By Graham Houston
Every so often a fighter comes along who is anointed by the media as boxing’s latest big thing. Adrien Broner is the man of the moment in this regard. Broner, who defends his WBC lightweight title against Welshman Gavin Rees in Atlantic City tonight, seems to have it all. He is undefeated, powerful, fast and flashy. Broner is also an entertainer. He has his father go through the motions of brushing his hair after a fight; he got down on one knee to make a mock marriage proposal to his girlfriend on HBO.
There seems little doubt, though, that Broner puts in the work in the gym. He will tell interviewers that it’s because he trains so hard that his fights look easy.
Broner is nothing if not ambitious. He said in one interview that he wants to become boxing’s first billion-dollar fighter. (“He already has five children, so he may need that billion dollars,” HBO sage Larry Merchant quipped during Broner’s ring walk for his fight with Antonio DeMarco.)
Broner was the WBC 130-pound champion before moving up to lightweight and believes he can win world titles all the way up to light-middleweight, thus emulating five-weight world champion Floyd Mayweather Jr., with whom he is on extremely friendly terms.
While Broner might seem excessively cocky he says that people like him when they get to know him. Certainly you can’t ignore him. He danced his way to the ring for the DeMarco fight while wearing a hooded, pink robe and outsized sunglasses while hip-hop artist Kendrick Lamar performed alongside him.
When Broner meets Rees it will be Broner’s seventh consecutive appearance on HBO. Even though the fight with Rees is perceived as a mismatch, Broner’s burgeoning star power is likely to ensure impressive viewing figures.
Broner seems to have it all. For a start he has an excellent defence, employing the Floyd Mayweather technique — left arm low, right glove up to protect his chin, body slightly turned to present a side-on view, poised to roll away from punches while being in position to counter. It takes a talented fighter to use this style successfully. (Andre Berto attempted it — somewhat clumsily — when he fought Robert Guerrero, and Guerrero almost blew Berto out of the fight in the first two rounds.)
In terms of firepower, Broner ranks with the best punchers in the sport, weight for weight, with his 84% KO ratio. He’s stopped 16 of his last 17 opponents. Broner wasn’t impressive when winning on points against durable veteran Daniel Ponce De Leon two years ago but apparently felt he was winning comfortably and didn’t choose to pick up the pace. It seems that Broner might have been a bit stung by adverse reaction to his somewhat lackadaisical performance against De Leon because he has looked devastating in his subsequent fights.
Broner was expected to beat Antonio DeMarco in his last fight but I don’t think very many people could have expected such a total beatdown. DeMarco was outclassed and the fight had taken on a “just a matter of time” look long before the referee’s intervention in the eighth round. Broner was throwing what could be called “educated” punches — compact, hard shots to body and head, thrown with speed and variety. The punches just seemed to flow.
DeMarco was considered to be a tough, capable southpaw with respectable hitting power, but Broner destroyed him in what seemed an almost effortless manner.
So, Broner looks as close to being unbeatable as it gets, almost a Floyd Mayweather Jr. clone. Yet he hasn’t had to fight his way through adversity so we can’t be sure what will happen if he’s in a fight that requires him to dig deep. It could be that Broner is one of those great “on top” fighters who turns out to be not as good as he’s cracked up to be when he’s being seriously challenged.
Still, apart from Ricky Burns it is difficult to see who could test Broner at lightweight. Perhaps the most difficult and dangerous tests await Broner in the next division up, at 140lbs.
As tough and gritty as Gavin Rees is, he seems to have very little chance of winning. The sharp folk who set the wagering lines certainly see the fight as being uncompetitive, with Broner listed as anywhere from 33-1 to a mind-blowing 80-1 on favourite.
It isn’t as if Broner is meeting an opponent lacking in merit. Rees is a former WBA light-welterweight champion, he holds the European and British lightweight titles and he’s lost only once in 39 fights, when the seasoned and competent Andriy Kotelnyk halted him in the last round in a WBA title bout in Cardiff. Rees won impressively away from home when he wrecked Anthony Mezaache in seven rounds in their European title bout in France.
However, Rees is stepping up to another level entirely against “The Problem” — as Broner calls himself. Rees’s forward-moving, pressure-fighting style could be made to measure for a fighter who can counter with Broner’s chilling power and accuracy. Rees is essentially a wear-them-down, busy-punching type of fighter whereas Broner is capable of throwing bombs. Also, Broner looks so much bigger than the Welsh fighter, whom he refers to as a “midget”. No matter which way you look at it, the inescapable conclusion is that Rees is going to be outclassed and outgunned in this fight.
I can see a fight similar to Sugar Ray Leonard against Dave Green or Julio Cesar Chavez against Andy Holligan, with the British challenger making a game showing but getting caught, hurt, and either cleanly taken out of the fight or broken down by combinations to be rescued by the referee.
Rees will give his best effort but I’m expecting a Broner victory somewhere between the fifth and eighth rounds. If Broner goes on to achieve greatness, however, Rees will always be able to say that he shared the ring with one of the outstanding fighters of his generation.
I originally wrote this feature for Boxing Monthly. I’ll be looking at wagering possibilities for the Broner-Rees fight later today for subscribers at fightwriter.com. Subscribers have already received previews for Alejandro Lopez-Jonathan Romero, Jose Uzcategui-Rogelio Medina and Vicente Escobedo-Edner Cherry, with more to follow today as we break down the fights and look at the wagering possibilities.