Sometimes fights arrive in boxing that no one asked or expected to see. These fights serve as reminders that prizefighters are mercenaries first and foremost, willing to showcase their talents and risk their reputations against anyone, as long as the reward matches the challenge.
Such a fight will take place in Brooklyn, New York, this Saturday night, when Mikey Garcia (36-0, 30 KOs) and Adrien Broner (33-2, 24 KOs) meet in the ring at the junior welterweight limit. It’s a match that arrived suddenly and unannounced, but where other such fights left nothing but the stench of opportunism when all was said and done, Broner vs Garcia could potentially provide fans with answers to questions they hadn’t realized were worth asking.
However, one gets the feeling that Broner vs Garcia owes its existence at least partially to the fact so many of today’s top fighters–and especially those fighting for the Premier Boxing Champions brand–make only sporadic appearances in the ring. Those calling the shots in the PBC universe seem to have finally realized how hard it is to build momentum for their fighters when they only compete once or twice a year. Thus, the best way to maximize their charges’ earning potential is to ensure each fight they partake in is an event on some level. This can be done either by putting together long-awaited fights, or by putting together fights so unexpected that they can’t help but cause a splash.
Broner vs Garcia decidedly fits the latter case, showcasing as it does a spotlight-hogging douchebag—somehow always one big win away from redemption—against a soft-spoken but murderously effective tactician with palpable pound-for-pound potential. Looked at from afar, this matchup is all about the contrast in personalities: the loud mouth against the nice kid; the felon against the police academy graduate; entitlement against hard work. In a sport where the worth of story lines correlates directly to the number of zeroes on a check, Broner vs Garcia should have no trouble selling itself. Like Sonny Liston once said, “a boxing match is like a cowboy movie, there’s got to be good guys and there’s got to be bad guys.”
But in boxing, as in life, things are usually a bit more complicated than that, especially for those willing to pay attention. Take a closer look at both Broner and Garcia, and you’ll notice similarities start to emerge, the main one being both are still looking, even after all these years, for a signature win that elevates them within the sport, as both their names have been associated with “wasted talent” at some point of their careers. While Broner has wasted many an opportunity due to horrendous judgment, Garcia wasted over two years of his prime due to a protracted contract dispute with Top Rank, his former promoter. The other side of that coin is that both, although Garcia more than Broner, possess enough talent that they would appear on pound-for-pound lists today had their careers taken just a slightly different path.
As things stand, all this augurs well for this weekend’s main event, as both Broner and Garcia have points to make and lots to make up for. Fortunately for fight fans, and even though it wouldn’t be entirely wrong to call their meeting a crossroads fight, both fighters are still close enough to their prime to make this a highly intriguing matchup. While it’s somewhat vexing that Broner vs Garcia will not be a blockbuster at Barclays, that has lots to do with the fact PBC is charging triple digits for practically all the seats at the venue. Nonetheless, the point remains that this fight will command a decent audience on television, given the outsized profile of Adrien Broner, and the pedigree of Mikey Garcia. The kicker is that, even with Mikey a clear 3-to-1 favorite on fight week, enough question marks surround the fight to turn it into a must-watch for all self-professed fight fans.
To understand why, let’s take a closer look at each fighter, starting with the favorite. Mikey Garcia, undefeated over 36 contests and a three-division titlist, is coming off two lightweight appearances in which he looked precise, powerful and sharply intolerant of nonsense, which is to say he looked exactly like the Mikey who terrorized featherweight and super featherweight before his long layoff. Against Broner, the Californian will be moving up in weight again, testing the junior welterweight waters against a well-known opponent who commands enough skill and power to represent a stern test.
If this weekend’s fight is only a prelude to bigger events for Garcia, as he and his team hope it is, he will have to demonstrate that his skills and power translate to the higher weight class, or he’ll have to show adaptability in fighting at a size disadvantage. Further, as Mikey is not a stalking fighter, the question remains as to how exactly he would defeat Broner, even as most observers believe he will. Will he be able to stand in the pocket and trade leather with the bigger and stronger Broner? Will he find a way to pick him apart from a safe distance? Will his chin hold up against the sharp power shots of a large junior welterweight? It is not often that such a highly regarded talent exposes himself to so much uncertainty.
As for Adrien Broner, the most important question he needs to answer is whether he can make the 140-pound weight limit and still give a good performance on fight night. “My back is against the wall,” Broner said recently, “everybody is counting me out once again.” But Adrien’s metaphor is valid in more ways than one: if he doesn’t deliver a good performance at 140 pounds against a very good, albeit smaller, opponent, then “The Problem’s” fate as a gatekeeper is all but sealed. This is because Adrien, who tends to bulk up significantly between fights, has already competed at the welterweight division, with results ranging from unimpressive (barely edging Paulie Malignaggi and Adrian Granados) to disastrous (being manhandled by Marcos Maidana). A win over Garcia would prove Broner is indeed a top fighter at 140 pounds, but a bad outing will leave him with nowhere to go but downhill. To reignite interest in a career that’s been stuck on neutral since the Maidana debacle almost four years ago, Broner must bring his A-game this weekend.
Thus, all the ingredients seem to be there for Saturday to deliver an entertaining evening. The only factor that could spoil the fun is the clash of styles itself, as both Broner and Garcia prefer to let their opponent lead so they can counterpunch in response. Adrien tends to fight in spurts, and only really lets his hands go when he feels he can overpower his opponent. Garcia, on the other hand, usually starts out slow as he tries to figure out his opponent and time him. That being said, Broner has shown in the past that he can up the activity when under duress, like in the last round of his tough bout with Maidana. Garcia, on the other hand, usually goes into overdrive once he feels he’s sufficiently acquainted with his quarry.
Taking this into account, it’s a good bet that at some point Broner’s and Garcia’s styles will mix and combust into the kind of combination punching and precise power shots that have made their ring reputations, the kind that can yield eye-catching exchanges and perhaps even drama. And as was already ascertained, enough questions surround the matchup to rule out any scenario. A focused, well-trained Broner could prove too much too soon for the smaller Garcia, just like Mikey could prove too talented and too effective for an ill-prepared Broner. Anything in between could yield a memorable night of boxing.
Even if the early rounds present a standoff, it’s hard to see it lasting long given the urgency with which both participants seem to be approaching this fight. The realization that their careers and legacies–not to mention their future earning potential–are very much on the line this weekend might just be enough to entice them to take more risks in pursuit of a decisive victory. Mikey Garcia took on Broner because he wants the large audience “The Problem” commands to take note of his prowess, which remains underappreciated to this day. Meanwhile, Broner desperately wants his talent to be acknowledged and validated by the boxing community the same way Mikey’s already is. These circumstances are much more likely to incite daring and risk-taking instead of caution; Broner and Garcia are surely aware of this.
The referee of Broner vs Garcia wouldn’t be out of place quoting Xenophon before the opening bell: “If any among you covet riches, let him endeavour to overcome, for the victorious not only preserve their own possessions but acquire those of the enemy.” In boxing nobody has yet figured out a better way to earn what you want than by taking it directly from the guy who already has it. Unless they’re comfortable hearing the phrase “wasted potential” coupled to their name for the rest of their lives, Broner and Garcia better make the most of the opportunity awarded them this weekend. The boxing world will be eagerly watching.