Adrien Broner wasn’t used to this.
He was The Problem. He was About Billions. He was the “Can Man” (because *gesticulating to imaginary opponents* he can get it and he can get it… apparently). He was first Mr HBO and then Mr Showtime. He was the next big thing, the new star to carry boxing forward, the apple of Golden Boy’s eye. He was the heir to Mayweather, the next love-to-hate superstar for whom the only thing that matched his arrogance and conceit was his talent and skill.
Adrien Broner has long been used to being the headline… but that was him making them, not him being made into one.
But what Adrien Broner isn’t used to is losing.
Before his bout with Marcos Maidana, Broner was jokingly asking whether Maidana really want to box him or if instead Maidana had simply wanted to meet him in person. After the bout Broner was fleeing the ring as soon as the decision was announced, being pelted with rubbish by the fans in attendance to a chorus of boos.
Early in the bout with Marcos Maidana, Broner had slipped behind Maidana and mockingly humped him. Late in the bout a dejected Broner could do nothing as Maidana slipped around him and did the same thing to howls of approval from the crowd.
And in between Broner had been dropped twice, hurt repeatedly, forced into amateur dramatics in a desperate attempt to get a DQ win, beaten up, broken down and pretty much outclassed.
How did it come to this?
Throughout his career and certainly since his rise to fame Broner has been compared with Floyd Mayweather Jr to an extent that I struggle to recall happening to any other boxer. It is understandable why the comparison is made (and why HBO, Showtime and Golden Boy continued to ram it down our throats at every mention of Broner); The Problem seems to have modelled himself almost utterly on “Money” Mayweather, from his out-of-the-ring antics and persona to his shoulder roll happy in-ring style and it’s not hard to find articles openly comparing the two.
And this bout also serves as a good comparison. For while Broner was taking on a dangerous, aggressive power puncher in his 28th bout when aged 24, Floyd Mayweather Jr was taking on a dangerous, aggressive power puncher in his 25th bout when aged 24. But the difference is that while Broner was beaten… in pretty much every sense of the word… by Maidana, Mayweather instead put on what still must rank as one of his career best performances and absolutely dissected Diego Corrales, dropping him five times before his corner mercifully pulled him out in the 10th.
So why the great difference? Why did Mayweather succeed and Broner fail?
The first thing to note is that Maidana wasn’t a silent partner in this. Broner’s downfall in this match was down to the Argentinian hardman as much as it was Broner’s own flaws. Maidana was once laughably crude, his punches so wild that they sometimes caused him to virtually fall over. An old and faded Erik Morales had frankly embarrassed him at points in their bout despite having one eye shut from the first round onwards although Maidana’s relentless aggression had carried him through eventually. But under the tutelage of Robert Garcia Maidana has added some nous to his game. No-one would call him technical brillaint but his balance and defence are far improved. Most notable in this bout was his jab, once something he nearly completely neglected. As a straight jab it was effective at piercing Broner’s guard but what was most notable how he could convert a jabbing motion into a hook. Broner struggled to spot this throughout the bout and as a consequence regularly found himself clobbered by hooks to the head when he thought a jab to the body was coming and had lowered his right hand to block it, leaving his chin exposed.
But Broner’s flaws did play a major role… and it’s not as if Corrales simply stood there and let Mayweather hit him either. Two in particular really stood out
So what were they?
Flaw 1: Defence
What’s the flaw?
Broner likes to shoulder roll. He really, really, really likes to shoulder roll. In terms of his in-ring style it is the way he copies Mayweather most obviously. But simply trying to shoulder roll and adapt Floyd’s crab stance doesn’t mean it’s a good shoulder roll or crab stance. As Andre Berto can tell you, simply standing like Mayweather doesn’t make one as defensively sound as Mayweather. Throughout the bout Broner found himself being hit by Maidana… and often hit fairly cleanly. In truth this shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone… Broner has been hit throughout his career.
If his defence has always been an issue then why is it only now that he’s lost?
Largely because previously it didn’t matter that he got hit. When Broner was boxing at 130 and 135lbs he towered over his opposition and their punches tended to bounce off him. The Gavin Rees bout in particular was a good example of this; Rees landed some shots flush on Broner’s face to absolutely no effect. Likewise in his first bout at 147lbs Broner was opposite Paulie Malignaggi. Despite his many strengths, one thing Malignaggi has never been is a puncher of any real talent and so again, his punches had little impact on Broner. Broner’s lone bout against someone we’d generally consider a truly big puncher was his first real step-up contest against the hard-hitting, awkward and experienced Daniel Ponce De Leon and it’s worth noting that Broner struggled his way to a narrow and fairly controversial decision.
Why was it a flaw now?
Because Maidana isn’t a light puncher or a much smaller man. He’s a huge puncher with serious power. However much Broner shook his head after each shot in an attempt to show it hadn’t hurt him, it was abundantly clear that it had. Forget the knockdowns for the moment; it was clear from the very first punch Maidana landed that Broner was shaken by it; he’d never been hit that hard before. Whenever Broner did get his offence going all it took was one punch by Maidana to land even partially and Broner was forced back onto defence. Broner simply couldn’t… and can’t… take the liberties with his defence he did at 130 and 135lbs when facing a 147lbs boxer with even moderate power, let alone a big puncher like Maidana.
Flaw 2: Workrate
What’s the flaw?
Broner’s workrate was on the low side for this bout; I’m no fan of Compu-box style punch stats, but going by them he was out-thrown in 11 of the 12 rounds and in some by a margin of four to one or so. This is little different to his bout with Malignaggi; the Magic Man out-threw Broner in every single round.
If one was to look at the pure Compubox stats alone, these would seem like anomalies; going into the Malignaggi bout Broner had thrown more punches than Rees, DeMarco, Escobedo and Perez in their respective bouts. But to get a better idea of what happened one should watch the bout and look at the stats in more depth. In virtually every bout the boxers in question at least matched if not exceed Broner’s workrate in the first, second and occasionally third round. It was from the third round onwards that Broner’s workrate began to grow and their began to nosedive.
So why did Broner’s workrate increase while his opponents fell apart in those matches and why didn’t that happen here?
One simple reason. Relative power.
At 130 and 135lbs Broner didn’t need to throw many punches. Not only did his opponents power not really impact on him but his power really impacted on them. His opponents may have come out brave and intending to throw a lot of shots, but they quickly found themselves being badly hurt by Broner’s fast hands and were soon forced to box defensively, too scared to throw their own punches for fear of Broner’s. For the first few rounds they’d come forward and throw a lot, then they’d start to come forward but not throw and finally they’d be in full retreat. Broner’s workrate reflected their own; early on he’d be conservative but as soon as their own workrate dropped and they became more defensive he’s ramp up the aggression and throw a lot more shots.
But at 147lbs Broner hasn’t shown that same level of power. Paulie has a lot of heart but he’s possible to hurt and drop; Cotto had him hurt, Hatton had him hurt, Khan had him badly hurt and in his last bout against Pablo Cesar Cano (a guy who’s a natural 140lbs… if not 135lbs… boxer) he was hurt and dropped late. Against Broner? Shaken once or twice but never seriously hurt. Maidana’s rather made a living out of being hurt and coming back… in almost all of his famous bouts (Ortiz, Khan, Soto-Karass and Lopez) he’s been wobbled or down and then rampaged back. Here? He was perhaps troubled a little in the few of the late rounds but that’s it. Put simply Broner lacks the power at 147lbs to force opponents to be completely defensive after a few shots… and when there’s punches coming back at him Broner’s own workrate is low.
So why was this a particular issue in this bout?
Firstly, judges have a tendency to favour the more active boxer. It doesn’t always apply (as in the Malignaggi bout for example) and it’s not something I always agree with (as can be seen from my thoughts on scoring boxing) but when a boxer obviously throws less punches than an opponent they are making a rod for their own back. To win rounds in such circumstances they not only have to be more accurate but their punches have to have more impact then the oppositions and their defence has to be tighter. Considering Maidana was throwing more, landing cleanly and hurting Broner with his shots it was always going to be difficult to win a bout throwing as few punches as Broner did.
Secondly, when (as mentioned above) a boxer’s defence isn’t strong enough to neuter a pressure fighter for 12 rounds, one of the key things an opponent has to do is gain their respect and deter them from simply coming forward relentlessly. The obvious way to do with is with power… but again, as above, Broner doesn’t carry the power at 147lbs to rely on a few shots to do this. Instead he would have to rely on throwing (and hopefully landing) a lot of punches. Yet he didn’t… and so because of this Maidana was free to march forwards for much of the bout and throw to his hearts content. When Broner’s workrate came up he looked better and he started to push Maidana back… but all too often his punches came in spurts with Maidana able to reassert himself in between those brief offensive flurries.
A good contrast can be drawn with the chief support bout between Keith Thurman and Jesus Soto Karass. Karass constantly came forward and threw more punches than Thurman in all but the final round… but Thurman kept his own workrate up and landing telling power shot after telling power shot. Karass is a brave and durable boxer who will keep marching forwards regardless… but even so one could see him become more hesitant to throw as the bout wore on and each mistake was punished. Thurman played the matador expertly (outside of early in the first round); Broner never managed to.
Another comparison can also be drawn, this time with Mayweather Jr. A glance at Mayweather Jr’s punchstats reveal he is not a particularly active boxer himself… but what is key is that he forces his opponents into a lower workrate. For all the pre-fight talk they often give of coming forward relentlessly and pressure Mayweather once Floyd starts to land his sharp counters and pot-shotting right hand they realise that each and every mistake will be punished and as such their workrate drops according as they become more conservative. A similar phenomenon applies to Marquez and Pacquiao during their rivalry; Pacquiao throws a lot less punches against a dangerous counter puncher like Marquez then he does against other opponents. Broner lacks the clinical skill and technique required to restrict opponents in such a way
In short, Broner’s offence wasn’t enough to keep Maidana off him… and his defence wasn’t good enough to neutralise him.
So, how does he solve those flaws?
Both of those flaws became more apparent when Broner moved up in weight and so the obvious answer is to drop back down to 140 or even 135lbs. It wouldn’t solve the flaws but Broner’s physical gifts would once again be enough to cover them up.
That said, Broner may no longer be able to make 135lbs comfortably and, even if he could, 135lbs lacks the names and big money bouts (especially on the Golden Boy side) that Broner craves. For someone who puts such stock on his material position in boxing and his moniker as “Mr Showtime” leaving a 147lbs full of well known names to face (no disrepect intended) relative unknowns at 135lbs is a poor option.
140lbs offers both the names and the money… but at that weight I’m not sure Broner’s physical advantages quite make up for the flaws. It wasn’t that long ago that both Maidana and Malignaggi were 140lbs boxers themselves and only a fool would dismiss the power that some like Lucas Martin Matthysse (the man fans wanted Broner to box after he faced Malignaggi) brings to a bout. Regardless, at 135 or 140lbs that wouldn’t be correcting the flaws… it would be covering them up which is never the preferable option.
At 24 Broner isn’t quite the young lion he once was but he’s still a young boxer with time to improve (one only needs to look at what Maidana has achieved in two years under Garcia)… but he really needs to work out what type of boxer he wants to be. The shoulder roll is a relatively new addition to his game that has only really appeared since the Mayweather comparisons began; the Ponce de Leon bout saw Broner use a high guard for example and in this bout with Maidana he became more effective when he reverted to that (albeit still not massively successful). Broner simply isn’t particularly good at using the crab style and while I have great respect for his trainer Mark Stafford, Stafford isn’t a trainer with a lineage or history of producing crab style boxers. I get the sense from looking in that Broner decided he wanted to use a crab style, shoulder roll based defence and Stafford simply had to play along despite his own wishes or specialities. An excellent profile piece in Grantland seems to indicate much the same thing; Broner is very much the boss of his training and he does exactly what he wants, with his trainers and partners having to adapt to him. That’s fine for certain boxers… I can’t imagine that boxers like Mayweather or Hopkins really need their trainers to do more than hold the gloves and make the odd comment and correction but both Hopkins and Mayweather are masters of their art with an excellent schooling in the fundamentals of their style. Broner? Not so much.
Broner’s relationship with Stafford and a seeming lack of respect shone through in other ways. In interviews Broner is full of respect for the trainer (and at times surrogate father) he’s had since he was six years old. But watching their corner during this bout, more than once Broner could be seen openly arguing with Stafford about what to do. I’ve written before about what a boxing trainer can offer to a boxer during a bout but the key thing there is that there needs to be respect between the two; respect from the trainer to the boxer that the boxer is capable of doing what they’re asked and respect from the boxer to the trainer that the trainer is telling them the right things to win the bout. During an excellent round-table “Gloves are off” discussion on Sky featuring the leading British and Irish middleweights Darren Barker talked about the relationship he has with his trainer, Tony Sims, and how he trusts Sims explicitly during a bout. There isn’t the sense that Broner is the same with Stafford.
So Broner needs to make a choice. Remain with Stafford, ditch the Mayweather impersonation, revert to the high guard and listen to what Stafford says… or go the whole way.
Floyd Mayweather Senior has said he’d be interested in training Broner and on paper that would be a good fit. Mayweather Jr’s style is largely a slight modification of Senior’s own (which in turn was learnt under Dale Williams in Michigan) and Senior is arguably the best trainer in the world right now for teaching that crab style defence… he has the experience and lineage to do so, understanding the fundamentals of the style. Moreover Senior’s long history of success… from the good schooling he gave Mayweather before his personal demons took him away to his success in training the likes of Oscar and Guzman (as well as three trainer of the year awards)… should mean that Broner respects him enough to listen, while Broner’s own appreciation for Floyd should put him in Seniors good books.
There are other technical corrections as well that would help Broner, notably with his offence where he has some bad habits. There’s a lack of creativity in his work: he has a favourite combination (right hand, left hook) which he recycles endlessly with the only other punches being a smattering of uppercuts. He comes forward, squares up, throws a straight right and then follows with the left hook. It’s not a bad combination in-and-of itself but he leads with the right hand so often that it becomes obvious… and once the right hand is thrown the only natural follow-up is the left hook. That preference for a straight right as a lead punch over a jab means an opponent knows what’s coming… in contrast a jab has a lot more options that can flow from it and opens up holes for Broner to exploit. Leading with a straight right should be something to surprise an opponent with… Floyd does it after having already won the battle of the jabs… not a go to shot.
Because of how much he likes the lead right hand Broner tends to square up before he throws it; it’s much easier to land a straight right down the middle when squared up. The issue there is that it leaves him defensively vulnerable, gives a hint to an opponent of what’s coming and means he tends to fall off balance when he follows with the left hook unless it lands flush. That pre-warning to opponents also comes from Broner’s tendency to audibly exhale with each shot he throws, the volume rising with the power; an opponent can tell a split secon before it lands how strong a shot will be and that gives them a moment to brace themselves.
Talking of power, Broner tends to rob himself of some by throwing arm punches. At the lower weights that didn’t matter but, as mentioned above, at 147lbs it does. He doesn’t commit to his shots enough and because of that Maidana had no fear throwing back. Broner would try to walk Maidana down but his shots had no authority and so Maidana could fire his return shots without any real risk. The few times Broner really committed to throwing power shots with his weight behind them (while coming forward behind a high guard) were his best moments in the bout… but they were few and far between.
Broner is already a successful boxer… and on paper he has all the tools to be more successful yet. But at this stage it appears he simply doesn’t know how to use them.
There’s a story early in the Grantland piece linked to above about how when Broner first arrived at Stafford’s gym, his father, who then claimed that Broner (and his twin brother) could whip any boy put in front of them. The boast was proven true until Rau’shee Warren beat Broner so badly that the young Broner cried. That beating to a six year old was followed by 18 years of relative success for Broner, first as a moderately good amateur and then by his rise to fame, fortune and sanctioning body titles in the paid ranks.
Maidana might not have quite made him cry but the situation is remarkably similar today. Now it was Broner himself rather than his father proclaiming that he could whip anyone… but once again, after some early success it was proven false.
The question is whether the 24 year old superstar Broner, already rich beyond the wildest dreams of his youth, has the heart, mentality and dedication to commit to boxing in the same way the six year old Broner did and turn his raw talent and potential into reality or if he is content to be what he is… a good, but not great, boxer who will never live up to the ambitions he loudly proclaims he has.