If you listen to the hype provided by Golden Boy Promotions, Showtime, his management, several members of the boxing media and the fighter himself, Adrien Broner is the heir apparent to Floyd Mayweather. When "Money" Mayweather is done, which is going to happen sooner than later, Cincinnati's Broner is supposed to step in and reign for years to come as boxing's pound-for-pound and dollar-for-dollar king.
Backed by manager/adviser/whatever Al Haymon, the most powerful man in boxing business today, Broner has been pushed to the moon by TV networks: first HBO and now, and from this point forward, Showtime.
The change happened when HBO decided to stop business with Haymon and Golden Boy, leaving Broner and everyone else associated with the two entities to take their talents to what has been the No. 2 boxing network for many years, giving Showtime's credibility a boost and positioning them to take hold of a greater share of the American boxing public than they've had in many years.
The question, though, is if Broner is a manufactured hype job or indeed the real deal because arguments can still be made on both sides at this point. Some are already crowning "The Problem" as the king-in-waiting, but there are serious questions as to how he'll do against better competition. Last November's win over lightweight titlist Antonio DeMarco was extremely impressive, but that's about as deep as Broner's record gets. HBO-televised wins over Gavin Rees, Martin Rodriguez, Eloy Perez, and Vicente Escobedo showcased the talent Broner has, but also presented him in fights where he was being protected against physically overmatched foes.
A fight brought up before every Broner bout is his HBO debut against Daniel Ponce de Leon, a former super bantamweight titlist who would go on to win a belt at 126 pounds. It was a risk Broner likely didn't need to take that night in his first major network fight and it nearly derailed him right off the bat.
Ponce de Leon moved up to 130 to face Broner, but the one-dimensional, slow and awkward southpaw gave Broner all he could handle -- and then some -- during their fight in 2011. In fact there were plenty of viewers that night, both at ringside and on TV, who made the case for Ponce de Leon as the winner of the fight.
Broner left with the win that night though, no matter how controversial, and from there the competition was scaled back, scouted better and designed to give the prospect the opportunity to shine.
Rodriguez and Perez were grossly outclassed and too small whereas Escobedo was pushed into a fight he really didn't want to take after Broner missed weight (and then casually blew it off, drawing a poor reaction from pundits and fans). Eventually Haymon saved the HBO main event by ponying up more cash to get Escobedo into the ring, allowing what might have been at least a sort-of-decent fight to be turned into an absurdity as the much bigger Broner physically toyed with Escobedo.
Broner laid back early against Rees in his most recent outing, but the tiny and tough Welshman entered the ring looking to score the upset in what would be Broner's last fight on HBO. Rees couldn't hurt Broner, though, no matter how often he landed shots and no matter how much his handspeed may have surprised his confident opponent. Broner eventually turned on the gas, too, as he shellacked Rees, stopping him after five rounds when Rees' corner pulled the plug.
Between the Escobedo and Rees matches was a fight that some perceived to be a challenge to Broner that was, on paper, the best fighter he'd faced to date. Mexico's DeMarco held the WBC lightweight title after scoring a courageous, bloody comeback stoppage over hyper-talented Jorge Linares in October 2011 to win the belt. Then, two months prior to facing Broner, Demarco blitzed John Molina in just 44 seconds on another HBO broadcast and declared immediately afterward that he wanted Broner.
The requested fight happened, and, to DeMarco's chagrin, Broner was brilliant on the night. He didn't even use his speed and athletic ability to dominate DeMarco, instead often standing in the pocket and trading inside with his opponent, a tall and lanky fighter who nonetheless generally prefers a good old-fashioned tear-up.
Fighting what was thought to be his opponent's preferred style, Broner showed really strong inside fighting ability that he hadn't displayed much in previous bouts and eventually overpowered DeMarco, ending the fight in the eighth round when Broner turned the fight into a methodical and thorough beatdown that chipped bits away from DeMarco, round-by-round, until he could take no more.
Mimicking Mayweather's modern (post-2007) persona to draw attention to himself, Broner (26-0, 22 KO) has emerged as a controversial ever-present character in boxing over the last two years. He's known as one of the sport's most arrogant, outspoken figures but, like his idol, some question how much is real and how much is a near-rasslin' sort of caricature, catchphrases (the dreadful "Can Man" routine) and all.
It was no secret that HBO had the idea to position Broner as a future cornerstone of their boxing brand, but when Floyd Mayweather jumped to Showtime and CBS Sports earlier this year, everything went haywire. Soon after Broner's win over Rees in February, HBO Sports President Ken Hershman (the former boss at Showtime Sports) made the decision to cut ties with Golden Boy and Haymon, both of which work with Broner.
The entire landscape of American boxing has changed this year, then, in a series of moves that had been in the hopper for some time. There was reportedly a long-running push from Showtime to land Mayweather and, when that finally happened, the dam broke.
Former Golden Boy lawyer Stephen Espinoza had replaced Hershman at Showtime, after Hershman left to take over for the departed Ross Greenburg at HBO in 2012, and Espinoza had very clearly shown favoritism to Golden Boy which meant that more and more Golden Boy fighters were suddenly popping up on Showtime airwaves. The two sides had really hadn't done much business at all over the years prior to that as Golden Boy previously operated on a sweetheart deal with HBO, the network that legitimized a boxing promotional company that was expected to fail from the get-go after being started by Oscar De La Hoya, a then-active fighter, and Richard Schaefer.
With HBO's backing, Golden Boy quickly became a legitimately strong promotional firm and, as the years have passed, Golden Boy and Bob Arum's Top Rank have become firmly established as the top two companies in American boxing and, really, in the world today. The power struggles and squabbles between the two companies -- with De La Hoya having previously worked for Arum's company, a pairing that ended in very sour fashion -- have kept them from working together for a long time now and when Hershman and HBO made the decision to totally end their relationship with Golden Boy and Haymon, the lines were further dug into the sand. A new, more serious war between the sides had come to a head, with networks clearly positioning themselves alongside specific promoters.
In the power struggle, HBO lost Broner, a young star on the rise who very well may live up to the hype in the long run to become a superstar fighter and major box office draw because the talent seems to be there. Talent isn't always enough to take someone from good boxer to great boxer, however. There's a lot more to it than that, and the ability to handle adversity is one of the major ingredients in that recipe.
Said adversity is something that Broner, since Ponce de Leon, has been steered clear of encountering. Even DeMarco, though a highly credible victory and one that deserves no second-guessing for quality given the options at the time in that weight class, was somewhat tailor-made for Broner.
Paulie Malignaggi, a brash, 32-year-old Brooklynite, hopes to show Broner that there's more to the game than promoters pushing and TV networks coddling. A former 140-pound titlist and reigning WBA 147-pound beltholder, Malignaggi (32-4, 7 KO) is a massive underdog on the books this weekend. Paulie has been in these situations before, though, whereas Broner really hasn't.
When taken into account that Malignaggi will be headlining at the Barclays Center in his hometown, there is at least some hope that the stakes will be raised in his mind. Even though he's probably on the other side of the hill for his career and even though he's not a puncher by any stretch of the imagination and even though he didn't look very good in his last bout, Malignaggi could find something extra and give Broner some real trouble in the ring.
Malignaggi's career has been a story of perseverance and guts. He was once thought of as a mouthy New Yorker, but he has endeared himself to boxing fans over the years by never backing down from challenges, even if they don't turn out well for him. Malignaggi has come up violently short against Miguel Cotto, Ricky Hatton, and Amir Khan, but Malignaggi has a world-class chin and, when he's on his game, is still a terrific, highly intelligent boxer.
Frequent hand injury issues over the years have rendered his punch power essentially nil, but Paulie has still survived and excelled on craft. Malignaggi was a really classy operator in his prime years, a fighter who could work behind his jab, had really good legs that kept him out of harm's way as much as possible and put punches together nicely, even if the sting wasn't there. He was never seen as a pushover for anyone, either -- despite Cotto breaking his face, Malignaggi went 12 hard rounds, had a more than respectable showing against a guy who had pretty much thrashed his opposition until that point against a fighter who may very well be headed to the Hall of Fame someday.
Against Hatton, Malignaggi was stopped by his then-trainer, Buddy McGirt, and they parted ways after that decision. Hatton, like Cotto, was able to maul Malignaggi because fighters willing to walk through Paulie's pitter-patter shots to get to him and stay on top of him have been successful. Khan, on the other hand, was simply able to out-quick Malignaggi with faster hands and one of his better career performances on the night.
Broner, like Khan, probably has the edge on Malignaggi in pure hand-speed. Like Cotto and Hatton, however, Broner has also shown an ability and a willingness to dig in in the trenches, fight inside and stay in his opponent's face.
So how does Malignaggi win this fight? That's a tough question and it's the reason why Broner is anywhere from an 11-to-1 to 15-to-1 favorite to keep his "0" intact.
Despite jumping two weight classes for this fight, it's not expected that Broner will have any physical issues. He's been a big fighter for the 130- and 135-pound weight classes and, at 147, he won't be abnormally large. He has the frame to carry the extra weight, though, or at least it would seem as though that's the case right now (and Malignaggi himself is a small welterweight, anyway). A career-long junior welterweight who jumped up seven pounds when his body told him to, Malignaggi has a slight frame for the division and carries no real punching power.
Paulie surprised critics (including yours truly) last year by going over to Ukraine and dicing up Vyacheslav Senchenko, winning the WBA welterweight title by stoppage when referee Steve Smoger stopped the fight when Senchenko looked like a bloodied mess due to Malignaggi's slashing punches. There seemed to be a different animal in the ring that night with Malignaggi, actually, perhaps because he was fueled by the doubts expressed by some in the media that figured he was washed-up and simply not strong enough to beat even a second-tier welterweight like Senchenko.
Those critics were silenced then, but only briefly.
Malignaggi returned to face Pablo Cesar Cano, another second-tier sort of fighter, in October. Cano gave Malignaggi a scare on the Garcia-Morales II undercard -- part of the first-ever boxing show at the Barclays Center -- because Cano, who had missed weight and couldn't win the title that night even with a victory, floored Malignaggi in the 11th round. Cano fell just short in a split decision with Malignaggi winning two cards 114-113, or seven rounds to five. (Cano won the third card 118-109, which was absurd, even though Cano had a legitimate argument for the win.)
Now we're at a point in Malignaggi's career where it would be easy to say we don't know what to expect of him ... and that's a valid statement. There is however something at least vaguely concrete about him: Malignaggi is going to have some nights where he looks good and others where he just doesn't. He's been something of an inconsistent fighter for much of his relevant career, anyway, and given his physical troubles, there are always wild cards at play. In any given round, he could injure one of his hands, which can be a crippling disadvantage for a fighter with his style. As Paulie has aged, his legs have become less reliable. Some nights he appears to not have a lot of juice in them, too, making him more of a stationary target.
Against Senchenko, Malignaggi moved well, was sharp offensively, and tore up a favored opponent. Against Cano, Malignaggi looked like he was stuck in mud half the time and never seemed to settle into a groove, giving a less-talented fighter many opportunities to take the fight.
Broner isn't Senchenko or Cano. Malignaggi, to get the win in this fight, will need close to a career-best showing. While boxers often have one last great fight in themselves and Malignaggi isn't that old in years (but may be physically), it's hard to envision the 32-year-old version of the "Magic Man" mustering up the sort of performance that can really trouble what looks to be a younger, fresher, stronger and quicker fighter in Adrien Broner.
The fight is also something of an oddity in that it may be a "no-win" situation for Broner. A victory is something that is expected -- again, the odds are absurd, the sort we generally see for no-doubt, obvious mismatches -- and a loss would be devastating to his hype. Losing to Malignaggi, a good and respected but sub-elite opponent, would be a huge shock and an enormous jolt to Broner's value.
Broner's currently being positioned as the next Mayweather, but losing to Malignaggi would make him a reclamation project. That sometimes works in boxing, but it also comes down to how well a fighter can handle losing. Would Broner have the mental fortitude to soldier on, start over, and be humbled by a loss in order to make himself better?
For Paulie, though, it's a win-win sort of fight. Few expect him to win and, at this stage in his career, he openly fights for money. This is not a fighter who's aiming to hang around forever, taking shots and doing damage to himself. He's already got a job as an analyst for Showtime, where he may be the best in the game already, and it's clear that his long-term future is in boxing broadcasting instead of in the ring. Losing won't hurt his career and he's going to be paid handsomely for this bout. A win would shoot his stock to new highs, though, and even put him in the mix for a future bout against Floyd Mayweather himself.
For both, the fight seems to have become personal. When a former girlfriend (or whatever) of Malignaggi's was inserted into the promotional mix by Broner, the boundaries of good taste were pushed past the brink for many (including Malignaggi,who later said he felt the trash talk between the two had gone too far).
Beyond the love (or something like it) chatter, there has been a real streak of animosity between the two that has more to do with the boxing business, too. Malignaggi has chided Broner for his Mayweather imitation, all but daring him to just act like himself. When Malignaggi said that Broner acts, talks, and even breathes like Mayweather, Broner simply responded, "I win like him, too."
Paulie has also gone on record saying that Broner is "everything wrong with boxing," a supposed star who was created by Haymon and HBO rather than someone who has earned his stripes in the ring. Malignaggi says he wants to dominate Broner and make him quit on his stool. Broner, on the other hand, says he is looking to knock out Paulie and move forward with bigger and better fights.
The pair of big talkers have not held anything back in promoting this fight and while some remain skeptical about the competitiveness of the matchup -- many believe Broner is again being coddled, just more cleverly with a jump in weight against a veteran, well-known foe, who is also in theory made to order -- there's some genuine heat behind this fight.
Even if the talk hasn't been cheap, and if the contempt is genuine, we could see something that is quite rare in boxing: Guys fighting truly angry. Most good fighters are able to let pre-fight smack talk roll off their backs and control it in the ring, but Malignaggi is an emotional guy -- and Broner has never had the one-liners and insults fly back at him like this before.
Realistically, the pick isn't particularly difficult because, logistically, Broner should win handily. Malignaggi remains a pretty good fighter, but he's past his best. In fact, even at his very best, he would have lost to the superstar-level fighter, truly elite opponent everyone sells Broner as being. If the stories and the hype reflect reality, then, Broner will win this fight with room to spare ... and the hype train will keep on chugging along.
For more on Malignaggi vs Broner, plus other upcoming big fights including Mayweather vs Canelo, Pacquiao vs Rios, and Bradley vs Marquez, visit SB Nation's Bad Left Hook.