DISRESPECTFUL, disgraceful, distasteful - just some of the words that could be used to describe Adrien ‘The Problem’ Broner’s antics as he continues to steer a course toward boxing superstardom. Because, unfortunately, whenever the Cincinnati kid’s name is mentioned, it is usually followed by a torrent of invectives that focus on his behaviour and diatribe outside the ring rather than in it. There is much to be lauded and admired about Broner’s fighting prowess; alas, such admiration cannot be extended to his contemptible personality.
It is a sorry reflection on boxing that the most trusted template for transcending the sport into the mainstream and reaching the Pay-Per-View Promised Land is to shout so loudly and so abusively at your opponents that the viewing public sit up and take note. In the build-up to Saturday night’s WBA welterweight title fight, trash-talk sunk to new depths as Broner and Malignaggi hurled insults at each other with such ferocity and bitchiness that Jeremy Kyle was rumoured to be awestruck. The only things missing from the pre-fight press conferences were a pair of handbags and a pram full of toys.
In fairness, the verbal nonsense that followed the Broner-Malignaggi road show was not all of Adrien Broner’s doing. Malignaggi took the bait and gave as good as he got, delivering thousand-mile-an-hour tirades that sped off the tongue with the vocal dexterity of a hyperactive rapper.
But in the murky waters of professional boxing – populated by countless governing bodies offering a confusing array of ‘interim’, ‘intercontinental’, ‘super’, ‘silver’ and regular titles – there is only one indisputable yardstick by which to measure success - money. It is to this end (and this end only) that the pre-fight histrionics are directed. And, since both fighters received career-topping purses for Saturday night’s little soirée at the Barclays Centre in Brooklyn, such dramatics clearly proved successful, if undeserved.
When the talk was finally over and they squared off between the ropes (not a moment too soon, thanks to the stink-fest served up by Seth Mitchell and Jonathan Banks in the main support), there was the usual, cocky arrogance about Broner. He dismissed Magic Man’s early attacks as worthy of nothing more than a shake of the head and a wry smile, constantly jibing the hometown favourite with taunts of “You can’t hit me, you can’t hit me”. There was also a feeling of déjà vu as Broner started slowly, similar to the Gavin Rees fight in February, and allowed Malignaggi to steal the opening rounds with busier work and more aggression.
But the pace Malignaggi had to set - simply to keep Broner away - was unsustainable and, as he went back to his corner at the end of the fourth, he was blowing hard. Coming out for the fifth, there was a feeling that it would simply be a matter of time before The Problem, looking assured and relaxed, secured a stoppage. The script was going to plan - the stage was set for the Cincinnati wunderkind to step on the gas and wrap things up comfortably. But, as the rounds wore on, a realisation set in - the fight was going to go the distance. Broner was certainly landing the more telling blows but, going forward, looked one-dimensional. When he had to go looking for Malignaggi, rather than drawing him in to deliver counters, there was a worrying lack of guile to his work and he simply didn’t look capable of closing Malignaggi down. During the latter stages, he was largely ineffective. He took the decision, but things may have been different had the referee, Benjy Esteves Jr, deducted points from Broner for several blatant fouls. Whatever the nuances of the split decision, it is more regrettable that when the dust settles the Broner/Malignaggi duel will be remembered more for the unnecessary build-up than for anything resembling a war in the ring. Oh, apart from another slanging match during the post-fight interviews and claims by Malignaggi that judge Tom Schreck was in Al Haymon’s pocket (Broner’s manager who coincidentally also manages Floyd Mayweather).
On reflection, Broner may be a little concerned that Malignaggi finished the contest looking remarkably unscathed. Nor will it have escaped his notice that he never really had the New Yorker in any serious trouble, despite landing a series of flush, lead rights and telling crosses that he may ordinarily have expected to buckle his opponent’s knees at the very least. Contrast this with the punishment and TKOs Malignaggi suffered at the hands of our own Amir Khan and Ricky Hatton. Such comparisons give food for thought about Broner’s power at 147 and whether he ought to continue campaigning at the higher limit or drop back down to sub-140.
At ringside, Floyd Mayweather smiled contentedly. There was little in this performance to worry members of The Money Team should Pretty Boy collide with Broner at some point further into his five remaining fights (it would be naive to believe Broner’s assertions that he does not wish to fight Mayweather – if he is ever going to make good on his ‘Billion Dollar Broner’ claims, Mayweather’s name will have to feature somewhere on his stats).
The Problem may have walked away from Brooklyn with Malignaggi’s WBA strap and also his ‘side piece’ (Malignaggi’s reference to his former girlfriend - who said romance was dead, eh?) but, in boxing terms, he certainly did not walk away with an enhanced reputation as the dominant force he would have us believe.
It is unlikely that Money will be surpassed by Billion Dollar Broner anytime soon, either in career earnings or fighting legacy.