Divertissement: On Mikey Garcia-Adrien Broner
Pledges, vows and promises in boxing are rarely kept. In fact, they are rarely even made in the first place. After scoring a 12th round TKO over Khabib Allakhverdiev in 2015, Adrien Broner announced his new career blueprint with a disarming earnestness. “The next half of my career, I’mma be about boxing,” Broner said in a post-fight interview with Jim Gray. “I’mma be about business. I’m getting wiser and getting older now. I was too tough, ’cause I’m from the hood, so any fight they approached me with I just automatically took – ain’t no more of that no more…I’m gonna fight, who I want to fight, when I want to fight them.” Yet Broner takes on a tough assignment tonight when he faces undefeated Mikey Garcia at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, in an intriguing junior welterweight scrap scheduled for 12 rounds.
On the surface, at least, Broner contradicting himself looks like a rare instance of character from a man who cannot avoid jail stints. But, as in so much in boxing, in which there is an asterisk attached to nearly every action, his decision raises more than just a bit of skepticism. The last time Broner showed even a hint of ambition, he forced Shawn Porter into starvation mode for a catchweight bout on NBC. Broner, lethargic until scoring a 12th round knockdown, dropped a unanimous decision. Since then, Broner has been the equivalent of a railbird, rarely getting in on the real action but, between legal proceedings and TMZ sightings, quick to bait, boast and belabor. What is Broner, after all, but a modern fighter on the cutting edge?
By facing Garcia, who fought as a junior lightweight before sitting on the sidelines for two-and-a-half years, due to promotional wrangles, Broner is hoping to limit the risk while magnifying potential bragging rights. After all, as talented as Garcia is, he is still a fighter who made his bones at 126 and 130 pounds. But Garcia, 36-0 (30), has shown gumption to go along with his finesse by signing to fight Broner, once a welterweight titlist. His return to the ring last year was, naturally, a set-up: Garcia topped Elio Rojas, a part-time journeyman with only eight fights over a decade. However, when Garcia frighteningly poleaxed undefeated Dejan Zlaticanin in less than three rounds a few months ago, it was clear that Garcia was not far from peak form.
For more than two years, Garcia was unable to practice his craft and, while some questioned his dedication to the hurt business while he was in limbo, Garcia provided color commentary for beIN Sports Espanol, where, more than once, he wished aloud that he was part of the combat he was analyzing for viewers. Against Zlaticanin, who entered the bout with a lightweight tchotchke, Garcia dropped the hammer with destructive accuracy. Impeccable balance, precise punching and fluid movement, combined with poise and ring intelligence are only a few of the attributes Garcia, Moreno Valley, California, brings into the ring with him in every fight.
Because Broner, 33-2 (24), is undisciplined between starts, he has bounced between junior welterweight and welterweight over the last few years with less than mixed results. One thing is clear: Without the size advantage with which he entered the ring so often at 130-to-135 pounds, Broner can no longer be considered a puncher. When Broner, Cincinnati, Ohio, first burst onto the scene, he complemented his flashy style and outlandish persona with otherworldly power but, since abandoning the lighter weight classes, he has been decidedly earthbound. His last two stoppages have come against solid exemplars of the downwardly mobile in boxing: Khabib Allakhverdiev and Ashley Theophane.
In his most recent outing, Broner struggled to a split decision over his former sparring partner Adrian Granados in a 10-round shootout. Granados is willing and earnest but going heads-up against him is a poor omen for a fighter entering the ring against Mikey Garcia. As with many dilettantes, Broner claims to have learned the error of his half-hearted ways and has doubled-down on training. “Camp was tough but it was great,” he said at a recent press conference. “I did a lot of things differently and made sure that I was doing everything right. I made sure not to cut any corners this camp. This is going to be a great fight for boxing. I’ve done my due diligence. I’m going to take care of business. I just know myself and know what I’m capable of.” These are some of the creakiest media junket clichés imaginable but Broner may have legitimized his claims by scaling 138 pounds at the weigh-in yesterday.
Garcia-Broner may wind up offering a few thrills but its significance may be overstated. (Just as some recent Premier Boxing Champions cards have had entire blocks of cut-rate tickets on sale on Craigslist, with days to go until the first bell, Garcia-Broner is also struggling with sales. Of course, this will be denied or spun by certain media flunkies, still under sway to the intoxicating allure of fading ex-monopolizers, such is the spellbinding power of press credentials, access and the occasional paycheck.) Since being mauled by Marcos Maidana in 2013, Broner has faced exactly one live body: Shawn Porter, who bulled “The Problem” from one side of the ring to the other en route to an ugly unanimous decision win. To make matters worse, Broner has not scored a noteworthy win since outpointing Paulie Malignaggi one fight earlier, nor has he settled down in a specific weight class to lay claim as a division elite. It says something about Broner, 28, that, with all the solid welterweights currently gloving up, he decided to face a man entering his fourth weight division.
In airing Broner-Garcia, Showtime continues its solid programming, in contrast to HBO, which has struggled in 2017, due to a myriad of reasons. It has, for the most part, rejected the monotonous pseudo-stylings of clutchers and danseurs such as Miquel Vazquez, Ishe Smith, Vanes Martiroysan and Erislandy Lara, although it inexplicably continues to air the bouts of Gary Russell Jr., whose nondescript career epitomizes the bad faith so common among contemporary professionals. As the PBC continues its downward spiral, producing events on FS1 featuring washouts, idlers and their perennial house-loser Erick Bone, Showtime has picked up fights that Al Haymon has earmarked as worthy of remuneration – a novel concept for an enterprise used to paying networks to air its humdrum fare. In the end, Broner is anything but humdrum, even if he has produced his share of stinkers between the ropes.
Over the years, Broner’s obnoxious behavior (personal and professional) has brought him little, if any, blowback as an athlete. Indeed, repugnance seems as obsolete as telegrams or phrenology. In an era when personality is now equated with asininity, Broner continues to provide the kind of frisson so trendy in the social media age. And his poor performances have hardly hindered a career almost entirely of the smoke-and-mirrors variety. Indeed, Broner never lost his headline status, never found himself overmatched and, more important, perhaps, never saw his pay scale diminish. If his motivation is to return to his previous standing, Broner risks being just as indifferent to his vocation as he has been since, say, 2013. It is as if Broner has been content, after all this time, to be a well-paid divertissement.
Because boxing pits one man against another in stylized, ritualized combat, it sometimes leads to spectators over-identifying with the fighters based on anything from nationalism to ethnicity to economic success. But in the case of Broner, what is it some of the cosplayers beyond the ropes identify with so much? Is it the substituting of U.S. currency for Charmin two-ply wipes? Is it the menage a trois video? Is it the posting of mug shots on Instagram? Is it the hideous rapping? Or the humiliation of outclassed opponents? Maybe Slavoj Zizek ought to take a crack at figuring it out.
Nearly a decade into his career, Broner still resembles nothing if not an obscure prank. Maybe Mikey Garcia will figure it all out for us tonight, one way or another.
Carlos Acevedo is the editor of The Cruelest Sport and a full member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. His work has appeared in Boxing News magazine, Remezcla, Boxing Digest magazine, Maxboxing, Boxing World magazine, and Esquina Boxeo. He is also a contributor to HBO Boxing and a member of the International Boxing Research Organization. His stories “A Darkness Made to Order” and “A Ghost Orbiting Forever” both won first place awards from the BWAA.