By Jake Donovan
Passion – it’s the difference between a job and a career.
Even with a major alphabet belt around his waist and preparing for his fourth straight HBO-televised appearance, Adrien Broner is still hard at work to solidify his status in the boxing world.
It’s worked well to date for the 22-year old Cincinnati native, who defends his 130 lb belt for the first time when he faces unbeaten contender Eloy Perez this weekend. Their bout serves as the co-feature of Saturday night’s live HBO Boxing After Dark telecast from the Scottrade Center in St. Louis.
The means in which Broner goes about seeking his fame has struck a love ‘em-or-leave ‘em relationship with most in the industry. There are those who are huge fans of what he has to bring to the table; others not so much.
For those who fall on the latter side, don’t hold your breath expecting the rising young star to change his ways.
“I was born for this – the lights, the stage, the headlines,” Broner believes, though never to the point of self-entitlement. “It’s what I fought hard for when I was young and coming up through the ranks. I was always preparing for moments like this. (The pressure) never gets to me. I just love what I do.”
Broner has every reason to love what he does, considering that he does it so well. Coming up on four full years as a pro, he has to date amassed a record of 22-0 (18KO). The most recent “W” on the ledger came just three months ago, easily dispatching of Vicente Rodriguez in three rounds of a well-received hometown showcase, picking up a vacant alphabet belt along the way.
If there was a downside to the evening, it was the choice of opposition. Rodriguez was brought in simply because of the undeserved ranking he held within a sanctioning body whose belt was up for grabs. Still, you can only deal with what’s in front of you, and Broner did just that, never allowing the Argentine fighter a moment to believe he had a chance in the fight.
The end result was a brief and one-sided yet entertaining affair, at least for the rabid and partisan crowd on hand at the US Bank Arena in Broner’s hometown. The upstart has played Cincinnati before, but never before on a stage as big as HBO.
The thing is that neither the pressures of being under the spotlight or performing in front of friends, family and admirers ever had a chance of hampering his performance. That’s because when Broner enters the arena and begins his ring walk, all he sees are ropes and a canvas.
It’s for that reason that you won’t catch him going crazy over his first title defense this weekend. It’s not meant to be any disrespect to Perez, but rather that it’s just another day in the office for Broner.
“The thing about me, I don't treat any opponent different from the other,” Broner insists. “These guys are not going to be beat me. I’m going to beat everyone in my way. The only way I'll ever lose is if I beat myself, and I’ll die before I let that happen. He’s another guy trying to beat me and will be another guy getting an L on his record.”
Even as he’s confident that Saturday will produce the 23rd win of his young career, Broner doesn’t dare speculate about what lies ahead.
Constant talk has come up of possibly facing fellow young upstarts Yuriorkis Gamboa and Brandon Rios, who just so happen to be fighting each other in April. The lack of big time stars in the 130 lb. division forces fans and media members to pose such mythical matchups in order to maintain interest in Broner’s immediate future.
While those outside the ring struggle to remain motivated about the talent immediately surrounding him, the young man also known as “The Problem” doesn’t see any problem at all in maintaining proper focus.
“I keep the hunger when the big time comes,” Broner says, reiterating a point that he’s earned his place on the big stage and not that it’s been handed to him as some have speculated due to his relationship with advisor Al Haymon. “The problem with most is that you’re hungry until you get the money, then you lose focus. Me? I train like I don’t have sh*t.”
That is precisely why he refuses to entertain the notion of future showdowns with fighters in or around his weight class. With his self-confidence also comes the awareness that everyone is swinging for his crown.
Perez (23-0-2, 7KO) is certainly no exception. The fight is the first on the title stage and on HBO for the West Coast-based Mexican American, who has come out of his shell over the course of the press tour and promises to put a damper on Broner’s good time.
Such talk is truly what gets him out of bed in the morning. Not so much that it’s coming specifically from Perez, but that it’s what immediately stands in his way.
“I'm not thinking about the future just yet. You know what they say, don’t count the chickens before they hatch. I have Eloy Perez in front of me. I’m not looking past him, under him or around him. He’ll be there with me all night. Correct that – he’ll be there with me for as long as he can last.
“After I win, I can start looking forward to making dates and shining. Until February 25 is over, it’s all about taking care of Perez.”
No matter how often he emphasizes that all of his focus is on his next fight, some have a hard time believing that his mind doesn’t wander elsewhere. Broner is hardly the first athlete whose confidence is often mistaken for arrogance, primarily because his brand of swagger takes a bit of getting used to.
One ritual in particular that has rubbed many the wrong way – including Perez – is having his hair brushed in the ring, be it before or after a fight or just as he’s being interviewed in the ring.
Broner insists that none of it is meant to serve as disrespectful – after all, his own father is often the one doing the brushing (and for what it works, seems to genuinely enjoy being a part of the ride). Everyone just goes about their work day different. Broner prefers to enjoy his, as it’s the only way of life he’s ever known.
“I never had a job. My mom always said, ‘If you’re going to do something, you don’t have a job just to do it. You have to do something because you love it and want it.’
That’s when I decided to box. I knew it was what I always wanted to do and where I always feel at home. No matter how bad my day might be, when I go to the gym it all goes away. That relationship just carried on from the amateurs and to this very day. I just love the sport of boxing. That’s why I work so hard. I want to be the greatest.”
Even with his promising start kept in mind, Broner has a long way to go and there have already been some bumps along the way. He struggled mightily in his HBO debut, a disputed 10-round decision over former titlist Daniel Ponce de Leon nearly one year ago.
It’s been smooth sailing since then, but that particular fight is believed to be the blueprint on how to solve this particular ‘Problem.’ Perez points to it as well as his close call against Fernando Quintero in May ’09 as evidence of a trend that Broner isn’t quite as dominant against fighters of Mexican descent.
The difference in viewpoints between the fighters is that what Perez sees as opportunity, Broner views as a past learning experience and future fuel to improve.
“I keep hearing rumors that Eloy is talking that I won’t know what hit me. The facts are that he’s looking up to me. He’s looking to get what I have. I know what he’ll bring to the table. I don’t look past him. I don’t care if he comes in with two knives, an AK-47 and a bat, he will not beat me. I’ll do whatever it takes to get the job done.”
And he’ll continue to do whatever it takes to remain passionate about his career.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to [email protected]