With boxing still profoundly affected by the ongoing pandemic, we will continue to periodically revisit some of our past feature articles. Today, we look back to when our own Rafael Garcia ventured to Brooklyn to see the showdown between Adrien Broner and Mikey Garcia. With “The Problem” recently, and for the umpteenth time, claiming to have reformed himself and preparing a return to action, it may be instructive to recall when similar sentiments were voiced and the end result left many wondering why he bothered. Check it out:
“Yo, maroon! Adrien Broner sucks, bro!”
The six-foot high, 250-plus pounds guy in the burgundy jacket at the urinal next to mine didn’t flinch, so the guy doing the talking, slamming the door of the stall he had just come out of, tried again:
“YO! MAROON! ADRIEN BRONER SUCKS, BRO!”
Maroon heard him this time, and as I considered the possibility of Maroon being one of Broner’s several bodyguards, or worse, a hardcore fan of “The Problem,” I finished my business and zipped up as fast as I could lest things escalated quickly.
No need to worry. Maroon turned to face the guy who had just screamed at him, a guy much smaller than him, and quickly realized there was no threat. “Yeah, well, I mean, to be fair, he lost to a really good guy. A really good guy,” he said in a voice that somehow sounded both apologetic and authoritative.
The guy who had screamed at Maroon stood there motionless for a beat, then snorted and shook his head, leaving the restroom at a quick pace. Maroon’s gaze followed him until he exited, then Maroon approached the sink.
“Nigga didn’t even wash his hands,” he said.
The guy venting at Maroon wasn’t the only one left disappointed at the Barclays Center. While most of the audience seemed to favor Mikey Garcia–the raucous cheers erupting when Mikey began his ring walk evidenced as much–there was also a sizeable contingent of Adrien Broner fans at the venue. During the fight you heard them cheer loudly whenever the Ohioan landed a crisp blow. Unfortunately for them, Broner didn’t land anywhere near the number required to win.
Not for the first time, Broner left us wondering why he was so inactive in a high profile bout. It was the same after his loss to Shawn Porter, in which “The Problem” was clearly out-hustled. Even in some of his wins, like those over Paulie Malignaggi and Adrian Granados, Broner has at times given up rounds almost by default, refusing, for reasons unknown, to let his hands go without apparent excuse, to the frustration of his followers.
Of which, despite everything, a large number remain. For reasons unfathomable to many, Broner brings the spotlight and remains a major attraction, a ratings hit. The highest rated telecast of 2015 was Broner vs John Molina on PBC. In 2016, his bout against Ashley Theophane notched a record rating for Spike TV, despite the fact the match-up was viewed as barely competitive. Say what you like, but Broner puts butts in seats and compels millions to change the channel.
Perhaps the silver lining in Broner’s losing outing against Garcia is that viewership numbers for the bout vindicated his appeal to fight fans. The broadcast became Showtime’s most successful to date this year, and also dwarves the reach of HBO’s boxing shows so far in 2017. If this success wasn’t replicated at the Barclays Center box office–which was only two-thirds full on fight night–that likely has more to do with Premier Boxing Champions’ inane pricing policy than with anything else.
Thus, say what you will about Broner’s skills, you can’t deny his name resonates with a significant number of fans. In his assessment of Broner’s standing going into the Garcia fight, Eliott McCormick spoke of his “pathological arrogance”, the double-edged sword with which Broner has cut through the barriers that isolate boxing from the mainstream to achieve a wider recognition than the large majority of his peers. Many of those who follow Broner’s career do so because there are few things more satisfying than to see a jerk fall flat on his face, and few things more infuriating than missing it. But it has to be acknowledged that a subset of those who watch Broner do so because they vicariously live through him the realization of a fantasy, that of the boxing superstar with flash to spare and money to burn.
But those attributes hold zero relevance inside the ropes. And eager to prove this fact was Mikey Garcia. The boxing world couldn’t have come up with a more contrasting character to pair Broner with if it tried. Mikey’s unassuming personality is as hard coded into his DNA as his professionalism, and it was somewhat ironic that those two traits were exactly what propelled him past Broner with relative ease. The first round–void of action as it was–served as a synthesis of the attitude that both fighters would display throughout the contest. Mikey prodded carefully with scattered shots, studying Broner’s reactions and taking notes for the rounds to come; Adrien, meanwhile, overreacted almost comically to Mikey’s advances, jumping out of the way at every feint, and struggling to throw punches.
It didn’t take long for Mikey to break down the problem before him and take over, fighting with an intensity that wasn’t particularly interesting to many in the audience–several times the audience booed the lack of action in the ring. But Mikey’s style owes much to that intensity and to the focus that allows him to break down opponents much like a mathematician breaks down equations. It’s a principle that has served Mikey well throughout his career and which he used successfully against Broner: give nothing away while taking everything the opponent gives you.
And there was lots that Broner gave to Garcia: he left himself open after firing his shots; he remained inactive through long periods of time; he leaned against the ropes like a sitting duck on plenty of occasions. Garcia was right there on him every single time, ready to make him pay, by far the more intense, calculating and effective fighter. And the more effective Garcia was, the more tense and wound up Broner became. And that’s no way to fight a top talent like Garcia.
So a contest that offered some intrigue going in turned out to corroborate what everyone expected to happen, and in retrospect, there was never a point during the bout at which the outcome was in doubt. So if many of those who saw the fight hoped to see Adrien Broner lose, the way in which the defeat happened was almost anticlimactic, if not disappointing. After all, the story of Broner’s impending redemption before every big match already felt old and contrived before fight night; as a consequence, the postmortem recaps can’t help but feel like a retread. Been there, done that.
And yet, when the show was over and Mikey had had his arm raised in victory and Adrien Broner had–once again–made an ass of himself in front of Jim Gray, and I was riding the train back to Manhattan, I kept thinking about Mikey and Adrien and Maroon and that guy who yelled at him from the bathroom stall. And I came to realize that Maroon and Mikey were both confronted by guys who assumed they were in a position to confront them, but turned out to be embarrassingly wrong about it.
Just like Adrien was unsuited to dealing with Mikey’s calculating efficiency, the guy calling out Maroon had no idea what he was talking about. If it was slightly embarrassing to witness two such confrontations back to back, it was also comforting to be reminded there are things you can’t fake your way through. No matter how hard a fighter might pretend to be a boxing superstar, if he doesn’t have the chops, he will always fall to a guy who does, no matter how large the gap in popularity between them. And if you ever start screaming at a guy much bigger than you about something, you better know what you’re talking about, otherwise you risk leaving the bathroom looking a fool, with unwashed hands to boot.
That being said, would it be so bad to spare a thought for the moribund dreams of Adrien Broner? The realization that something amazing that was supposed to happen for you will actually never take place is an extraordinarily bitter pill to swallow. I couldn’t stop thinking about this while riding the Q train from Brooklyn to Manhattan after leaving Barclays. As the subway crawled along the Manhattan bridge, the night had wrapped itself around New York, and out the window I gazed at an apparently endless string of illuminated skyscrapers. It felt like if I could only open one of the subway car’s windows, I could reach out and touch them.
Standing nearby was a group of dolled up girls. They talked with excitement about the place they were going to, and kept telling each other how this club was supposed to be the sickest, and were being, in general, loud and obnoxious the way dolled up girls riding a late train to the club usually are. But when we got to the bridge and saw the bright Manhattan skyline approaching, one of them told the others, “This is like what you see in the movies and the postcards; this is the shot right here.” And all the other girls got real quiet, and leaned a little bit closer to the window nearest them and stared out at the lights. But then the subway car was no longer on the bridge, but in a tunnel, where it was dark and there were no more lights. The beautiful, shining skyline was now behind us. We had all missed our chance to touch it.