Is Adrien Broner elite? A win over Manny Pacquiao would change the narrative

Combat columnist
Yahoo Sports

LAS VEGAS — In the last 90 days, Adrien Broner has been sued for more than $1 million for allegedly failing to pay for jewelry he purchased, pleaded not guilty to a felony sex charge and was arrested for failing to appear in court.

And, oh yeah, he’s been training for the most significant fight of his life. For most fighters, and most athletes, it would be far too great of a distraction to overcome while preparing for the biggest event of one’s life.

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But it’s just another day for Broner, who seems to almost thrive with life in the fishbowl.

Broner hasn’t won a fight in 23 months, since he captured a split decision over Adrian Granados on Feb. 18, 2017. None of the arrests or lawsuits or controversies of all kinds prevented him from landing a headline spot against Manny Pacquiao on Saturday in the main event of a Showtime pay-per-view card.

Broner has been one of the sport’s top draws on premium cable for the last seven or eight years and has a reliable fan base that has consistently supported him throughout his troubles outside the ring and his shortcomings inside of it.

Broner is a four-division world champion — he won the vacant WBO super featherweight title in 2011; took the WBC lightweight title in 2012; captured the WBA welterweight title in 2013 and claimed the WBA super lightweight title in 2015 — even though he doesn’t have what would be considered a signature win.

His most significant victory was a split-decision over a long-past-his-prime Paulie Malignaggi in Brooklyn in 2013.

Former four-division world champion Adrien Broner will challenge WBA Welterweight World Champion Manny Pacquiao on Jan. 19, 2019, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo)
Former four-division world champion Adrien Broner will challenge WBA Welterweight World Champion Manny Pacquiao on Jan. 19, 2019, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo)

In his biggest fights, Broner has repeatedly come up short. He was dropped twice by Marcos Maidana in 2013 and lost a wide decision. He was outworked and outboxed by Shawn Porter in a non-title fight in 2015; and he was dominated and outclassed by Mikey Garcia in 2017.

Talk to anyone who has been around Broner for any length of time and the one thing they will all consistently say is that he has exceptional talent.

His trainer, Kevin Cunningham, is not prone to hyperbole and usually calls things as he sees them, but he raved about Broner following a media workout in Miami a few weeks ago.

“Adrien’s got everything; he’s a real throwback fighter,” Cunningham said. “He’s got speed. He’s got power. He’s got quickness. He’s got footwork. He can punch and he can bang and he can box. He’s got skills and he can be slick if he wants to be. So he’s the total package.”

With all that, he’s gone 1-1-1 in his last three fights: the unanimous decision over Granados in a 10-rounder on Feb. 18, 2017; a unanimous decision loss to Garcia on July 29, 2017; and a split draw with Jessie Vargas on April 21, 2018.

There were 102 scored rounds (34 total rounds fought with three judges scoring in each bout) in those fights, and Broner won only 50 of them. If what Cunningham said is accurate and not just a transparent attempt to boost his fighter’s profile and confidence, then winning 49 percent of his rounds is a massive underachievement.

Hall of Famer Bruce Trampler, the matchmaker for Top Rank, isn’t involved in the fight, but said Cunningham is right that Broner is talented.

Trampler, however, said Broner’s work ethic has been his downfall in the past. But with a chance to wipe away many of his past mistakes in one fell swoop with a win over Pacquiao, Trampler said he wouldn’t be shocked were Broner to deliver the fight of his life.

“He has some ability and he’s quick and he can punch, but he hasn’t always been professional in the way he prepares himself,” Trampler said. “But having said that, it’s not a fight I’d want to do right now if we had Manny. It’s not inconceivable that Broner could catch him with a right hand. Manny’s 40 years old, and Broner knows what a win over Manny Pacquiao would mean.”

Even at age 40, Manny Pacquiao presents a significant challenge for Adrien Broner, who is still lacking a signature win in his tumultuous career. (AP Photo)
Even at age 40, Manny Pacquiao presents a significant challenge for Adrien Broner, who is still lacking a signature win in his tumultuous career. (AP Photo)

Mayweather Promotions CEO Leonard Ellerbe, who is co-promoting the fight, agreed with Trampler’s assessment that Broner hasn’t prepared himself properly for past fights and has let opportunities slip through his hands.

But he spent time in camp with Broner and said he was impressed by what he saw.

“I think he would be the first to say he hasn’t given everything humanly possible that he can,” Ellerbe said. “But for this fight, he’s given himself the best chance to be successful, because he’s really in tip-top shape. … I know that first-hand, from having seen him. He’s had great sparring and he’s exceeded everything Coach Cunningham has asked him to do.”

Cunningham said he believes Broner is the quicker fighter, and noted that, “Quickness offsets speed, all day, every day. It’s all about being quick enough to time the guy with your hand speed. It’s different than just throwing a bunch of fast punches.”

The fight against Pacquiao will, in all likelihood, be Broner’s last in his 20s, as he turns 30 on July 28. It’s kind of odd to say that a guy who has won 33 of 37 fights and claimed four world title belts wasted an entire decade, but there is plenty of evidence on the record to back that statement.

Broner, though, believes he can change the perception of himself by beating Pacquiao.

“I can take over boxing with a win over Pacquiao,” Broner said. “There are a lot of great fighters in this sport, but they just don’t bring what I bring to the table. With a win like this, it would put me right where I was always meant to be.”

The sport is always better the more elite fighters it has. And while Broner has had the talent to be elite, he hasn’t often hit that standard with his performance.

And far too often, his behavior has been far worse than the uneven performances he delivers in the ring.

Fight fans, though, are among the most forgiving in sports. If Broner steps up his game and delivers an elite performance against Pacquiao, the talk will finally shift from what he does outside of the ring to what he does inside of it for one of the few times in his career.

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