“I was not only the coach, I was the jailer. I sat there with a baseball bat. I was only joking, but I told them that if anyone tried to get by me, I’d hit them in the head with it.”
If Roland “Rolly” Schwartz were still around today, there’s a good chance he’d have an issue with Las Vegas hosting the “Battle for Ohio” between Adrien Broner and Shawn Porter tomorrow night. Schwartz, who passed away in 1998, was the Cincinnati boxing maven who led eleven American boxers to Olympic glory in the 1976 Montreal Games. After Rolly’s passing, Ray Leonard, a 1976 gold medalist in “The Fight City” remarked, “When I think of Rolly Schwartz, I think of class.”
Schwartz understood the importance of developing competent amateurs, and he favored supporting local boxing scenes rather than getting involved in the professional ranks. So many local scenes have withered away in recent decades, though somehow Ohio keeps churning out talent; Dante Craig represented the U.S. in 2000, and Rau’shee Warren, who threatens to win a belt against Juan Carlos Payano in July, did so in 2004, along with Ron Siler. More recently on the pro level, before his implosion, Kelly Pavlik brought the same fighting pride to Youngstown that Ray Mancini did in the 1980s.
Broner, from Cincinnati and 30-1 with 22 knockouts, doesn’t exactly embody the fighting spirit of the city’s champions like Freddie Miller, Aaron Pryor and all-time great Ezzard Charles, but he is among them. Akron’s Porter, 25-1-1 with 16 knockouts, can locally only look to the late Michael Dokes, who held a version of the heavyweight puzzle. But pitting Broner and Porter against one another represents likely the biggest all-Ohio grudge match since Ezzard Charles vs Jimmy Bivins. Even so, both Charles and Bivins were Georgia transplants, while Broner and Porter are born and raised. It’s a fight that belongs in “The Buckeye State.” If Rolly were around, he might have helped bring a much needed touch of sanity.
In a sane world, the numbers 157, 127, 144 would simply be the combination to a locker. In boxing, those seemingly arbitrary numbers are the weight classes in which the televised main events have been fought in the last three weeks. They’re weight classes that don’t really exist, but more importantly, they’re dragging down the quality of matchups that are good on paper and make sense. 144 pounds is the limit for Broner and Porter.
Though Broner vs Porter is the only Premier Boxing Champions fight on Saturday where a funky weight limit is imposed, it’s not the only PBC main event to do so. In April, Danny Garcia and Lamont Peterson, both belt-holders at 140 pounds, fought at a catchweight of 143. Additionally, Broner exercised a comical “plus one” clause in his last fight against John Molina, scaling 141 pounds for a fight at 140.
Ironically, the NBC main event this weekend is a good pairing of styles involving fighters who appear to be evenly-matched. Where things get tricky, however, is assigning any sort of welterweight legitimacy to Broner vs Porter, or either fighter for that matter. Broner is too big for lightweight, not big at welterweight, and apparently unwilling to make junior welterweight, and he has defeated one welterweight of note in Paulie Malignaggi. Porter at least holds a victory over a tougher welter in Devon Alexander, though both his other notable achievements there are wins over Malignaggi and a creaky Julio Diaz. As a contest between top welterweights, it’s window dressing.
How much does this fight mean, then? A battle for Ohio may have to be the extent, as almost any result leaves plenty of loose ends. Having to drop an extra three pounds and match his lowest-ever fighting weight will undoubtedly take some toll on Porter, a former super-welterweight, but whether the toll is enough to offset Porter’s aggression is what’s tough to figure. Porter has said the same pressure that Marcos Maidana used to defeat Broner in 2013 will be a significant part of the plan: “…the pressure that Maidana applied the entire fight was great … We’ll obviously look to do some of that.” It remains to be seen if a potentially drained version of Porter can apply effective pressure, especially when it might go against his fighting instincts.
A focus of both Broner fans and detractors is his diet version of Floyd Mayweather’s in-ring style coupled with twice the swagger. Where Floyd has honed his craft to a point of precognition and instantaneous counters, Broner relies more on his athleticism and solid chin to bail him out where his skills fail. When his opponents keep punching, he gets hit, as Maidana and, strangely, even Malignaggi showed.
And above 135 pounds, Broner’s punching power has diminished considerably, meaning opponents have fewer reasons to stop punching. Fortunately for Broner, Porter has been more content winging single shots and relying on speed rather than riddle-solving and volume, and he falls into clinches rather than working inside like Maidana. Short of being able to surprise Broner early on, the odds are Porter gets suckered into Broner’s antics and plays the follower.
The Fight City’s pick: the guy from Ohio. — Patrick Connor