By Lyle Fitzsimmons
Hello, my name is Lyle and I have a confession to make.
I really dig Adrien Broner. And I just can’t seem to stop.
Sure, I already know prolonged exposure to the “The Problem” might not be good for me.
His chatter is a little bit annoying. The hair thing is kinda silly. And the grill is just plain ugly.
But even with all that, I can’t help but dial my local cable provider every time he’s scheduled, because I find myself riveted if the foe is an overmatched Mexican, an outgunned Englishman, or, as was the case this past Saturday night in Brooklyn, a meld of Woody Woodpecker and Hector Camacho.
To me, his all-around game is just that good.
The offense is violently precise. The defense is yawningly efficient. He makes a 12-pound jump from the lightweight elite to the welterweight top shelf look as easy as flossing between meals.
And if a needle-moving personality is what you crave… well, he’s got that thing going, too.
But to be honest, it’s that part of the total package that I wish he’d do some work on.
It’s not that I don’t love the villainous types.
I cheered for the Four Horsemen as a kid wrestling fan because Ric Flair was a genius with the mic. I rooted for the Dallas Cowboys at the height of their ’90s arrogance because Emmitt Smith had a mischievous glint. And I reveled in the black-hatted mastery of Floyd Mayweather Jr. long before he kissed and made up with everyone’s favorite former HBO crank-puss.
So I’m all about the bad guys. So long as they do it with some charm.
Where’s Broner’s concerned, though, that likeability factor seems to be lacking.
Rather than dominating the fight and simply accepting kudos for superiority with something approaching manufactured grace, the now-welterweight claimant instead answered Jim Gray’s in-ring catalogue of his greatness with something closer to, “Yeah, I know.”
And that’s where he sacrificed a little antihero luster.
Somehow, after weeks of sticking his thumb in the hero’s eye during the run-up, I want my rogue to maintain a cocky nature, but at least be willing to concede that a beaten foe was worthy.
Or if he can’t bring himself to that, at least manage a creative delivery that takes the edge off.
Think Deion Sanders in football, or, for you old-school fight types, an early-’60s Muhammad Ali.
Plenty of people pulled against them, but it was harder to loathe them because under the aura they actually appeared to be decent guys.
So far, though, Broner seems an enigma wrapped in a conundrum behind five-figure dental work.
He’s got precisely the skill set you crave in a world-class fighter, but nowhere near the long-term heat generation of a guy destined for massive pay-per-view success.
If not for Paulie’s role in puffing up the Barclays show, the card would have been left with little more than a bar fight for a cheapened super middleweight title and a maddening tango between two heavyweights whose violence was better formatted for a “Minute to Win It.”
And in the main event, an 11-1 favorite on a mission few thought he’d sweat with.
But Malignaggi had talked his foil down enough and sold himself up enough to make it feel more even going in. And once they got in the ring, his hunt and peck strategy was reminiscent of an outmanned hockey team with a slim lead that was eyeing the clock before an inevitable rally.
The hummingbird flitted. The grizzly bear swatted. And even though it ultimately ended precisely as forecast, it nonetheless made for compelling television while it lasted.
It was afterward, though, when things really deteriorated.
Though Malignaggi’s initial move across the ring to congratulate Broner was labeled “classy” by the Showtime team, the sniping match that followed shortly after was a combined production of Broner’s lack of spotlight polish and Paulie’s Brooklyn-bred hot temper.
Whether he ever concedes it publicly or not, Malignaggi was deservedly on the short end of any scorecard with him on the short end in the 116-112 neighborhood – or 8-4 in rounds. And his subsequent outburst that labeled judges as promotionally subsidized puppets was outside the limits of childishness that a pro of his experience – both in ring and out – is granted.
But when push comes to shove, it all ends up at the feet of Broner.
Had he simply taken the high road and said, “Yeah, Paulie tried hard but I kicked his ass,” the broadcast could have closed with a justifiable celebration of his excellence. But because of his “I took his title and his girl” nonsense, its close was instead dominated by insipid analysis of the incendiary commentary and whether or not Paulie actually believed what he said.
When it comes to a fighter of Broner’s caliber, everyone involved deserves better.
Here’s hoping that the longer he stays on top, the more he acts like he belongs when the gloves are off.
* * * * * * * * * *
This week’s title-fight schedule:
WBC strawweight title – Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Xiong Zhao Zhong (champion) vs. Denver Cuello (No. 1 contender)
Zhong (20-4-1, 11 KO): First title defense; Never won a fight outside China (0-3)
Cuello (33-4-6, 21 KO): First title fight; Ninth fight outside Philippines (7-1)
Fitzbitz says: “First Chinese world champion is a nice enough story but he’s not had any wins that put him on Cuello’s level, and that gap will show up quickly here.” Cuello by decision
IBO/WBA middleweight titles – Mashantucket, Conn.
Gennady Golovkin (IBO/WBA champion) vs. Matthew Macklin (No. 8/11 contender)
Golovkin (26-0, 23 KO): Fifth IBO title defense (third WBA); Thirteen straight wins by stoppage
Macklin (29-4, 20 KO): Second title fight (0-1); Fifth fight in United States (3-1)
Fitzbitz says: “Kazakhstan-born slugger is due to face adversity and his foe is capable of delivering it, but he’s the favorite for a reason and should extend KO streak to 14 straight.” Golovkin 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: 3-0
2013 picks record: 35-23 (60.3 percent)
Overall picks record: 498-175 (74.0 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.