Adrien Broner's big 'Problem': Quality opponents

Adrien Broner spends a considerable amount of time explaining just how good he is, and how he should already be regarded as boxing royalty.

At a news conference Tuesday in New York to hype an HBO-televised fight Saturday in Atlantic City, N.J., against Gavin Rees, Broner was his usual outspoken, confident self with claims of being the greatest fighter ever to step into the ring – a laughable suggestion as long as boxing history includes one Walker Smith Jr., a.k.a. Sugar Ray Robinson.

Still, Broner is good; plenty good. He's one of the sport's best active fighters and has the chance to become boxing's leading man in the next 18-to-24 months.

Whether he achieves his goal to sit atop the sport's mythical pound-for-pound rankings will require a lot of things, not the least of which is a fair amount of luck.

And Adrien Broner hasn't had a lot of luck.

To be considered great, a boxer needs great opponents. They all look good in front of a mirror or when they're banging on a heavy bag; it's when there's someone across from them hitting back that the true measure of a fighter can be determined.

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This we know about Broner: He's gone 25-0 with 21 knockouts and has been barely forced to work hard in a fight. He's won world titles at 130 and 135 pounds and is still more than five months from his 24th birthday.

Broner's bad luck is that there aren't a lot of potentially great opponents awaiting him. His first 25 fights have mostly been against a collection of stiffs.

And looking ahead, there are no opponents awaiting Broner who could help him prove his greatness.

By the time Robinson had fought 26 times, he'd already beaten Hall of Famers Sammy Angott and Fritzie Zivic to go along with an unbeaten record. After 26 fights, Sugar Ray Leonard had Hall of Famer Wilfred Benitez on his résumé and was preparing for a bout with Roberto Duran.

Floyd Mayweather, the active fighter Broner is most compared to, had wins over Diego Corrales and Genaro Hernandez in his first 26 fights.

The lightweight division is bereft of talent, which leaves Broner in a difficult spot. Leonard's greatness was affirmed by wins over the likes of Duran, Benitez, Thomas Hearns and Marvelous Marvin Hagler.

For years, boxing fans pleaded with Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao to fight each other. There is no such fight out there at the moment for Broner. Nobody other than Rees' wife and accountant were pleading for this fight.

Perhaps a presently unknown boxer such as Sharif Bogere will emerge as a viable contender. If he did, it would be the best thing that could ever happen to Broner.

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Broner, of course, doesn't sweat much these days. He's successful, he's got both HBO and Golden Boy Promotions solidly behind him and he's making plenty of money.

As many boxers do, he fought his way out of difficult circumstances and should be rightfully proud of that.

"To this day, right now, I could literally leave boxing and be like, 'I did more than anybody in my family ever did,' " Broner said. "I could provide for my kids and my family, but I'm not going to settle for that. I'm trying to be the best boxer to ever lace up a pair of gloves. That's my goal."

The odds against him becoming the greatest ever are, of course, massive, but don't hate on him because he dreams big.

Fighters who seek to accomplish greatness are the ones we remember most fondly. Praise Broner for setting his sights high.

But also be aware that, possibly through no fault of his own, Broner may never truly be revered as great.

Oh, he may be remembered as a great one by those who believe boxing began in 1996, and don't appreciate what the true great ones such as Robinson and Henry Armstrong were able to accomplish.

But true greatness – testing oneself under adverse circumstances against an opponent as good or better than yourself and coming out on top – may be elusive for Broner.

He's going to need a little luck and hope that someone rises up to become Jack to his Arnie.

Otherwise, Broner will be remembered as a good fighter who beat up a bunch of nobodies.

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