By Jake Donovan
“It ain’t bragging if you can back it up.”
If Muhammad Ali didn’t coin the aforementioned phrase, he sure as hell validated it (He’s also alive and well, in case there remained any concern). Adrien Broner has a long way to go before getting within sniffing distance of ‘The Greatest,’ but he’s learned to ply his trade with every bit as much enthusiasm as he continues to thrive while in the prime of his career.
The unbeaten lightweight titlist wasted no time in capitalizing on his breakthrough performance last November, destroying top lightweight Antonio DeMarco in Atlantic City. Broner returns to the same location – quickly becoming his home away from his actual Cincinnati hometown - fighting just three months later as he headlines a February 16 HBO-televised card against former 140 lb. champ Gavin Rees.
For years, it had become a disturbing trend for the sport’s top fighters to only appear once or twice per year, and not always against top – or even respectable – competition. Broner still has a way to go on the resume-building front, but next Saturday’s ring appearance will mark his seventh straight fight on HBO in the span of under two years.
Prior to each of the seven performances, Broner made sure to be heard before eventually seen. Every fight is predicted to be a career-best performance, one where his opponent doesn’t stand a chance. It’s an effective way to build an audience – as long as it doesn’t rub your audience the wrong way.
“It’s not arrogance. It’s just the truth,” Broner (25-0, 21) says of his pre-fight guarantees, most of which – for the record – have proven accurate. “Whoever comes inside the ring, I put my heart on the line and leave it all in the ring.”
With that caveat, a spectacular performance is naturally predicted against Rees (37-1-1, 18KO), who comes all the way from Wales to serve as a massive underdog for this particular fight.
Rees brings with him a 12-fight unbeaten streak which began following his ring return in 2009. Prior to that, the squat Welshman was intent on calling it a career after suffering his lone loss – a 12th round stoppage against Andriy Kotelnik to end his 140 lb. title reign eight months after capturing the belt.
Broner isn’t particularly interested in what led his opponent to this point. All he cares about is that any opponent at all will be in the ring on February 16.
“I know I’m going against a guy who’s been fighting at 140. No disrespect, but I don’t know much about him,” Broner admits. “I just know he’s coming to win. Everybody comes to win when they’re fighting for a world championship.
“He’s a former world champion. He had to beat somebody for it. I really don’t know these guys. I just fight who they put in front of me. I don’t handpick my fighters. I don’t even know my opponents until they pick them out.”
What he does know, is that anyone is capable of anything on any given night.
“I know Gavin’s not just a walkover. He won a world title and has a wonderful record. He’s 37-1 or something like that, and with a draw. It’s a hell of a record on the professional level. I just prepare like it’s the last fight of my career and put my heart on the line.”
Such preparation led to the type of virtuoso performance that Broner enjoyed last November. The fight with DeMarco came on the heels of a brief stay as a 130 lb. titlist, one that didn’t feature an epic reign or a particularly graceful exit.
Broner’s last moments as a 130 lb. champ were spent stepping to the scale for his hometown showcase against Vicente Escobedo last July, one week shy of his 23rd birthday. The final reading on the Ohio State Athletic Commission approved scale suggested he had some work to do if he wanted to extend his title reign beyond a single defense.
The subsequent decision to not attempt to lose the extra weight nearly resulted in the fight being canceled. A late-hour deal was reached for the show to go on, with Broner – having already conceded the title at the scales – at least preserving his unblemished record with a five-round beatdown of Escobedo.
Understandably, little credit was given for the performance. Escobedo was essentially playing with house money in agreeing to renegotiated terms – he was already a heavy underdog and now at a weight disadvantage. Broner would have to look perfect in order to just break even.
Regardless, it’s a fight – and an evening – he’d soon rather leave behind
“I’m not here to talk about the past. I grew out of the (130 lb.) weight class. I won a championship at lightweight. This fight is at lightweight. I like to leave the past in the past.”
The present for Broner is the lightweight division and the options are plenty. One month following this fight, another significant lightweight fight takes place – a unification showdown between Ricky Burns and Miguel Vazquez.
Burns was supposed to be the opponent of choice for this bout, but for the second time in 15 months left a Broner fight on the table and opted to go in another direction.
The last time such a fight was discussed, Burns was set to board a plane and fly to the U.S. for his HBO debut. He instead decided that he could no longer make the 130 lb. limit, moving up in weight and delivering a memorable performance against Michael Katsidis in a vacant lightweight title fight.
The moved benefited Broner in that he was able to fight for the 130 lb. belt left behind by Burns. More than a year later, the matchup once again grew legs, only for both fighters to ultimately go in another direction.
Fortunately for fight fans, both fighters are content in making the 135 lb. limit these days. Neither envisions a move up in weight any time soon, which means plenty of time to finally make a fight – provided that they both continue to win.
The winner of such a fight – or a Broner-Vazquez matchup should Burns lose next month – would rightfully gain recognition as the best lightweight on the planet. Whether or not such a path is traveled remains to be seen; all that the fighter asks is that you give him time to make that choice, rather than expecting a move up in weight with each fight.
“That’s what everybody wants me to do,” Broner states, dismissing any suggestion of a move to 140 in the near future. “They’ve just seen in me in a hell of a performance – which I think I’m still getting downgraded for. I’m still eating steak and potatoes in training camp. I’m comfortable and am staying here. I’m going to flush out this division and then we can go up to light welterweight to crush their dreams. We’re staying down here for now.”
His right now includes Gavin Rees and nobody else. Others can fantasize about who else is in his future. For Broner to do the same would only lend suggestion to the arrogance label others are already in a hurry to apply.
“No fight is a steppingstone because in any fight you can be knocked out,” Broner acknowledges. “Every fight I train for is like it’s the biggest fight of my like. Just because I don’t know much of him – it makes him even more dangerous. He could have more power than Tyson, he could be faster than me. I honestly don’t know anything about him.
“Whatever he brings to the table, I’ll be ready for. We’re going to train hard and work hard for this victory. I don’t care if it’s a one-round fight or a 12-round fight, we’re going to work hard for this victory.”
Afterwards, the future can be discussed. Whether it’s appearing on the undercard of Floyd Mayweather’s expected May 4 ring return, a future showdown with the winner of the Burns-Vazquez unification bout, or any other imaginable matchup, all Broner cares about is continuing on the path that will leave his name remembered for generations to come.
“At the end of my career, I want to be known as the best whoever laced up a pair of boxing gloves.”
It ain’t bragging if you can back it up. So far, Adrien Broner continues to back it up while moving forward.
Jake Donovan is the Boxingscene.com Managing Editor, Records Keeper for Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and a voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox