The Reckoning: Recalling Broner vs Maidana

It’s hard to believe, but it’s now eight years since Marcos Maidana upset the Adrien Broner apple-cart and gave the boxer they called “The Problem” the first defeat of his pro career. Our own Rafael Garcia made the journey to the Alamodome in Houston, Texas and penned a most insightful take on one of the more significant and memorable fights of the decade, one with major implications not only for its combatants, but also for Floyd Mayweather Jr. and the various players involved. Check it out: 

By now, much has been written about the Adrien Broner vs Marcos Maidana rumble that went down in San Antonio this past Saturday. And it’s a safe bet much more will be written, given the gleeful sense of schadenfreude with which a large portion of the boxing community welcomed The Problem’s comeuppance. But there are other reasons for which to pay close attention to Broner’s defeat, since his encounter with Maidana was much more than just a nightcap to close one hell of a year for boxing. Instead, the battle at the Alamodome should be regarded as the resolution of a set of complex implications regarding the relationship between boxing viewers and performers in this day and age.

But before getting all Freud on you, let’s set the record straight on a major falsity that kept poking at my brain while sitting ringside at the Alamodome this past weekend. It’s an issue that, for reasons I couldn’t quite pin down at the time, annoyed me even more than the prodigious pissers seated beside me who kept forcing me to grant access to the corridor so they could go relieve their bloated bladders. It’s an issue that speaks to either Golden Boy’s unashamed neglect of the truth, or to its embarrassingly deficient forecasting abilities.

A couple of weeks ago Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer stated that tickets for the “Danger Zone” card were selling briskly and that they were on pace to have a crowd of between twenty and thirty thousand at the massive Alamodome. However, immediately following the conclusion of Broner vs Maidana, a local news outlet reported attendance at a mere 11,312. When I arrived at the Alamodome, just before the televised portion of the show got underway, only a few hundred souls populated the stands, the sight of which made my heart sink. It was deflating to see a rock-solid fight-card attracting so few souls to such a massive stadium and caused one to wonder with concern as to what effect this might have on future promotions.

The cavernous Alamodome was scarcely populated for Broner vs Maidana
The cavernous Alamodome was scarcely populated for Broner vs Maidana

After all, when Top Rank attracts larger crowds for events featuring absolutely putrid undercards (think pretty much all of Manny Pacquiao‘s fights for the last five years), one lives in hope that Golden Boy’s laudable and consistent efforts to put together boxing events featuring multiple high-stakes matches will be justly rewarded. Sadly, when Broner and Maidana made their walks to the waiting ring, it was clear that a majority of the 35,000 seats available would never be occupied. Schaefer’s prediction of a massive crowd echoed in my mind and I couldn’t help recalling other instances where the Golden Boy team blatantly lied to the public.

For example, back in June, with the hype locomotive running full steam in support of Floyd Mayweather vs Canelo Alvarez, Schaefer and Oscar De La Hoya had announced they expected some thirty thousand fans to welcome Floyd and Canelo at the scheduled Mexico City presser. However, the quoted figure provided afterwards by Golden Boy placed the number at ten thousand, while Grantland’s Jay Caspian Kang reported seeing no more than five thousand in attendance for the sole Mexican media shindig in support of the highest-grossing PPV boxing show of all time.

To most it will come as no surprise to catch a promoter inflating the appeal of his event and its attendance numbers, but the crux of the issue is that even in the midst of a flagship year for boxing—and it’s undeniable the sport has had prominent cable exposure and numerous stacked cards throughout 2013—promoters feel the need to lie about the appeal of their product by such large margins. Schaefer’s forecast of at least twenty thousand for “Danger Zone” struck me as rather optimistic, while at the same time in line with the forty thousand who showed up in San Antonio for Alvarez vs. Trout and the nine thousand at July’s less star-studded “Knockout Kings” card. The fact that as solid a matchup as Broner vs Maidana—with a more than decent undercard—failed to draw even fifteen thousand in what Golden Boy hopes will develop into one of the country’s premier fight cities, is a worrisome outcome for boxing aficionados who bought into the boxing-is-back storyline pushed by Showtime and Golden Boy.

Broner: a heavyset doppelganger
Broner: a heavyset doppelganger

All this may, or may not, be a sign that boxing’s fanbase continues to stagnate, but if Broner vs. Maidana showed nothing else it made clear that some familiar storylines will always resonate with hard core fight fans, since the appeal of “a good fight” is of a timeless nature. And there is little doubt that a significant proportion of the eleven thousand or so fans who did turn out on Saturday came for one primary reason: Adrien Broner.

Much like Floyd Mayweather Jr., and Muhammad Ali before him, not to mention Naseem Hamed or Hector Camacho or even Jack Johnson, “The Problem” rose to prominence in large part due to the public’s natural aversion to brashness, over-cockiness and plain old arrogance. The issue with Broner’s execution of this timeless marketing strategy is that he took the concept to an extreme, without first justifying his insufferable persona with substance. As he racked up three world titles in three weight classes against rather questionable opposition, both his game and his resumé remained fluffy and flashy, but far from convincing. Critics’ assessed that Broner was a far cry from the ring mastermind that is Floyd, and that he would be exposed when “The Problem” stepped up against some truly dangerous opposition, as he inevitably had to if he hoped to become Boxing’s Next Superstar.

But in the meantime the formula seemed to be working for the 24-year-old Cincinnatian and for his team. As his undefeated record became inflated by adding the recognizable names of B-quality opponents, his vulgarity and rudeness provided a backdrop of “entertainment” for fans to get hooked on, even if only on the basis of disgust and antipathy. But in truth, by 2013 Broner had become a cipher, playing a role crafted for him by his manager and promoters in the hope of turning him into boxing’s biggest star, the man to replace an aging Mayweather. But what the braintrust behind Broner failed to account for was that the more air they blew into his hype balloon, the hollower the core became.

There were never rumours that Broner didn’t take boxing as seriously as an anointed star should. Instead, there were plenty of Instagram pictures, and tweets, and Youtube videos offering a chronicle of every misstep along the way. There was Broner literally flushing money down a toilet, or feasting on ice cream and twinkies, or talking to Floyd Mayweather while carrying at least 20 pounds of extra-weight on his frame. In trying to emulate Floyd, Broner forgot the Pretty Boy’s sole genuine and genuinely helpful mantra: hard work and dedication carry the day.

Breakfast of champions?
Breakfast of champions?

When promoters, networks and managers invest as many resources in developing a star as they did Broner–financing his every need, surrounding him with an adulating entourage, protecting his undefeated record through cautious matchmaking, negotiating deals behind the curtains to allow fights to go ahead despite the star missing weight—you better believe they will delay as much as possible the occasion in which their protégé faces real danger. And for Broner, that occasion finally came on Saturday night against Marcos Maidana.

No doubt, many who came to the Alamodome or tuned into Showtime to see Broner vs Maidana did so because they fervently hoped that Broner would fail to pass the sternest test of his career thus far. They may not have expected to see “The Problem” fail and lose, but they certainly wanted to. And to their unbridled delight, their wishes came true.

While walking the aisles of the Alamodome and perusing the stands on Saturday night, it didn’t take a Nielsen poll to deduce most of the fans were Latinos rooting for Marcos Maidana. Upon first arriving, I spotted a man accompanied by a teenager at a concession stand gearing up on provisions for a night at the fights. They were both wearing Argentina soccer jerseys, so I took the occasion to size up their fervor by walking up behind them and chanting “Ar-gentina! Ar-gentina!”, a chant which they—and about a dozen more South American fans around us—quickly took up, working it into a mini-frenzy. It became clear the Argentinean fans were not here just to spend a Saturday night out; they were here to will Marcos Maidana to victory over Broner.

But most of the Latinos around were not from Argentina, and really they cared less about Maidana winning and more about Broner losing. “I hope Maidana fucks him up, he deserves it for being such a prick,” screamed an outsized chicano seated behind me. “I just want to see Broner go down, and I think Maidana can put him on his ass, even if Broner gets up to win the fight,” said his more restrained companion. “He’s too arrogant, and he thinks he’s cuter than he really is, so I hope he loses,” said my neighbor’s dolled-up girlfriend. “With that hairbrush he carries all the time he looks like a maricon,” added the boyfriend, using the ultimate Latino insult.

Maidana punished Broner
Maidana punished Broner

They all got their wish, needless to say. Maidana, relying on a gameplan that compressed his usually chaotic offense into something more cohesive and methodical, confused and concussed Broner in equal measure. No, he didn’t get the knockout, but his alternating aggression—mixing vicious and consistent bodywork with thunderous left hooks and right crosses upstairs—hurt Broner several times throughout the fight, from round one to round twelve, and even sent him to the canvas twice. Maidana came to take care of business, and couldn’t have cared less about Adrien’s perceived pedigree and powerful backers. He roughed up The Problem, outscored him, and beat him up. From the point of view of the hollering, ecstatic audience, Broner vs Maidana offered twelve glorious rounds of rightfully earned punishment for The Problem.

Broner’s initial response to such unadulterated hostility was faux bravado: in round one, even after getting tagged by malicious shots from Maidana, he smiled. At one point, he turned his back to his opponent and even dry-humped him on another occasion. But it didn’t take long for Broner to realize he was in deep water. In round two he went down for the first time in his career, and it was no flash knockdown. Maidana, connecting with an explosive left hook–a shot he would land over and over on this night–sent Broner reeling, looking for the ropes for sustenance and finding only enough of it to get back up on his feet and continue fighting.

And whatever credit’s been dished out Broner’s way after the loss has been of that nature. In round eight, after suffering a headbutt from Maidana, who was trying to free his hands from Broner’s hold to keep punching at him, Broner went down in false agony. There was a feeling this was the chance Broner had been waiting to cop out of the beating he was taking, but to his credit, and only after realizing his acting performance wasn’t working in his favor with referee Laurence Cole, he fought on.

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Round 12 may have been Broner’s best, landing with quick and sharp combinations that momentarily backed Maidana and even hurt him at one point. But the fatigued Argentinean managed to fight back and score with another vicious left hook. So it was too little too late for “The Problem,” as the scorecards had Chino well ahead by now, and nothing short of a late, dramatic knockout would deny him Broner’s belt. As the match drew to a close and the fighters exchanged punches in the middle of the ring, the crowd roared its approval of the beating the South American had dished out as they chanted their new-found hero’s nickname: “Chi-no! Chi-no!”

And when the bell finally rang to bring the twelfth stanza to a close, the Alamodome exploded into as raucous and furious a celebration as I’ve ever witnessed. Fans pierced the air with their cheers and hollered like howling monkeys. They showed their middle fingers to the screens when they showed Broner’s busted visage. They banged on seats’ backs with their fists and stomped the ground with their feet. They threw beer cups in the air and hugged each other as they bellowed Oe! Oe! Oe!

“That’s what he gets for being a puto!”, was the answer provided by one of my seat neighbors when I asked for his feelings on the outcome. And this happened even before the scorecards were read, something anticipated with anxiety as the fear of a robbery momentarily tempered the celebration. As things turned out, there was no need to worry. The judges’ wide scorecards in favour of Chino made official what we all had just witnessed: Marcos Maidana put a beating on Adrien Broner.

The exact implications of this result for boxing at large are difficult to pinpoint, but I’ll take a shot. I’ll posit that the reasons many hoped Canelo Alvarez would defeat Floyd in September overlap with the reasons many hoped Broner would lose to Maidana. In fact, those who ventured to pick Canelo for his fight thought the only way he could get away with a win was by roughing up Floyd the same way Maidana did Broner. But now that Maidana got the job done against Broner, fans’ esteem of Floyd Mayweather himself will increase. This is because now they’ve realized that, like Paulie Malignaggi said during the Showtime broadcast, there is only one Floyd Mayweather.

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The Pretty Boy’s unique blend of arrogance, dedication to his craft, and consistency stands alone in the modern boxing landscape. This weekend proved that to reach that high plateau of excellence—at least by modern standards—is much more difficult than most people think. Broner had a lot of things going right for him, but still he failed the sternest test of his career to date, the reason being that he took for granted what mattered most: hard work and dedication. But greatness is not—never has been—granted, and this is a lesson Broner failed to internalize way, way before he and his backers began selling the name of Adrien Broner as the name of the anointed one. — Rafael Garcia  

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