.”
Sports have been a vessel by which so many youth have been diverted away from disaster and toward discipline. Boxing gyms have long run programs in rough city neighborhoods, providing solace from chaos, channeling kids’ unrestrained youthful energy into a controlled, constructive form of violence.
Devon Alexander would go on to become a world champion while too many of his pugilistic peers wound up killed or imprisoned. And as the Sports Illustrated story recalled, a young Adrien Broner once spoke of how training at his gym kept him out of trouble.
Except it still didn’t.
“I did everything you can name,” Broner was quoted as saying in the Grantland article. “But when I got in trouble the last time, my mom told me, ‘You can’t be king of the streets and king of the ring; you gotta pick one.’ I had to make a choice. I chose the ring.”
The ring has been very good to him, for he has been very good within it. He has headlined major television broadcasts, earned millions, rocketed into stardom and is being groomed to be the future of the sport he believes helped save him, the sport that should have done the same for Ricardo Williams.
He hasn’t always stayed out of trouble, however. He has told interviewers of time spent in jail before he turned pro. His arrest record precedes the day of his debut and continues through to last week in Miami Beach, where he was allegedly involved in a fight outside of a hotel nightclub that ended with him biting the forearm of a security guard who was trying to break the fracas up.
Back in Hamilton County, Ohio, online court records show more than two dozen listings in every year from 2007 through 2012, 17 of which are various traffic violations. He has also faced the prospect of criminal trials in some of the other instances, though the county’s court records show these cases — accusations such as robbery, assault, menacing, domestic violence, and having a concealed weapon — ending in acquittal or with the charges being dismissed.
He does have a trial date looming, though — he is scheduled to appear in court on April 30 for a pair of assault charges dating back to 2012, according to online court records. More information on these accusations was not available online.
An arrest record should not be cause for contempt, not in a sport where so many have ended up in cuffs and behind bars, and not in a world where so many of us have our own baggage.
For Broner, though, it should be a cause for concern. His mother’s wisdom should hold true, no matter how well he has been able to balance a promising and profitable professional career with the distractions of allegations and court appearances. He has still been disciplined enough in the gym, determined enough for greatness, and undefeated in the ring.
He has been able to shrug off and shut out these cases, avoiding them derailing his career whether that were to happen in the courthouse or in the arenas.
But as with boxing, one tempts fate when he believes he can slip every shot.
At first, Broner reacted to last week’s battery charge in Miami Beach with nonchalance. He posted a copy of his jail booking record online for all to see, then chalked his arrest up to “a misunderstanding.”
He apologized for his behavior a day later via Twitter. “Real men own up to they mistakes,” he wrote.
Broner’s brilliance in the ring was also depicted in that Grantland piece, which described his ability to analyze what his sparring partners would do, adjust, and then pick them apart.
He will need to be introspective, to analyze his own mistakes, adjust and keep himself out of trouble. There have been no convictions. He has not gone away to prison as Williams did or as James Kirkland did. He has not repeatedly put his name in the headlines for the wrong reasons like Scott Harrison or Paul Spadafora.
It’s best not to tempt fate — not when he can control it.
The problem with Adrien “The Problem” Broner is that he is not in a team sport, does not have a franchise relying on him, does not have to deal with fellow athletes who would confront him about the distractions of his legal cases or his public stunts or his comments on social media.
He needs a family member, a mentor, his trainer, or someone else in his camp to pull him aside and remind him of what he has been fighting for since he was a small child coming to the gym from the streets of Cincinnati, from the time when Ricardo Williams had a future all the way beyond the years when Williams had become a failure.
Broner has already far surpassed Williams’ accomplishments as a pro boxer. He has picked up world titles in two weight classes and is set to challenge for a third. He has continued to impress with each performance.
He has been able to act out, to joke and party and enjoy his fame and fortune. He has earned this privilege through his work on countless days in the gym and his wins on 26 fight nights.
He can act out so long as he can get away with it — but not if, one day, it all goes wrong. Then he might not be able to get away from it.
The 10 Count
1. We now know just how few people saw Timothy Bradley’s fantastic fight with Ruslan Provodnikov live and in person — but that didn’t mean their war went unseen and unappreciated by an even greater number watching on TV.
Only 2,256 tickets were reported as sold for that bout, bringing in a gate of $172,914, according to Steve Kim of MaxBoxing.com. That comes out to an average of about $76.65 per ticket sold.
But the ratings were surprisingly good for a fight between a boxer who didn’t exactly earn goodwill with his controversial win over Manny Pacquiao last year and an opponent who wasn’t seen by most as being on Bradley’s level.
The March 16 “World Championship Boxing” broadcast pulled in an average of 1.2 million viewers, peaking with 1.4 million during the main event, according to ratings figures compiled by Nielsen Media Research.
That 1.2 million number is on par with HBO’s recent average, according to what network executives recently told Michael Woods of TheSweetScience.com. And it lines up well with HBO’s other boxing broadcasts so far in 2013: Bernard Hopkins vs. Tavoris Cloud did 1.2 million, Adrien Broner vs. Gavin Rees did 1.4 million, and Gennady Golovkin vs. Gabriel Rosado pulled in 813,000.
But the most impressive number was the 274,000 people who watched the Sunday morning replay, many of those perhaps tuning in after hearing how great the fight was. That stat is 57 percent higher than the figure for the Sunday morning replay of Hopkins-Cloud.
And one imagines even more have seen the fight since then — or have watched it once again.
2. It’s amazing that that many people watched Bradley-Provodnikov when so few expected that kind of war.
It’s also amazing that so few tuned in last year to the first fight between Brandon Rios and Mike Alvarado when so many expected a great war — which is exactly what they got.
The “live plus same day” audience for Rios-Alvarado 1, which includes those who saw it on DVR until 3 a.m. local time, was just 816,000.
They deserve more than that for their rematch this Saturday.
Then again, the rematch between Diego Corrales and Jose Luis Castillo somehow bombed on pay-per-view — one of those mysteries that is both inexplicable and inexcusable.
3. The 24-hour nature of the boxing media cycle was no more evident than last Monday (March 18).
The day began with people still buzzing about Bradley-Provodnikov.
Then the conversation turned completely to HBO’s announcement that it would no longer be buying fights from Golden Boy Promotions.
Finally, and just as suddenly, people turned their attention to Adrien Broner’s arrest in Miami Beach.
4. HBO’s announcement was newsworthy and notable — but it was not the industry-changing story some made it out to be.
That’s because the network’s move was the conclusion of a story that had been unfolding for the past year and a half. The industry had already changed. Golden Boy had moved nearly all of its fighters to Showtime. This was just the official end to their relationship.
In 2012, seven of HBO’s 18 live, non-pay-per-view boxing broadcasts were Golden Boy cards. But there were fewer and fewer active fighters still appearing on the network — just four, two of whom are headliners (Adrien Broner and Bernard Hopkins), and two of whom have been appearing on undercards (Keith Thurman and Seth Mitchell).
Hopkins fights perhaps twice a year. Adrien Broner might have three bouts in 2013. That means that HBO might have had maybe five Golden Boy cards this year. Two of those already happened (Hopkins-Cloud, Broner-Rees). This does open the door for other promoters to have their cards aired on HBO, though the gap to be filled isn’t as sizable as there would have been when Golden Boy had far more shows on that network.
Showtime had made a big business move by partnering more with Golden Boy, paying more for fights, airing more bouts — and those moves have paid off with increased ratings. Showtime is no longer necessarily seen as second-tier to HBO, but instead has become a second, just as viable option for promoters and fighters.
The assumption that Showtime will now have a negotiating advantage over Golden Boy — now that the promoter can’t offer its cards to HBO — assumes that Showtime has been unhappy with paying the big bucks.
In reality, the networks can try to demand better fights, but they actually now have less sway, as they have fewer partners to work with. HBO can’t decline a bad card in favor of, say, a better Golden Boy one. Showtime isn’t working with Top Rank, and has nevertheless been OK with airing many mismatches. Also, some of these mismatches we see are an after-effect of negotiations in which a network buys one thing but agrees to also air another.
Meanwhile, some fighters have contractual minimums, and we’ve often seen them sit on the sidelines rather than take less money. If Showtime were to tighten its purse strings, that could mean some fighters would not appear or that some bouts might not be made, which could then lead to unhappy subscribers and perhaps an inability on the network’s part to air the number of broadcasts it wants.
With that said, it is possible that Showtime might not bid as high on cards as it did before — there’s no longer primary opposition that it will be bidding against. But any money it saves will likely go toward paying for fights with these final four Golden Boy Promotions fighters.
5. As for what we were hearing from HBO and Golden Boy in the aftermath of this announcement, it was spin — an attempt to control the message via the media.
It was more advantageous for HBO to end the relationship now, and publicly, than it would have been to decline cards piecemeal and without explanation. HBO reached out to reporters on Monday morning with this news, seeking to shape the story instead of allowing Golden Boy executives to do so. And by making this announcement, HBO prevented the blow that could have eventually come had Broner et al been moved to Showtime.
Golden Boy executive Richard Schaefer told BoxingScene’s Rick Reeno that HBO’s move is “an ill-advised decision and strategy.” Of course, the reason why Golden Boy liked having HBO in the picture while still bringing most of its fighters to Showtime was that it could play the networks off each other and get them to bid higher.
Years ago, we saw HBO pay more and more for Andre Berto mismatches, and then struggle to force him into a competitive fight for similar money. How much would it have needed to pay to keep Broner on its network, all while the threat remained that he would ultimately exit for Showtime the same way that Mayweather did?
Showtime will continue to benefit so long as it gets its money’s worth. Golden Boy will benefit so long as Showtime pays for its fighters. But HBO will need to move beyond closing the book on Golden Boy and must begin writing a new chapter — featuring more stars who can bring in ratings.
6. And that ratings element is where Schaefer’s spin is grounded in truth.
“If you look at last year at the highest-rated events [on HBO], they were Golden Boy events,” he told BoxingScene’s Rick Reeno. “If you look at this year, the highest-rated events were Golden Boy events. They made their decision, and they are going to have to live with the decision, and who knows what the future will hold.”
Last year, Golden Boy Promotions had four cards on HBO that were at or higher than the network’s recent average ratings of 1.2 million viewers, according to figures compiled by Matthew Paras of MaxBoxing.com. Top Rank had three cards, and a Goossen-Tutor/Gary Shaw Productions co-promotion had one.
Golden Boy also had three cards last year with 1.1 million viewers. The next highest cards after that were Sergio Martinez vs. Matthew Macklin (a Lou DiBella card) at 1 million, and Nonito Donaire vs. Jeffrey Mathebula (a Top Rank card) at 988,000.
Golden Boy did indeed have 7 of the top 11 ratings on HBO last year. Ratings can’t necessarily be looked at with an apples-to-apples comparison; audience share is a statistic that gives these figures additional context. Live ratings also matter less in this DVR/On Demand/mobile app world, and particularly when what networks want is subscribers.
But a fighter who pulls in viewers is, well, a fighter who pulls in viewers. Adrien Broner and Bernard Hopkins had a history of decent ratings on HBO. They’re not the only ones; Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. of Top Rank has also drawn sizable audiences.
It will be interesting to monitor the ratings on both networks as they go forward. While the ratings are not the only thing that matters, these figures will nevertheless tell a story…
7. In a nice PR gimmick, Floyd Mayweather and Robert Guerrero had their NCAA tournament brackets released last week. After the first week, Mayweather is doing better — but barely.
Mayweather has 10 of the “Sweet 16” teams correct; Guerrero has 9. Both men got 23 of the 32 first-round games correct.
They only have three teams in common in their Elite 8 picks: Duke, Ohio State and Indiana. With that said, six of Mayweather’s Elite 8 picks are still alive, while only four of Guerrero’s picks for that round are alive.
Three of Mayweather’s Final Four picks are still alive. Only one of Guerrero’s is still in the tournament — and Guerrero picked Gonzaga to win it all, except that team lost to Wichita State in the second round.
8. What in the world is Tomasz Adamek doing?
A quick recap:
- In December, he won a controversial decision in a rematch with Steve Cunningham. The thought afterward was that he was going to move on toward an elimination bout against Kubrat Pulev, which could land him another shot at a heavyweight title.
- In January, he was arrested in Upstate New York and accused of driving while intoxicated.
- In February, he released a statement declining the Pulev bout, citing “an opportunity to fight in Poland for far more money.”
- And last week it was reported that he has split with American promoter Main Events — all while still not having his next bout lined up.
9. And now for your “Dancing with the Stars” Update for week one of Victor Ortiz’s appearance on the reality show competition — after all, I watch it so that you don’t have to.
Ortiz wasn’t great in his first performance, but he wasn’t bad either.
He appeared second on the season premiere, taking to the dance floor after being introduced to an audience that wasn’t familiar with him — namely the story of his parents walking out on him when he was younger. They showed him practicing with his partner, and telling an incredibly bad joke of thinking that the foxtrot involved wearing a fox suit and bouncing around.
Then he stepped out to perform live, looking sharp in a suit and appearing slow on his feet at the outset, with his partner accounting for most of the movement. Ortiz soon picked up the pace, though, and didn’t look so bad, at one point jogging backward while carrying his partner in his arms.
“I tell you, for a heavy hitter, you’re surprisingly light footed,” judge Bruno Tonioli said afterward. “You have a wonderful sweep on the floor. Of course, there is still a lot of work to do, especially on the placement of the foot. The foxtrot is very difficult. Work on your frame, and don’t throw your arms away. … But you did well. You did very well.”
Said judge Carrie Ann Inaba: “Your posture was great and open. I love seeing this side of you… charming and debonair. You sparkle. Good job.”
And this from judge Len Goodman: “This was a little bit uneventful for me. There could've been a little bit more wows going on. But I liked it.” Goodman did think Ortiz’s next dance, the jive, will be better: “You have the footwork.”
Ortiz got an 18 out of 30 — each judge gave him a 6. He is tied for 8th with two other celebrities, which puts him in the bottom half of the pack.
10. Next week will bring the first elimination — with voting to come after the celebrities have their second performances. For Ortiz to stay on the show won’t just come down to him dancing well, however. He’ll also either need boxing fans to vote in support of him — or, more likely given the non-boxing-fan makeup of the audience, he’ll need his personality to appeal to the show’s viewers.
Come here for a boxing column, leave with “Dancing with the Stars” analysis.
“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]