By Jake Donovan, photo by Pat Lovell/Hoganphotos
It’s been a decade since the last time Cincinnati boxing fans were blessed with a title fight in their beloved hometown. Tim Austin – aptly named “The Cincinnati Kid” - was in the heart of his prime and still a few years away from running afoul with the law when twice defended his bantamweight belt at home, the last time coming in June ’01 when he knocked out Steve Dotse in six rounds.
If that seems like a long time ago, then just think about the list of titlists to come from Queen City – a whopping six fighters, the first coming nearly 80 years ago.
Do the math - it’s not even one per decade.
Adrien Broner hopes to help somewhat narrow the gap when he takes to the ring tonight for his vacant super featherweight title fight against Vicente Martin Rodriguez of Argentina. The fight takes place at the U.S. Bank Arena – home of the Cincinnati Cyclones, a minor league hockey team – and airs live on HBO as part of a split-site doubleheader, paired with a 154 lb. title fight between Saul Alvarez and Kermit Cintron.
“It’s definitely a big step,” Broner (21-0, 17KO) says of fighting in his hometown for his biggest fight to date. “A lot of people have to go another guy’s territory to fight for a title. The fight is on my turf. It makes me more comfortable.”
The odds suggest that in-ring comfort shouldn’t be the least bit of concern for Broner, who weighed in at a chiseled 128.5 lb, well within the division’s 130 lb. limit. Winning a title is almost a foregone conclusion, although fights are still won and lost in the ring.
The hardest part lies ahead, as the 22-year old will be expected to live up to the city’s rich history.
Austin was the last from the city to claim hardware of any kind. Ricky Williams Jr – a silver medalist in the 2000 Olympics – was thought to be the next. He instead grew fat and lazy very quickly, and very stupid outside of the ring, a life that included a jail stint.
The fallen former amateur star returned to the ring in 2008, but wasn’t included in the comeback tour for Lamon Brewster. The former heavyweight titlist chose his city of birth as the destination for his first fight back since falling way short in an ill-advised rematch with Wladimir Klitschko a year prior.
Included on the August ’08 show – which drew more than 6,000 fans at the Cincinnati Gardens – was a young(er) Broner, who at just 19 years young was making his second ring appearance as a pro. He didn’t stick around very long, scoring a 1st round knockout of David Huffman. At just one minute and 20 seconds long, the fight lasted 48 seconds longer than his pro debut, which also came in his hometown.
Tonight will mark his 10th appearance in Cincinnati, which means he’s enjoyed the benefit of spending nearly half of his pro career to date in his hometown. His record currently stands at 9-0 (8KO) when fighting close to home, including four first round knockouts. So far, he’s shown an equal amount of ability in boxing smartly over 10 rounds or blasting out his opponents the moment he lands.
The latter is how he enters this fight, coming on the heels of a first-round blitzing of Jason Litzau, who just seven months prior scored one of the biggest upsets of 2010 with a decision win over Celestino Caballero. Against Broner, he was no match. A right hand left Litzau stunned, with the ensuing volley putting him down and out just before the bell to end the first round.
There’s no telling which version shows up tonight, as Broner tells his fans to prepare for anything. He was prepared for a much longer fight against – or at least a stiffer challenge from – Litzau, but simply took the opportunity that was presented, as should any true professional.
“I saw the shot and I took it,” Broner recalls of the June showcase on HBO, the second of three cards on which Broner and Alvarez appeared together. “I wasn’t looking for the first round knockout, but he came forward. I wasn’t mad about it.”
Instead, he points to it as the versatility he possesses, which he feels is important for fighters looking to advance to the next level. Some fighters develop into specific roles and still turn out to be great, in fact all-time greats. Just ask one of Cincinnati’s favorite sons, the legendary Aaron Pryor.
Known as the consummate swarmer, Pryor was a human windmill who would eventually overwhelm you no matter how much punishment he took in return. His homeboys regularly had the chance to see this in person, including his 140 lb. title winning effort against Antonio Cervantes in 1980, as well as his first title defense six months later.
His last appearance in Cincinnati predated the fight that would define his career. Four months before his epic first fight with Alexis Arguello, Pryor overcame a first round knockdown to stop Akio Kameda in six rounds.
Joining Pryor on each of the aforementioned Cincinnati cards was a local heavyweight by the name of Tony Tubbs, who was barely out of the blocks at that point in his career. He would go on to capture a portion of the heavyweight crown in the mid-1980’s, but lost it quick enough to become the only Cincinnati-based champion to have never defended in his hometown.
It’s just as well as the city has fond memories of a far greater heavyweight. Ezzard Charles served as the true champion during his reign and easily ranks among the greatest fighters in the history of the sport. It’s only fitting that Charles boasts the record for the largest crowd to attend a fight in the city, drawing more than 14,000 for his 1949 points win over Cleveland rival Joey Maxim.
The irony in the bout is that Maxim would go on to win the light heavyweight crown. Charles abandoned the division after failing to secure a title shot despite recognition by many as the greatest light heavyweight in boxing history.
Among his other notable hometown appearances was his first defense of the lineal heavyweight crown after receiving official recognition with his points win over an unretired Joe Louis. Charles picked a doozy of a fight with which to treat his hometown fans, becoming the first to floor and knockout Nick Barone in their heavyweight championship bout 61 years ago.
All told, no other fighter has represented Cincinnati with greater pride, winning in all 34 hometown showings. Only Freddie Miller has made more appearances as far as former champions go, playing the sports conscious town an amazing 59 times out of 252 total pro fights.
The former featherweight champ came close to capturing the crown in his hometown, but was robbed of a knockout in his bizarre fight with Battling Battalino. Instead he was forced to settle for a no-contest after Battalino – who came in over the weight limit beforehand – literally walked out on the fight midway through the third round after not bothering to put up a fight at all prior to that point.
Miller would capture the crown in his next attempt, defeating the legendary Baby Arizmendi. Eleven successful defenses followed, but just one in his hometown – a 10 round points win over Jack Sharkey (not the heavyweight champ of the same name) in 1934 on New Year’s Day.
Cincinnati also has its underdog stories, such as the short-lived title reign of Wallace “Bud” Smith in the 1950’s. The former Olympic boxer was in the right place at the right time as he scored a massive upset over a declining Jimmy Carter to win the lightweight crown in 1955.
Smith’s reign was brief, managing a single successful defense before losing to Joe Brown a year later. That one defense was a meaningful one for the city of Cincinnati – Smith brought the title home and defeated Carter in a rematch four months after winning the crown. The October ’55 points win turned out to be the final of his career, going on to lose 11 straight before calling it quits in 1958.
Fighting for just the 22nd time as a pro, Broner is a long way from wrapping things up. His career is just taking off as he prepares for the visiting Rodriguez.
By his own admission, he doesn’t know quite what to expect from the Argentine tough guy, who makes his stateside debut. Broner’s not big on watching fight tape, but knows what a mean would win to his fighting-rich city. It’s been a long time since the folks of Cincinnati had a fighter to rally around.
Broner hopes his performance tonight is enough to reignite a time-honored tradition.
“Rodriguez is aggressive and coming to fight. I am too and it’s going to be an action fight. When you see me fight (tonight), have your snacks ready because it can end at any time. This fight is just the beginning. It will be a new era.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to [email protected]