“The Problem” actually poses very few these days. But in the last five years, Adrien Broner has been the one looking for a solution. A solution to himself.
Humbled by Maidana. Outworked by Porter. Outclassed by Garcia. A close draw to Vargas. And despite all that, now given a pay-per-view main event. For everything he ended up not being, Adrien Broner is still a gifted boxer. And he had the ceiling to win three of those four tilts. But he didn’t.
It’s easy to be seduced by the gifted fighter. But when it’s the fighter himself who is seduced, defeat knocks on the door. The more they love themselves and rely on the gift, the wider that door opens. And the more the gift outweighs the work ethic, the harder the door is to ever close again.
All gifts carry the cruel burden of fragility. And deep down the gifted boxer, even one as arrogant as Broner, knows he is not responsible for the gift. The way to honor the ceiling that’s been given is to put in the work to build a strong foundation for it, a sort of reverse spiritual engineering.
Humility is the antidote. Discipline. Pain. Preparation. And the right kind of preparation has one goal: falling out of love with yourself. For some, that fall would have happened following the Maidana fight. After that loss, Broner could have left home and surrounded himself with people who didn’t love him. He could have found a remedy at the drawing board. Chosen a new path, a new beginning. But he didn’t do that because it’s not in his nature. And “The Problem” has never been there before.
Clowns are always too busy clowning to understand that you’ve got to leave home to get home, and a man struggling with demons is different than a man that has already succumbed. If you don’t believe me, look at the difference in Broner’s face in the press conferences before Maidana and before Pacquiao.
In the first one, Maidana sits with arms crossed, chewing gum, placid, unamused, a human shark. A translator relays an undefeated Broner’s words into his left ear. His expression never changes. He could be at a child’s birthday party and he wouldn’t have looked out of place. Whatever ideas were going through his mind, being in danger wasn’t one of them. And Broner was too busy talking to notice that someone else was about to walk away with all the millions he thought were meant for him.
Five years later, a smile that has grown painful barely conceals the fact that “The Problem’s” idea of himself has begun to crack, but it hasn’t changed, at least not enough. There’s a sadness now, but no wisdom. Sadness paves the way for addiction and self-destruction, the common ways to entertain yourself alone. Being in love with yourself always ends up as poison. Still, Adrien Broner is too busy talking to take notice.
Of course there’s still time to unearth whatever special thing Broner has inside him. After all, boxing loves redemption. But that door is rapidly closing and he may not have what it takes to see the right way home. Because falling out of love with yourself may in fact be reserved for the ones who actually achieve greatness, rather than the ones who fall short. For those who fall short, maybe dishonor and defeat is not enough to get you there, to give you wisdom. And maybe now it’s too late. Because on January 19th Broner will be fighting someone who has been there before and came out the other side.
Manny Pacquiao is also a hugely gifted fighter. But he has been humbled, so he understands preparation differently. He is someone who has known struggle since birth, and not the “water in my cereal” American struggle Broner knows, but the global kind, the more frightening and humbling kind. The dead bodies in the gutter, support your entire family at nine-years-old kind. The kind that has seen enough to know gifts can be dangerous. The kind that has been given the entire world and every trapping, yet when the time came, could humbly admit defeat and return to his family. The kind that is wise enough to have fallen out of love with himself. — Jeremy Melton