Adrien Broner is Again at the Crossroads and Saying All the Right Things

His nickname is “The Problem” and I can’t think of another fighter whose nickname is a better fit. After winning world titles at 130, 135, 140 and 147 by the age of 28, Broner has created more problems for himself than mostly anyone else in boxing.

Since suffering his first setback against hard hitting Marcos Maidana back in December of 2013, Broner has gone 6-2 (2). And what mostly stands out is he’s 0-2 versus the only two elite opponents he faced, losing by unanimous decision to Shawn Porter and Mikey Garcia, two fights he never threatened to win. On the positive side, Broner, being durable and highly skilled, was able to fight back just enough to have not been run out of the ring by either of them.

The “problem” for Broner is that he wasn’t introduced to the boxing community as a guy who could beat the pedestrian contenders and compete with the upper-tier title holders. He was supposed to be the next Floyd Mayweather, only with more power fighting between 130 and 135. Instead, what we got was an undisciplined version of Mayweather who lost sight of how there could be no mansions and Ferrari’s without first winning your biggest fights instead of finishing in the money.

When he’s in shape and of the right mindset, Broner can really put his punches together. And it’s an image that the promoters who determine whether or not he gets high profile bouts on TV can’t forget…evidenced by him fighting the main event on a Showtime card that also has emerging middleweight sensation Jermall Charlo 26-0 (20) fighting a credible opponent in Hugo Centeno Jr. 26-1 (14).

Broner 33-3 (24) being the headliner after being out-fought and out-thought by Mikey Garcia at every turn in his last bout – and Garcia was moving up in weight — is all the proof one needs to grasp that the decision is based solely on his upside and potential. Granted, his opponent Jessie Vargas (on the left in the illustration) is not an automatic win for him. Vargas 28-2 (10) is a two division titlist and his two defeats were by unanimous decision to Timothy Bradley and Manny Pacquiao. On the plus side, Vargas holds a stoppage win over reigning WBO super welterweight title holder Sadam Ali who defeated Miguel Cotto for the vacant title. And maybe the thing that makes the Broner-Vargas fight so compelling is that both fighters have doubters going in. Vargas was never thought of as highly as Broner was and, like Adrien, he’s known more for his defeats than his wins. Add to that the catch-weight of 144 which slides the winner into pole position for a meaningful elimination or perhaps a title shot with one of the title holders at either junior welterweight or welterweight.

For Broner, a defeat against Vargas could be the end as far as him getting big fights on TV for a long time, if ever again. As usual he’s saying the right things before the bout but as we’ve seen, his words have rung hollow. But maybe this time, because he has to know his nine lives are about to expire, the result will be different.

“I started my career young. I won titles in four weight classes. I’ve accomplished a lot and there’s still more to come. I got a lot of fighting left to do” Broner said.

After the poor showing against Garcia, Broner brought on Kevin Cunningham to train him. Cunningham is mostly known for his steadiness and being a disciplinarian, something Broner was in dire need of, but is he willing to listen?

“I told him upfront what I expected and what we needed to do, and how things had to go,” said Cunningham, who estimates he has known Broner since Broner was an 8-year-old, 60-pound amateur. “I told him that if he wasn’t ready to adhere to what I’m expecting, he shouldn’t waste his time or mine. He has done everything I’ve asked of him. Everything and more. He’s going to show that he’s ready to get himself together. He’s going to show the world on April 21 that he’s rededicated himself, he’s ready to reclaim the throne.”

If that’s true, this is a winnable fight for Broner. He’s the more skilled boxer with more speed and power and when he opens up offensively he can be formidable. Vargas gets the nod when it comes to grittiness and mental constitution. The fights Vargas lost were because the opponent was just better than him with more of the requisite tools needed to compete at the championship level. And there’s no shame in that; everybody can’t win. Conversely, Broner doesn’t have that out. He’s struggled and lost to fighters who were — with the exception of Mikey Garcia – not quite as talented as him.

Another problem Vargas could present to Broner is that Jessie is a grinder who fights from bell-to-bell, which balances out his lack of a big punch. And that’s what led to Broner’s undoing against Maidana and Porter; they ground him down. Historically Broner drifts through rounds and only fights in spurts between much of his wasted movement. He looks to end his bouts with flashy, repetitive combinations as opposed to setting things up and working towards big shots…further proof Adrien hasn’t improved as a fighter and depends mostly on his talent. By now he should know that this will take him far, but not beyond a certain point.

“I think sometimes he could be a little more focused,” Cunningham said, “and have a little more discipline in a lot of the different things he’s doing. I think he’s trying to turn the corner and get things moving in the right direction.”

Only time will tell if Broner has turned the corner and will live up to his full potential, or at least come close to it. He needs to separate himself from Vargas by winning an overwhelming decision or by stoppage. I’m not sure Cunningham can reverse Broner from who he is in only one fight. Moreover, Broner shouldn’t need that. Being a champion again is something that he should be obsessed with morning, noon, and night…especially with all the potential big fights available between 140 and 147 if he were to shine against Vargas.

Listening to Adrien in recent interviews, it sounds as if he fully grasps that he is one loss away from being a trial horse for upcoming prospects. And that makes picking against him a little more dangerous this time than it’s been in the past. Add to that, he has more discernible tools than Vargas, so if both fight to their potential, Broner has to be favored. Conversely, Vargas needs a big win and probably sees Broner as a fighter whose heart can be got, and Jessie is capable of drawing from that and edging Broner out if the fight hangs in the balance and is there for one of them to step up and seize it.

My initial instinct when the fight was announced was that Vargas would out-work and out-tough Broner, with my thought being that Broner may not realize he is at a crossroads. But he has been convincing with his words and deeds recently and may finally understand the urgency of his predicament. It now seems more like a 50-50 fight with a slight chance the judges will lean toward the more marketable fighter in Broner.

Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com

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