Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Opinions and Observations: Broner-Rees


There was a sequence on Saturday that encapsulated Adrien Broner's uniqueness in the ring. Not captured on the HBO broadcast, after his pulverizing fifth-round knockdown of Gavin Rees, Broner immediately ran across to the other side of the ring. He talked to the camera and danced; he thought Rees wasn't getting up. At the count of eight, he turned back to the fight. When Rees was able to continue, Broner seamlessly went back to work and landed more pulverizing power shots.

Again, this all happens in a little more than 10 seconds. Broner scores a crushing knockdown with a left uppercut to the body. Immediately, he starts dancing, bragging to the camera and taking in the rapt affection from the crowd. He turns around and with no change in his demeanor, he continues his punishing assault. The fight gets stopped moments later.

To me, it was stunning. In those brief moments when Rees was sprawled out on the canvas, Broner didn't care if he got up or not. If he reached his feet, Broner would just go for the inevitable killshot. If not, the party would just start earlier. Broner was in his element. He looked as relaxed as a day at the gym blitzing through sparring partners. The moment didn't get to him, it almost seemed beneath him. This was a 23-year old beating a former world title holder on an HBO main event and Broner swatted Rees away like he was a gnat who happened to interrupt his summer stroll, a speed bump on his way to the freeway.

What makes Broner particularly interesting is that his theatrics are inseparable from who he is as a fighter. His dancing, gesturing and fighting all constitute his entire package in the ring. There is no isolating one from the other. His flash is essentially ingrained with his performance in the ring. It comes across like peak Roy Jones but with even less respect for his opponents (if that is even possible).

Attention-grabbers are not new in boxing; it’s part of the currency of the sport. There have been shuckers, jivers, intimidators, protestors, clowns and dancers. But Broner's activities in the ring are not extracurriculars; they are absolutely central to his ring identity. He used a bolo punch in the second round not just to entertain the crowd, but to measure Rees with his right hand, and then crush him with a power shot. It wasn't a bolo punch like the famous Sugar Ray Leonard shot; this punch was a deliberate calculation, designed to create a strategic boxing opening.

Broner nodded his head all night at Rees' direction. He provided constant non-verbal communication, shaking it after Rees hit him and moving it more affirmatively after he landed a solid punch. As he walked Rees down in the fourth and fifth rounds, he slowly nodded his head, in rhythm, letting Rees know that the fight was turning. He wasn't nodding once to let an opponent know he wasn't hurt; his gesturing was constant. It's very much part of who he is as a fighter.

Forget his rapping during his ring entrances, the lame attempts at humor or the "canned" answers to interviews. In the ring, Broner is a different animal. There is no switch where he gets down to business. This desire to entertain, to intimidate and to annihilate is very real. With other fighters, these "additional" attributes might be perceived as glorified distractions, but they are absolutely central to the makeup of Adrien Broner.

In the first two rounds Rees had success with short left hooks to the head and body and sneaky right hands. Broner mostly covered up and studied his opponent. It was obvious that he hadn't seen videotape of Rees. Now some fighters claim that they don't watch their opponents on film (but secretly do); however, this was an example of Broner literally using the first two rounds like it was an exhibition season, like the games didn't count yet. This disdain or ignorance of his opponent wasn't some guise or affectation. It wasn't an exercise in playing it cool. Broner literally had no idea what he was walking in to, and he didn't seem to care.

Rees did have a nice game plan to start the fight. He tried to limit countering opportunities by keeping his punches short and using angles. He fought valiantly and kept firing back his best punches, even as Broner started to pile on serious leather. Ultimately, he couldn't hurt Broner and the gap in hand speed and power was too much for him to overcome.

Still, Rees had a great moment in the second. After his bolo punch, Broner went in for a clinch. As they separated, Broner had his hands down and Rees crushed him with a left hook that sent Broner's head back. Broner seemed stunned for a second. Even in the fifth, when things weren't going well for Rees, he landed a big right and dropped his hands as if to say, "I'm not intimidated by you." Rees gained a lot of fans on Saturday with his guts, spunk and moxie, but he was outgunned.

Sitting in the stands of Boardwalk Hall, I started making mental notes of the lead punches that Broner landed: straight right hand, left hook, right uppercut, left uppercut, and jab. Again, these were just his lead shots. Broner doesn't just have all of these weapons, he likes to take them out of their cases and fire off rounds with them. Unlike many other fighters, who consciously transition to their secondary and tertiary punches, Broner throws all of his punches throughout a fight and they flow with an instinctiveness that belies his 23 years of age. There are no wheels that turn when he throws a combination. He's not making strategic calculations on the fly. These punches are almost a priori with him. He throws them because they need to be thrown, and because he can throw them. He doesn't intellectualize boxing, but he seems to have an innate understanding of what he needs to do in the ring.

There are three things that may give Broner problems as he faces better competition. First, his willingness to take risks might come back to haunt him. His desire to entertain and mix it up is laudable and wonderful for the fans, but a fighter that gets hit too much is a vulnerable fighter. It's unclear if Broner's defense has deteriorated or if he feels that his chin is so strong that he can take whatever comes his way. Nevertheless, these moments, and others where Broner covers up and leaves his body exposed, could lead to opportunities for future opponents.

Second, his wide stance is designed to land power punches; it also creates openings for mobile boxers (think of a guy like Miguel Vazquez). Broner likes to walk his opponents down. If his foe isn't in front of him, he'll have to go find him. Broner is at his best flat-footed, not on the balls of his feet. Mobile guys, especially ones with strong lateral movement, could give him trouble.

Finally, his inability to study fighters, or at least have a basic understanding of their strengths and weaknesses, could be a real problem. Against top competition, he won't be able to give away two or three rounds with such carelessness. Certainly he has tremendous boxing skills and he knows how to break down fighters, but there needs to be a middle ground between where he was on Saturday and coming into the fight as a genuine student of the game.

Putting aside these questions for another day, Broner looks like a special fighter to me. He has "it" – that intangible something which is compelling and makes people want to tune in. "It's" unpredictable and wildly entertaining. "It" makes people buy tickets and pay per views.

After the fight, fans in Boardwalk Hall were buzzing like they saw something special, and they had. Spectators witnessed a young gun with power, hand speed, charisma, a willingness to take risks and a desire to entertain. The people in that arena will be coming back for more. Broner's package doesn't just grow on trees and fans realize that. Broner will become a much bigger figure within the sporting world over the next 18 months.

Enjoy the ride. It should be a lot of fun.

Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of saturdaynightboxing.com.
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
@snboxing on twitter
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