Floyd Mayweather Jr. won a world championship in 1998 with a shockingly one-sided victory over the classy Genaro Hernandez, but it was Mayweather's performance in a knockout of Diego Corrales in 2001 that turned him into a superstar.
Adrien Broner, the 22-year-old World Boxing Organization super featherweight champion, may be about to take the same steps that Mayweather did 11 years ago.
On Jan. 20, 2001, Mayweather was 23 and held a 24-0 record with 18 knockouts. In Corrales, he was facing another unbeaten champion, his best opponent since he'd won his title from Hernandez.
In a stunningly brutal performance, Mayweather announced his arrival atop the boxing world in a big way by knocking Corrales down five times and stopping him in the 10th round of their match in his hometown of Las Vegas.
Fast forward 11 years and Mayweather has added championships at 135, 140, 147 and 154 pounds to his trophy case and has become widely regarded as the best fighter in the sport.
Broner stands on that same threshold.
He's 22 and is 23-0 with 19 knockouts. He already has a quality win over veteran Daniel Ponce de Leon and has scored a pair of early knockouts in his two title fights.
He'll defend his belt in his hometown of Cincinnati against veteran Vicente Escobedo on Saturday on HBO. He plans to move up to the more lucrative and talent-rich lightweight division after the fight and expects to put on a show.
Broner is one of the best-kept secrets in boxing, but if he disposes of Escobedo in impressive fashion, he won't be a secret much longer.
"He's an extremely talented guy, a very naturally talented and skillful fighter," Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer said. "Everything comes naturally to him in the ring. Either you have it or you don't. He has the charisma, the combinations, the power, the defensive skills, everything. He has the talent to be right on top of the list, in my opinion."
Becoming a star is clearly part of Broner's plan. He's not moving up, as he was asked on a conference call, to give lightweight a try.
"I'm going to get the lightweight belt," he said.
Before he does, he'll have to deal with Escobedo, a big super featherweight who isn't his equal in talent but is his equal in courage and determination.
Escobedo has fought better opposition than Broner – He's been in the ring with Robert Guerrero, Michael Katsidis and Rocky Juarez, among others – and has been on the big stage.
Fighting in his hometown on national television will be a showcase for Broner and he plans to make a statement.
"I'm going out with a bang, for sure," Broner said. "They didn't just give me the title. I had to win it. I'm going to show why I kept it and I'm going to leave with the belt. Like I said, this is the last one and I'm putting on a good performance."
Broner has the same brash, ultra-confident attitude that Mayweather does, but it would be ludicrous to suggest he's in Mayweather's class talent-wise.
There are few fighters, active or retired, as physically gifted as Mayweather was at Broner's age.
Broner, though, has the skills to be a high-level star. He can punch, as his 19 knockouts in 23 bouts prove, and he's very fast-handed.
It's going to be up to Broner, though, to show the same hunger that Mayweather showed in building himself. Mayweather's run at super featherweight was amazing. He defeated Hernandez, Corrales, Jesus Chavez, Carlos Hernandez and Goyo Vargas, all of whom held world titles, in his run at 130.
When Mayweather moved from super featherweight to lightweight, as Broner is planning to do, he didn't have any warm-up fights. He immediately took on Jose Luis Castillo, regarded as the best lightweight in the world at the time. When some thought Mayweather lost that fight – he scored a unanimous decision – he gave Castillo an immediate rematch and beat him again.
He's clearly in love with his talent, but Broner needs to be the blue-collar worker that Mayweather was, preparing himself assiduously and taking on all comers.
Broner has gotten criticism for getting a number of HBO dates despite the lack of big names on his record, but he accepts it with a shrug of his shoulders.
"With the talent that I have and the entertainment that I bring, I don't think I should be on nothing other than HBO and pay-per-view," Broner said. "I know a lot of people that they get upset because they're showing me so much love on HBO. But at the same time, there is really nobody on HBO doing what I'm doing, as exciting and entertaining as me. I'm just going to keep doing me and hopefully I'll stay on."
If he keeps doing what he's doing, he'll unquestionably stay on. He's got world-class talent.
But he needs to remember that Mayweather didn't just talk about his skills. He went out and displayed them, over and over against the best fighters he could find.
So, despite the many parallels between their careers, Broner will be nothing but a poor man's Mayweather until he goes out and backs up his boastful words.
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