problem (noun) – a matter or situation regarded as unwelcome or harmful and needing to be dealt with or overcome
You have to wonder what sort of state of mind Adrien ‘the problem’ Broner woke up in on Sunday morning. Self-styled as ‘About Billions’ and tipped for so long as heir apparent to Money Mayweather’s boxing empire, the Cincinatti smartmouth has now lost two of his last five. He may not care to admit it publicly, but his future at the right end of the fight game is now in serious doubt.
In many ways his points defeat to former IBF welterweight title-holder Shawn Porter on Saturday bore similarities to his mauling at the hands of Argentinian threshing machine Marcos Maidana at the tail-end of 2013. Porter simply out-hustled him for the vast majority of the contest, refused to allow him to find a rhythm and at times bullied him on the inside. Repeatedly ‘Showtime’ followed the blueprint and threw the looping overhand right that Maidana puts to such effective use. Broner even touched down in the fourth, though not from a punch. It was as he wheeled away, escaping yet another arcing right.
Broner picked up a reported purse of $1.35 million dollars for Saturday’s non-title match-up, held under the banner of Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions series and shrugged off his loss with nonchalance. “Listen, I still will fight anybody” he said. “It don’t matter man. I’m a real animal. I’m an animal. This time I didn’t get the decision, but it’s OK. At the end of the day everybody in here will take my autograph and take my picture.”
But if Broner thinks his celebrity status and earning potential is fixed in perpetuity, he is sadly mistaken. Fame is a fickle master – all boxing careers pass through the four seasons of success and winter can set in very quickly. Those around ‘the problem’ will be feeling the chill already.
A 3-weight world champion by the age of 23, it seems a long while since he tore up the super featherweight and lightweight divisions with a series of truly dominant, untouchable displays. His dismantling of WBC lightweight champion Antonio DeMarco in 2012, really established him as a coming star. Just three years ago he was showcasing scintillating all-round ability.
He weighed in at 134½ lbs for that fight. At super-feather and lightweight Broner’s natural attributes (hand and foot speed, elusiveness) were complemented by reach advantages and punch power. Neither have travelled up with him as has jumped two weight classes to mix it up in the lucrative welterweight division. Since Paulie Malignaggi, in June 2013 he has struggled with every elite class opponent he has faced there.
So why continue to operate in a division that does not suit him? Big fights and financial incentives play a part, but there could also be physical reasons. Broner has never been a guy who lives the life between fights. The pic below, standing next to his welterweight mentor Mayweather, is typical of his out-of-camp physique, when he often looks as though he is walking around at super-middle.
Sustaining a long career in the lower weight classes has always been about year-round self-control – “long term consistency trumps short term intensity”. Those who balloon between bouts tend to develop stamina and fitness problems and fade quickly. This is coupled with the difficulties of mixing with bigger-framed opponents.
His adversary on Saturday, Akron’s Shawn Porter, actually campaigned at middleweight as an amateur and there was much talk of the catchweight 144lb weight limit playing into Broner’s hands. Yet Porter went after him from the beginning and once again, having tasted the power of a bigger, stronger man, Broner seemed to lack the confidence to close the distance and let his machine-gun combinations go, as he once did to such devastating effect.
As his slide from Mayweather heir apparent to welterweight also-ran cements itself (he is now only ranked 9th in the USA by BoxRec), the 25 year old will find few fans sympathising with his predicament. For so many years, publicly, socially, Broner’s biggest problem has been himself.
Standard promotional tactics in boxing are to take up either a good guy or bad guy role. Like the old cowboy films in which heroes wore white hats and villains black ones, it allows fans to form easily identifiable images of the boxers and marketing men to conjure attractive promo storylines. Broner has revelled in this, creating a much derided thug-life / gangsta media presence. At times his callousness has been hard to bear.
Strip club shenanigans, foul-mouthed rants, even a video of him flushing money down the toilet, posted in 2013, have all been received badly on social media.
As a result, he has become probably the most criticised fighter on the planet. Sure, there’ll be a PR guru somewhere counting the zeroes on his cheque and saying that “all publicity is good publicity” but you can’t help but feel that the outside nonsense has begun to impact Broner’s performances. For long periods on Saturday, he barely looked interested.
All hope is not lost. But for Broner to recapture the promise of his early days he will need to show a discipline hitherto unseen. A move back down to the 140lb division (at least) would make sense and although it may be unlikely, a new attitude to public image. A little humility could go a long way.
In his quiet moments, away from cameras and microphones, he must realise that it will only take one or two more defeats for his place at the top-table to be permanently lost. There is a need for urgent redemption. Without that, and at only 25 years of age, the problem will face new, dark challenges, discovering how sad and lonely the life of a has-been can be.