By Graham Houston
Did Adrien Broner disappoint in Saturday’s welterweight title fight on Showtime or was it that Paulie Malignaggi — not for the first time — had been sold short by the pundits? I think maybe the answer would be: A bit of both. Broner had promised a “spectacular” performance but instead barely eked out a split decision on the scorecards. Indeed, the fight was one round on one card from being a draw.
There was no doubt in my mind that Broner won, but as Al Bernstein noted in the commentary, this was a fight where widely divergent scoring was always likely. Broner was moving forward throughout and landed by far the more meaningful blows, but Malignaggi was busy, throwing clusters of what used to be called “pitty pat” punches.
Paulie’s punch-volume was keeping him in the fight and making some of the rounds quite close, though. Broner shook his head in the “You’ve got nothing” manner but moving in without throwing punches doesn’t score points, and there were quite long stretches in which Broner was allowing himself to be outworked and outhustled.
It does seem clear that Broner isn’t as destructive a puncher at 147 pounds as he was in the 135-pound division. He snapped back Malignaggi’s head with sharp right-hand leads and landed some solid left hooks and right uppercuts, but he never looked like putting Paulie down.
Malignaggi was under pressure throughout, however, and even though he constantly stuck out his tongue one had the sense that Paulie was well aware that he was in the ring with a man who could hurt him if he stayed in one place too long.
There were those who wondered if Malignaggi, at 32 and after a long career, could maintain a fast pace for round after round, from round one to the finish. His legs, though, were as good as they have ever been. Malignaggi fought the perfect fight for a boxer who is in with a more heavily armoured adversary — move, flurry, jab, move, jab, flurry again and just keep right on doing it.
Where Broner disappointed was his failure to trigger off the combinations we had seen from him in the past, and he didn’t go the body anywhere near as consistently as one might have expected — when Broner did rip in a hook downstairs he seemed to hurt Malignaggi.
Of course, it isn’t easy to hit a constantly moving target. Broner’s strategy of constant pressure, and looking to dart in with precise, sharp punches, won him the fight but it wasn’t the overwhelming application of force that I for one expected.
Broner will in theory be able to do greater damage against a slower fighter who will stand in front of him, and yet one must question Broner’s firing power at 147 or even 140 pounds. If Broner hasn’t, as they say, carried his punching power up in weight with him, if he is unable to hurt world-class welterweights significantly, he could find himself involved in fights that are a lot tougher than the one on Saturday.
It was obvious very early that Broner wasn’t going to blow Malignaggi out of the fight, and it was only around about the seventh or eighth round that I felt confident that Broner was on his way to a win by decision.
Malignaggi has never been knocked out, of course, and his two inside-the-distance defeats came when he was worn down late by punch-accumulation in the Ricky Hatton and Amir Khan fights. So a quick win by Broner was never very likely. A late-rounds stoppage did seem to be a distinct possibility, though. The fact that Broner had to go the full 12 rounds was something of a letdown for those expecting a stellar showing because, harsh though it may seem, for Broner to have made a true statement in this fight he needed to have taken Malignaggi out before the final bell.
However, the fight was fast-paced and held the interest throughout. Broner is certainly entertaining to watch, but his graceless behaviour before, during and after the Malignaggi fight was wearying rather than amusing.
It’s one thing to have swagger and back it up with electrifying performances — say, when Naseem Hamed was conducting himself in an over-the-top manner but delivering devastating knockouts — but the Broner bragging (not to mention the hair-brushing routine) is wearing thin. He won clearly (despite the split scoring) but he had predicted sensational showing, which this clearly wasn’t.
Broner can fight, of course, but he isn’t the fighter he thinks he is — at least not yet. He is only 23 and he could come on to be the next superstar of boxing, but after Saturday night there will be scepticism.
This fight was a good learning experience for Broner, however. He went 12 rounds for the first time and finished strongly, and I doubt if he will ever again meet anyone as elusive as Malignaggi.
The split scoring disguises the fact that Broner was really rather dominant — the consensus scoring, in which at least two judges agree on which boxer won the round, worked out at 117-111 in Broner’s favour.
Broner got the consensus vote in every round from the fifth onwards.
Judge Tom Schreck will be criticised for his 117-111 card, but Schreck’s scoring was in the majority — that is, his score agreeing with that of at least one of the other judges — in all 12 rounds. No doubt Broner would argue that Schreck was the only judge who saw the fight right.
Malignaggi tested Broner, but it wasn’t in truth a severe test because Paulie didn’t hit anywhere near hard enough to get Broner’s respect.
There are fighters at 140 and 147, though, who would, on paper anyway, present a degree of danger to Broner, and I believe that the time has arrived for Broner to be matched in the sort of fight in which he isn’t a 12-1 or 14-1 on favourite. In fairness to Broner, though, he says he is willing to meet whoever the fans want him to meet as his next opponent.
Even though Broner didn’t blast though Malignaggi in anything like the manner he had boasted would be the case, he is without doubt a magnetic presence on the boxing scene. Leaving Broner’s personality traits aside, all of us who follow boxing will be drawn to his appearances in the ring. Because whether you love Broner or hate him, you can’t ignore him.