By Keith Idec
NEW YORK – For the first time in his career, Adrien Broner didn’t get the nod in an exceptionally close fight Saturday night.
Cincinnati’s Broner bloodied Jessie Vargas’ face and argued that he clearly won, but the result of the former four-division champion’s back-and-forth fight against Vargas was a majority draw. Only one judge, Julie Lederman, scored the fight for Broner (115-113) in the main event of an 11-bout card that drew an announced crowd of 13,964 to Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
She was overruled by judges Eric Marlinski and Kevin Morgan, both of whom scored the 12-round, 144-pound fight even (114-114).
Marlinski had Broner ahead, 105-104, entering the 12th round, which he scored for Vargas to make the fight even on his scorecard. Morgan had Vargas in front, 105-104, before the 12th round started, but he scored the 12th round for Broner.
Lederman had Broner in front, 105-104, through 11 rounds. She scored the 12th round for him as well.
A belligerent Broner adamantly disagreed with the decision in the ring, but he was more gracious as he stood side by side with Vargas at ringside a few minutes later.
“I knew I was [the] winner,” Broner said. “But me knowing the game, I knew they was gonna try to pull something. I done cussed out the promoter [Mayweather Promotions CEO Leonard Ellerbe]. Honestly, I beat him 7-5 [115-113].”
The last two times close Broner bouts went to the scorecards, the Cincinnati native won 12-round split decisions over Paulie Malignaggi and Adrian Granados.
Despite settling for a draw with Vargas, the polarizing Broner bounced back from his decisive defeat to four-division champion Mikey Garcia (38-0, 30 KOs) in his last fight. Garcia won that 12-round, 140-pound bout by unanimous decision July 29, also at Barclays Center.
Broner (33-3-1, 24 KOs, 1 NC) still didn’t throw as many punches as fans and new trainer Kevin Cunningham would’ve liked Saturday night, but he was busier and better than he was against Garcia. Vargas’ defensive deficiencies and lack of power had at least something to do with Broner’s improved performance, but there was plenty of action during their entertaining encounter.
Las Vegas’ Vargas (28-2-1, 10 KOs) was game throughout their bout and never stopped trying to win, but he didn’t do enough to beat Broner on the scorecards.
“I can’t argue with the decision,” said Vargas, who fought through a cut over his left eye. “The judges, that’s what they’re there for at the end of the day. I thought it was a good fight. I thought I was up going into the last round, but I’m not gonna argue with the scorecards from the judges.”
According to unofficial punch stats, Vargas out-landed Broner in overall punches (203-of-839 to 194-of-507). CompuBox credited Broner with landing more power punches (152-of-347 to 141-of-516) and Vargas with connecting on more jabs (62-of-323 to 42-of-160).
After slugging it out in several previous rounds, the fight came to an anticlimactic conclusion in the 12th round. Neither fighter landed many power shots during those final three minutes.
Had Broner been more aggressive during that round, he might’ve been able to win on all three scorecards.
Broner was the fresher fighter by the 11th round, when he mostly stalked and out-landed Vargas, whose face was swelling and bleeding.
Broner battered Vargas during an exciting exchange just before the 10th round ended. Vargas raised his arms to the crowd once the bell sounded, but he Broner clearly got the better of him during that trade.
Vargas belted Broner with a left hook with just under two minutes to go in the ninth round. Broner appeared to stun Vargas late in the ninth, which made an ever-game Vargas try to fire back with hard shots.
Vargas’ aggression left him wide open for Broner to crack him with a left uppercut that snapped back Vargas’ head just before the ninth round ended.
Vargas drilled Broner with a left hook late in the eighth round. Broner took it well and kept coming forward. Broner backed up Vargas with a right hand just before the eighth round ended.
Vargas landed a right hand after the bell to end the eighth round, which drew a stern warning from referee Charlie Fitch.
Vargas’ overhand right landed directly to Broner’s jaw around midway mark of the seventh round. A lunging Broner repeatedly found a home for his right hand during the second half of the seventh round.
Broner opened up the sixth round by firing hard head and body punches at Vargas. They continued hammering each other to the body in the sixth.
Fitch called for a break and warned Broner for low blows with 30 seconds to go in the sixth round. Vargas took a short break before they began fighting again.
Vargas began the fifth round by going after Broner’s body. There were some entertaining exchanges thereafter, before Broner slipped and fell to the canvas with around one minute to go in the fifth round.
Broner and Vargas closed the fifth round by throwing hard shots at one another in a neutral corner.
More active than he had been earlier in the fight, Broner drilled Vargas with a right hand early in the fourth round. Vargas tried to dig to Broner’s body later in the fourth, but Broner made him pay with a left hook up top.
Broner and Vargas traded hard body shots just before the halfway point of the third round. Vargas complained later in the third that Broner hit him low.
Broner then landed a solid overhand right that made Vargas fire back a combination. Broner also got the better of an exchange in the center of the ring just before the third round ended.
Vargas had some success early in the second round with his jab and body shots. Vargas’ left hook later in the second caused Broner to reset his feet.
An aggressive Vargas connected with a left uppercut and followed it with an overhand right toward the end of the second round.
Broner connected with a left hook to Vargas’ jaw with just over two minutes remaining in the first round. It was one of the few flush shots landed by either fighter during the first three minutes of the fight.
The 28-year-old Broner was supposed to face Omar Figueroa Jr. on Saturday night.
Vargas replaced Figueroa last month once Figueroa (27-0-1, 19 KOs) withdrew from the fight, reportedly due to a shoulder injury. The weight limit for the Broner-Figueroa fight would’ve been 140 pounds, the weight at which Broner repeatedly has said he is more comfortable.
Broner is now 2-2-1 in fights contested either at the welterweight limit of 147 pounds or at a catch weight of 144 pounds.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.