For lack of a better fighter: On Adrien Broner

Photo credit: Amanda Westcott/Showtime


BROOKLYN, N.Y. – Amid a sally of boos, there was a familiar grouse heard rumbling through the air inside the Barclays Center, last Saturday night, as Adrien Broner and Jessie Vargas fought to a disappointing majority draw in the main event, contested at a catchweight of 144 pounds. In the 10th round, one woman seated ringside, wearing a tight red dress, would join in on the chorus of complaints.


“Let your fucking hands go, AB!”


It must have been confusing for the woman to find herself reminding a multiple weight-class titlist to throw punches late in a round, especially when that fighter had his adversary, hobbled, bloodied and backed into a corner – then again, she was hardly alone in voicing this sentiment. On this night, her frustrated plea would join others in the partisan crowd of 13,964, that showed up to witness the latest reclamation act from Cincinnati’s brash jester prince. This is the version of Broner that has shown up in fights in recent years, talented but nowhere near great and a bit gunshy.


Though Vargas, Las Vegas, Nevada, spent the first half of the fight dutifully working behind a jab and following it with crisp punches to the body, he began to fade noticeably in the second half of the fight. In contrast, Broner, for all his lackluster efforts in the early rounds, started to connect with his right hands and left hooks. By the 10th round, Vargas looked frazzled, and Broner appeared to be in prime position to do what Gervonta Davis and Jermall Charlo both did to Jesus Cuellar and Hugo Centeno Jr., respectively, moments before on the undercard: close the show with a knockout.


If only it were that easy.


Broner the fighter has been a distinct breed from Broner the showman for quite some time now, and perhaps that fact was lost on the woman in red, as she made her plea. After all, Mike Stafford, Broner’s former trainer, made the same impassioned requests to his then-charge back in 2015, when he was being mercilessly outworked by Sean Porter.


“Let your hands go!” Stafford had begged.


It is one thing to not be able to pull the trigger against a mauling spoiler like Porter but to struggle in the same way against Vargas, who is no one’s idea of a volume puncher, was yet another indication of how far Broner had drifted from the days when he was terrorizing lightweights on HBO.


On Saturday, Broner kept his hands pinned to his face in those moments when Vargas seemed most vulnerable to a stoppage, as though the very idea of pursuing a knockout was beneath him. As ridiculous as that may sound, contempt seems to be a key component of Broner’s psychological build-up. Vargas would go on to outwork Broner in the 11th and, in the final round, Broner simply chose to coast, taking only the last 20 seconds to fire off a few meaningless combinations. Still, it did not occur to Broner that he could have done more to entertain what was, at times, a very restless crowd.


“Did y’all see what I did here?” Broner posed incredulously to reporters after the fight. “Did you see the type of performance I put on here? I performed for y’all.”


There are many ways to describe Broner – shock jock, Rick Ross protege – but one thing he is not is a world-class fighter. Nor a very entertaining one, at that (to say nothing of his persona outside the ring). Since being bludgeoned by Marcos Maidana in 2013, Broner has had two definitive wins on his record against no-hopers Ashley Theophane and Khabib Allakhverdiev. Along the way, he went nip-and-tuck with Emmanuel Taylor and Adrian Granados. And in step-up fights against Porter and Mikey Garcia, last July, Broner came away with clear losses added to his ledger.


His handlers at Premier Boxing Champions and the prognosticators at Showtime will rightfully point to his supposed mainstream credibility (Read: TMZ fodder), solid ratings (Broner-Vargas peaked at 891,000 viewers) and strong history of ticket sales as evidence of his A-list marketability. But in their pursuit to empower their increasingly mediocre fighter, how far will they go?


On Saturday, they showed that they were prepared to go very far.


Squabbles leading up to Saturday between Broner and Gervonta Davis on the one hand and Jermall Charlo on the other, as well as the dubious social media confrontation between Broner and a Brooklyn rapper (6ix9ine), were reason enough for the promotion to ramp up its security protocol on Saturday night, the thinking being that skirmishes would most likely break out in the stands between supporters of the various fighters. Moreover earlier in the week, the media workout that had been scheduled was canceled and a once-open weigh-in became a media-only event.


On fight night, a long fleet of police cars was parked alongside Atlantic Avenue; steel barricades were strategically positioned in a labyrinthine manner at many of the arena’s entry points and, inside, a mixed crew of uniformed, plainclothes and gang-unit NYPD officers – not to mention the usual in-house security personnel – patrolled the hallways of what increasingly felt like a tense overture, one combustible matchstick away, to a momentous conclusion. At one point, the head of Barclays was heard barking, “We are on lockdown!” to the security staff. And as one person involved in the promotion put it, perhaps too casually, “Better safe than sorry.” And yet some measure of fear was more than well-justified.


The NYPD would confirm in a statement the next day that someone had fired a gun in one of the hallways at around 9 p.m, with TMZ reporting that it was a hanger-on affiliated with the Brooklyn rapper with whom Broner had a dispute. No one was hurt and the suspect fled the scene. NYPD is continuing to investigate the case.


This is not to say that Broner is responsible for the shenanigans of ticket buyers but it would be naive to think that the fraught atmosphere on Saturday was not a direct outcome of Broner’s own ill-advised promotional tactics. Certainly boxing’s amoral compass has guided it toward places of much dicier intrigue and for far more worthier fighters.




Sean Nam is a contributor to The Cruelest Sport and UCNLive. He also writes about film for Slant Magazine and Mubi Notebook.




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