Adrien Broner’s Career Legacy Will Be One of What Could Have Been

“I’m on a different level than him. I’m going to prove it on Saturday. I don’t worry about any of the negativity that surrounds my name. I’m just ready to go put on a show. I’m taking over this year. It all starts with Jessie Vargas on Saturday night. I’m going to be myself and put on a great show,” said Adrien Broner the day before fighting Jessie Vargas this past Saturday.

In Broner’s world five rounds of a 12-round fight must constitute a show.

Broner fought Vargas in a 144-pound catch-weight bout that ended in a majority draw (115-113 Broner and 114-114 twice). It was a crossroads fight for both who were in search of their signature win and everything we thought about both fighters before the fight, played out as expected. The fight went the distance, as anticipated, it was close, and as mentioned in my preview, I felt it was going to be hard for Vargas to win a close decision (I had it 115-113  Vargas) due to Broner 33-3-1 (24) being the more marketable fighter.

Jessie Vargas 28-2-1 (10) was everything most thought he was. He fought from bell-to-bell, he let his hands go, he never stopped trying although he slowed a bit beginning around the seventh round (and that very well may be attributed to him having to get down to the contract weight of 144 pounds). He worked Broner’s body on both sides, pushed the fight with a steady jab and landed some solid rights to Broner’s head. Jessie’s only issue was he’s not much of a puncher and never had Broner hurt or looking like he wanted to be somewhere else. And because of that, along with a verbal thrashing by trainer Kevin Cunningham between rounds, Adrien finally began to open up as if the result mattered; only he did it a little too late and killed any chance he had to win the fight conclusively.

Two things stood out regarding Adrien Broner after this bout: one, he can change, and two, based on his history and mental makeup, I doubt he will ever change. Firstly, he should never fight any higher than junior welterweight — and if what was reported on the Showtime broadcast is true and he can make 135, then that’s where he should fight. At 144 and over Broner is 2-2-1 and doesn’t have fight altering power. This becomes an even bigger factor due to him being a fighter who only cuts loose in spurts and looks for the highlight reel counters; sometimes he gets them and sometimes he doesn’t, and when he doesn’t, he’s out-worked in the process and loses rounds looking for them.

During the course of the 12 rounds, it was painfully obvious that he was the more gifted fighter with more tools and greater speed and had a good chin. Adrien can put together terrific combinations with speed and accuracy when he wants to or believes it’s necessary, the problem is he doesn’t fight with urgency and he’s too complacent…something that if it hasn’t changed by now after nearly 40 pro bouts including at least 10 against contenders and title holders with so much on the line when he fights, it never will. It’s impossible not to see that Broner isn’t in love with boxing and only does it for the money and status it brings him. He hasn’t improved and doesn’t have a real fighter’s IQ, just physical gifts and he’s not even sure how or when to use them. In fact, Broner is every bit as physically skilled as his mentor Floyd Mayweather – the difference is that once Floyd had gleaned that he was better off bringing the fight to Vargas so he could go first and then wait to counter the counter, he would’ve forced-fed it to Jessie all night instead of doing it in spurts.

Saturday night Broner was in with a fighter he should’ve defeated and he failed to win. Vargas was most likely weakened by the catch-weight of 144 and faded late but still gutted it out during the final two rounds. Had Broner started the fight with a little more intensity he wouldn’t have been fighting from behind the entire way. It took a huge rally just to salvage a draw. No disrespect to Vargas, but he was basically having his way, especially in the early going, because Broner wasn’t doing much and kept his hands in his pockets.

Nearly every time Broner initiated the action, Vargas was beaten to the punch and only his grit and work rate enabled him to stabilize what could’ve been one-sided exchanges. Add to that, Broner’s technique and the fluidity of his combinations were much more eye grabbing than Vargas’s somewhat forced clubbing, which helps sway the judges in close rounds. But the gulf in ability between he and Vargas didn’t matter because Broner, as usual, just didn’t do enough work for large gaps during crucial rounds.

When he was focused, Broner had some big moments exhibiting the flash and excitement he’s capable of and the judges apparently awarded him every close round. Yes, it was a slightly better showing than his last time out versus Mikey Garcia, but it wasn’t long ago that a declining Manny Pacquiao handled Vargas with ease. And if Kevin Cunningham wasn’t driving him so hard to pick it up between rounds Broner would not have finished as strong as he did and that ended up being the difference between losing and salvaging a draw so he lives on for one more good payday.

Like former heavyweight contender David Tua, Adrien Broner is an underachiever, only luckier. Tua was a wrecking machine when he was in shape and let his hands go, and happened to score stoppage wins over four fighters (John Ruiz, Oleg Maskaev, Hasim Rahman and Michael Moorer) who won a piece of the heavyweight title, something he never realized. And that’s because Tua happened to catch Lennox Lewis on one of his better nights and lost a lopsided decision. Broner has won titles at 130, 135, 140 and 147 but never defeated any opponent better than the fighters Tua did; he just happened to do it when they held the title.

Regardless of the glowing reports that often emanated from the gym leading up to their big fights, Tua and Broner, except on a few occasions, seldom lived up to what many believed their ceiling could’ve been. Tua was one of the biggest single shot punchers I’ve seen since George Foreman circa 1973-76 but he rarely fought as if winning meant living and losing represented dying. And as stated earlier, Broner has the same requisite tools as Mayweather but lacks Floyd’s ring IQ and heart and willingness to learn and improve. In other words, he lacks the high-performance motor gifted fighters often require to fight up to their potential.

Once again a generous decision enabled Broner to escape career suicide but one can’t help but think the sand is almost through the hour glass at age 28. Sure, fans will tune in to see him fight Vargas again or another name opponent, but the expectation of a signature performance from Adrien Broner no longer exists and sadly the only thing people will remember, aside from his in-ring interviews after his fights, is that his efforts left so much on the table.

Photo credit: Amanda Westcott / SHOWTIME

Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com

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