Adrien Broner and Jessie Vargas meet at the ‘Last Chance Saloon’ for high stakes showdown
Adrien Broner and Jessie Vargas have something in common; both men came out on the losing end in their biggest fights. This should give the duo a sense of desperation, since the loser falls another notch in boxing’s hierarchy. A sad statement for the headliners, especially since they are both in their athletic primes at 28 years old. They should be making title defenses instead of chasing title belts. Most believe Broner’s body has more miles on its odometer. Given his recent result, it is easy to say the attention Adrien Broner receives outweighs his performances but sports history is replete with people who have made as much money with their mouths as their achievements. As for Vargas, let’s just say he is glad to share attention, since he seems to have more trainers (eight to date) than main event fights.
The more recognizable fighter is clearly Adrien Broner, 33-3 (24), but the majority of boxing neutrals are rooting for Las Vegas’ own Jessie Vargas. Broner is a guy who attracts viewers playing the heel but his myriad arrests and lawsuits alleging illegalities should have the public asking if it is really an act. Broner’s expletive-filled rant, in two languages, at the final press conference did nothing to rebuke people’s negative opinions. Broner may draw extra viewers (Showtime will not complain) given a social media beef with East Coast rapper Tekashi69. The latter is reportedly betting $100,000 on Vargas to win, which shows a lack of boxing knowledge, given the vagaries of judging, cuts or bad refereeing.
The New York City showdown has been scheduled as a 144-pound catchweight bout, agreed upon because Vargas, 28-2 (10), is a natural 147-pounder, while Broner wanted to fight at 140 but his original opponent Omar Figueroa Jr. fell out. This compromise seems to favor the larger Vargas, who stands 5-foot-10 with a 71-inch-reach, compared to Broner’s 5-foot-6 and 69-inch-reach, as long as Vargas is not drained trying to shed the last three pounds. This is an intriguing bout stylistically and, given the duo’s lack of exceptional punching power, is likely to go the distance. That both men have new trainers adds an additional layer of uncertainty. Broner does have more bad habits, which should favor the more basic Vargas.
Trainer Kevin Cunningham, who guided Devon Alexander and Cory Spinks to world titles, claims that even though they have not been together long, Broner is well-prepared for this test, ”It’s a totally different training program that I have him doing. I think that he’s ready for some new leadership.” Stop me if you heard this part before but Cunningham believes Broner has matured, “He’s ready to be a little more disciplined in his profession. This time Broner really has done everything possible to rectify the situations that needed to be straightened out, to help him propel his career and get back moving in the right direction.”
Does a loss bring an end to Broner on national television? Probably not and his paychecks may not even go down, since Broner has proven the public will pay to watch him lose. The network couldn’t care less; they count viewers, not emotions. Broner said he is not coming to be buried on national television. “I hope I get the credit I deserve. People want me to lose and go away but guess what? I worked harder than ever for this fight. I’m not losing to Jessie Vargas. I’m still one of the best fighters of this era. When I’m done with my career, I will be one of the best to ever lace up a pair of boxing gloves.”
This is Vargas’ second fight under the guidance of Hall of Fame three-division world champion Mike “The Bodysnatcher” McCallum and they are improving and bonding with every training session, “Coach McCallum is a tremendous trainer who’s been able to teach me some different techniques. Obviously he’s known as the Bodysnatcher, so we’ve worked on body shots, but he also knew how to maintain his distance and he emphasizes the mental game.” Vargas noted that McCallum is not the only new addition, “I brought in a nutritionist for camp, who has done a great job informing me of some things that I’ve never done before in my career. I feel stronger and I’ve been finishing up this camp stronger than normal. My whole team has been perfect and it’s going to lead to the best Jessie Vargas you’ve ever seen on Saturday.”
After seven previous trainers, Vargas may have found the teacher with whom to spend the rest of his career. McCallum says they have a very good understanding, “We picked up where we left off from Jessie’s last fight in December. He has all the tools he needs; I’m just here to make sure he knows how and when to use them in the ring. Everybody knows Broner is a good fighter. It’s going to be an exciting match-up because Jessie is in shape and ready to go. We’re ready to fight any kind of style that will beat Broner. We know we’re going to have to box; if he has to do it for 12 rounds, Jessie will be ready. Once they get in close, Jessie has a good punch too and that might surprise Broner.”
It would be a surprise if the fight ends early but Vargas thinks the fans will appreciate the action, even if it goes the distance, “Adrien Broner and I are entertaining fighters who come in and give it our all. This is a fight that will have a lot of fireworks.” I agree that both men will be hit a lot but see this as a volume-punching affair more than a swing-for-the-fences brawl. Either way, Vargas says he is ready for anything, “If he comes to fight me on the inside, then that’s going to feed right into my game plan. Bring it on. If he wants to come and fight, then we’ll pick him apart bit by bit. We’re ready for any type of fight. Once he feels my power, he’s going to back up and choose a better route.”
The man most likely to set the pace is Vargas, while Broner makes opponents fight in the portion of the ring he prefers, using superior speed and flurries. If Broner can channel trainer Kevin Cunningham’s focus, he may have a chance at a minor resurrection, “I’m known to be a stern and disciplined trainer, coach and teacher. I’ve got a military and police background, so I don’t play a lot of games. When Broner made the decision to come with me, I knew that he was ready to take his career seriously. We started training together before camp started and I just saw a different look in his eyes.” Let’s just say I am not betting on Broner entering to the tune of “Eye of the Tiger.”
Showtime Sports CEO Stephen Espinoza lauded the entire card (tonight, 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT), expressing his network’s commitment to boxing as HBO’s seems to be waning, “Back in January, we made an unprecedented announcement of 11 events this first part of the year. I’m not sure any network has done that many events this year. Barclays Center, like Showtime, has become home to the most meaningful fights in the sport. This isn’t happening by accident. This is an intentional strategy. It’s a plan to promote and elevate the sport and it’s fighters to heights we haven’t seen before. We’ve put real effort into elevating this sport. These are star fighters versus star battles. There are no ‘no-names’ in this. These fights are as good as any card that I can remember.”
Co-promoter Lou DiBella is pleased by the demand and attention the fights have received in a flooded media market, “This is the venue (Barclays Center) that has the most dedication to a regular boxing program and you see that with the great fights coming here month after month. This is a great fight card. That’s why tickets are selling. Adrien Broner is a terrifically skilled boxer who has star power and brings a lot of attention. You don’t have to be loved by everybody; you have to have people want to see you. A lot of people want to see Adrien Broner. Jessie Vargas is already a two-time world champion, who’s had a terrific career and will arguably be the bigger and stronger guy on Saturday.” DiBella iterated that Broner should feel pressure, given the current course of his career, “Adrien knows that everything is on the line on Saturday night.”