By Lyle Fitzsimmons
It’s a tale as old as time.
And in boxing terms, a song as old as rhyme.
The insistence from a cadre of trainers and others surrounding Adrien Broner that their man is finally grounded and mature enough to win a career-defining fight.
Needless to say, it’s not the first time the claim’s been made.
Though he’s won 33 of 37 and racked up titles in four weight classes, it’s no great stretch to suggest that “AB” has fallen short of the potential he displayed early in an 11-year professional run.
The now-29-year-old is just 6-3-1 in 10 fights since late 2013, when he dropped title belt No. 3 – the WBA’s welterweight championship – to gritty Argentine slugger Marcos Maidana.
Subsequent losses to Shawn Porter (2015) and Mikey Garcia (2017) have further dented Broner’s in-ring stock, while consistently petulant post-fight rants haven’t done his image any favors on the outside.
All through that stretch, though, his entourage has perpetually suggested the next fight in line will be the one in which the mouthy Cincinnati native ditches the nonsense and recaptures the mojo.
Toward that end this time around – as a pay-per-view date with Manny Pacquiao looms just days away in Las Vegas – cue up Kevin Cunningham and Mike Stafford.
The corner veterans have been plying their trades at Broner’s pre-Pacquiao camp in South Florida, and both toed the company line when the spotlight shone on a recent workout at Miami’s 5th Street Gym.
First, Cunningham swore that Broner fighting Pacquiao now – as opposed to when he first called the Filipino’s name half a decade ago – will wind up a huge plus for the 3-to-1 betting underdog.
“Both guys are a little older. For AB it’s a little more maturity, and for Pacquiao, he’s in his 40s. He’s just older. That could bode not well for Manny,” Cunningham said.
“(Broner is) extremely talented and he just turned 29. He’s at his peak mentally, physically, spiritually. Timing is everything. I mean that in terms of life and in this particular fight. Timing is key in this particular fight. This is the right time for AB to fight Manny Pacquiao. It’s the perfect time and I think he’s gonna take his career to the next level with a win like this.
“The transformation has been made. The maturity process has taken place and I think you’ll see it.”
As for Stafford, who’s been with Broner since the fighter was a teen and calls him a son, he maintains that the significance of the fight – thanks to Pacquiao’s name on the marquee – is what’ll legitimize the oft-repeated promises of maturity and focus and turn a resume-full of wrongs into rights.
Lest anyone forget, Broner lost two of his four belts on the scale after failing to make weight for both a 2012 defense of a 130-pound title and a 2016 defense of a 140-pound crown.
Stafford was the team’s lead trainer until early in 2018, when Cunningham was brought in prior to an April draw with Jessie Vargas.
“It’s on pay per view. It’s like starting all over again. The real thing,” Stafford said.
“This is like, ‘Bam, this is what I really want.’ This is like when he first won his title. Overall, he won over nine titles, four big ones and five others. People don’t realize he’s got nine belts. This is like getting back to the point where he got his first WBC belt. It’s a light. It’s a gleam. You see that gleam.
“He’s a very smart kid. He knows he’s got to get in and take care of business. I know deep down inside that he’s going to take care of business. And he knows a lot of people went out of their way to make this fight, and he doesn’t want to let a lot of people down. So with that, that’s why he’s training hard, he’s doing everything that he’s supposed to do. He’s doing everything he needs to do.”
Needless to say, not quite everyone is convinced.
Freddie Roach, who was dumped as Pacquiao’s lead trainer before a rout of Lucas Matthysse last summer, but is back with his longtime colleague for this one – says Broner never fulfilled his promise.
“He had the potential to go to a higher level. But once the Mayweather stuff started and he was trying to emulate him, trying to be him, actually, I think that ruined his career. I really do,” he said.
“Then he started getting in trouble. At one moment, when I saw him when he was younger, he was a very good prospect, but I don’t think he’s that anymore.
“He’s too small for this weight. He’s one of the few opponents Manny’s going to have a reach advantage against. I think 30, 35 would be a great weight for Broner. He blows up between fights and he struggles to get down to weight. Those are the mistakes people make when they emulate somebody and they’re trying to be someone else. In this sport you’ve just got to be yourself, let’s face it.”
Though Boxrec.com contradicts Roach’s stats – giving Broner an edge in both height (5-6 to 5-5½) and reach (69 inches to 67) – it’s no secret that Pacquiao has been a far more successful welterweight.
He’s 12-4 with three KOs in 16 fights in the weight class – losing to the likes of Mayweather, Juan Manuel Marquez and Tim Bradley – while Broner is just 4-2-1 in seven outings, with the aforementioned losses to Maidana and Porter, in which he was outworked by rugged offensive operators.
Team Pacquiao says it’ll be more of the same on Saturday, and would have been in 2013, too.
“Manny still has the advantages whatever way you look at it,” Roach said. “He’s just too much a fighter. He’s too offensive. I told him, ‘To win this fight you have to let your hands go.’ And he knows that.”
Pacquiao, who eschews picks, said, “I’m not gonna make a prediction, but my goal is to knock him out.”
Naturally, Cunningham counters by saying Broner’s athletic prowess will carry the day.
Broner was 26-0 with 22 KOs before moving up from lightweight, where he frequently used blistering hand speed and respectable power to overwhelm less-gifted opponents.
Just two stoppages have come since 2013, though he did deck a 144-pound Porter in Round 12 of their fight in 2015. Meanwhile, Pacquiao has stopped only one foe, Matthysse, since 2009.
“We won’t allow Manny to dictate the tempo of the fight,” Cunningham said. “First and foremost, we can’t allow that. We can’t allow him to get in his rhythm and dictate what’s happening in there. Once you see AB taking away different things from Manny and executing the game plan and winning round after round, you’ll know that everything is going in the direction we want it going.
“I don’t know if he wouldn’t have beat him (in 2013). It’s just a matter of where’s AB’s state of mind at that particular time. I know right now his state of mind is right on point.
“I think he’s gonna win and I think he’s gonna win in spectacular fashion. And I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t knock Manny out. This reinvents his whole career. Basically, like I’ve told AB before, this win right here would wipe out a lot of your missteps.”
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This week’s legit title-fight schedule:
IBF junior featherweight title – New York, New York
TJ Doheny (champion/No. 5 IWBR) vs. Ryohei Takahashi (No. 10 IBF/Unranked IWBR)
Doheny (20-0, 14 KO): First title defense; TKO wins in all three U.S. fights (9 total rounds)
Takahashi (16-3-1, 6 KO): First title fight; Fourth fight outside of Australia (2-1, 1 KO)
Fitzbitz says: Takahashi hasn’t done anything to present himself as a world-class talent, and it won’t help that Doheny is a big, strong champion coming in with momentum. Doheny in 8 (95/5)
WBO middleweight title – New York, New York
Demetrius Andrade (champion/No. 6 IWBR) vs. Artur Akavov (No. 8 WBO/No. 41 IWBR)
Andrade (26-0, 16 KO): First title defense; Two reigns as champion at 154 pounds (one defense)
Akavov (19-2, 8 KO): Second title fight (0-1); Four KO/TKO wins in six 12-rounders (5-1, 4 KO)
Fitzbitz says: Andrade hasn’t yet been what many thought he’d turn out to be, but this is a fight that looks destined to make him look like a legitimately elite middleweight. Andrade by decision (95/5)
Vacant WBC bantamweight title – Las Vegas, Nevada
Nordine Oubaali (No. 1 WBC/No. 9 IWBR) vs. Rau'shee Warren (No. 2 WBC/Unranked IWBR)
Oubaali (14-0, 11 KO): First title fight; First fight outside of France since pro debut in 2014
Warren (16-2, 4 KO): Third title fight (1-2); Third fight in Las Vegas (2-0, 1 KO)
Fitzbitz says: The Frenchman is unbeaten and highly ranked for a reason, it seems, but Warren is a tested operator on the world level and has a chance to show some skills. Warren by decision (60/40)
Last week's picks: 1-0 (WIN: Plant)
2018 picks record: 1-0 (100 percent)
Overall picks record: 1,013-343 (74.7 percent)
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.
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.