by Kieran Mulvaney
It’s a tough sport, boxing. No sooner has a victorious fighter endured the pain of defeating another man in physical combat, than the cries are issued for him to fight someone bigger and better next time. As Larry Merchant observed, it’s a sport of “what have you done for me lately?”
As a case in point, Adrien Broner had barely toweled off following last Saturday’s five-round demolition of British and European lightweight champ Gavin Rees before critics were poring over his performance, looking for tell-tale signs of vulnerabilities and offering up suggestions for who might offer the most serious challenge to his undefeated record.
Last week, HBO boxing analyst Max Kellerman suggested that there is surely somebody out there who has Broner’s number, but that we still have no idea who that might person might be or what kind of style he might have. Did the fact that Broner lost the first two rounds against Rees, and that Rees appeared able to land with relative ease in those opening six minutes, provide a clue as to that boxer’s identity?
Yes and no. Mostly no.
It was clear that Broner was completely unfazed by the Welshman’s early assault, that few punches landed cleanly and that those that did bothered the American about as much as the average gnat bite. Broner, who particularly enjoys being an aggressive counter-puncher, had clearly decided to be just that. He allowed Rees to come forward and take whatever time he needed to establish the ideal distance and start timing his counters. In round 3, that’s what Broner began to do, and from that moment on it was just a matter of time.
Nonetheless, the fact that (as Kellerman noted) Broner likes to box in a wide stance, inviting his foes to come forward so that he can fight, may prove to be both a crowd-pleasing asset and a potential vulnerability. How would he shape up against a bigger guy than Rees, if he moved up another weight division to 140 pounds and took on someone who can hit much harder?
And how soon could Broner move up? Any time he wanted to. He’s built of rock, weighed 150 on fight night, and is still only 23. And who would be that testing opponent should he do so? Plenty of names were floated, but the one that seemed to whet the most appetites was Brandon Rios – chin of granite, indefatigable, constantly churning punches that so far have never failed to bludgeon his foe into defeat.
It’s quite the thought. The flashy counter-punching Broner against the lunch-pail aggressor Rios: Two undefeated records on the line in a clash of styles. We all know how boxing’s promotional politics frequently conspire to snuff out such dream matches; and of course Rios has business to take care of first, in the form of a March 30 rematch with Mike Alvarado. But it’s a mouth-watering prospect – and whichever man might emerge victorious, perhaps he might even be able to savor it a while before the drumbeats grow louder for him to fight someone yet bigger and yet more dangerous.