Adrien Broner just might be the perfect representative for boxing in the shorter-attention-span-than-ever, social media era. He's vibrantly modern. He's unapologetically uninhibited. It's hard to know which of his sound bytes are spontaneous and which are pre-packaged, but nearly all of them are worth repeating. In a world in which we communicate in 140 characters, Broner sometimes feels like he IS 140 characters, all rolled into one hair-brushin', hip-hoppin', poppin'-and-lockin' package.
The comparison we've heard most often is to Floyd Mayweather, but what makes Broner different is that his brashness comes without the underlying anger, without the chip on his shoulder. There's a youthful exuberance to Broner's love-me-or-hate-me personality. There's an optimism.
It doesn't often feel like Mayweather is having fun. It ALWAYS feels like Broner is.
On Saturday night, Broner will attempt to run his record to a perfect 24-0 against former U.S. Olympian Vicente Escobedo, and if you feel as if you've barely heard Escobedo's name mentioned in the buildup to the fight, you're not alone. Broner is the story. Broner is the show. Escobedo is a solid opponent, quite possibly the second best foe of Broner's pro career, and he's won four straight since a perfectly justifiable loss to Robert "The Ghost" Guerrero in 2010. But Broner simply has the sort of personality that commands all of the collective attention.
Oh, and by the way, he can fight.
"Every once in a while you have an athlete that is born or blessed with certain gifts more so than the others. Floyd Mayweather has it. Roy Jones had it. Ray Leonard had it. And you could see the same type of thing in Adrien Broner," gushed noted trainer Barry Hunter, a father figure of sorts to Broner, on the latest 2 Days mini-documentary. These are unfair comparisons, of course. A 22-year-old work in progress shouldn't really be mentioned in the same breath as Mayweather, Jones, or Leonard. But the fact that he has been illustrates why a no-frills pugilist like Escobedo has been shuffled off to the background.
And the bout is taking place in Broner's hometown of Cincinnati (his 11th time fighting there as a pro), which is just one more reason the promotional gap between the A-side and the B-side is so expansive.
"It's no different," Broner told HBO.com when asked about fighting in his hometown as opposed to on neutral turf. "It's just a bigger stage. I treat it all the same. I just do my thing wherever I'm fighting."
Broner's "thing" involves not just showy moves and an assortment of pre- and post-fight grooming rituals, but also one-punch power. Since struggling to decision Daniel Ponce De Leon in March 2011, "The Problem" has had no problem at all with Jason Litzau (KO 1), Vicente Rodriguez (KO 3), and Eloy Perez (KO 4). Critics chalked up the first two cakewalks to soft matchmaking. But Perez was unbeaten and considered a live 'dog, and yet from the opening bell, Broner was hurting him with everything that landed. Those four rounds enabled Broner to make a leap in the public's mind from suspect prospect to legit leading man at 130 pounds.
Escobedo, however, remains unconvinced. "People say that he has talent, power, and speed," said the 26-3 (15 KOs) contender from Woodland, CA. "I've got talent. I've got speed. And I've got power too. I'm gonna shock the world. I guarantee it."
If your natural instinct is to brush off Escobedo's tough talk as a combination of false confidence and a desire to sell a fight, think back just a few days to what happened when the ultra-talented Amir Khan took on Danny Garcia, who was viewed as a solid, sturdy fighter with almost no chance of winning. In boxing, every opponent is a threat. And while Broner has a multitude of tangible advantages-faster hands, greater wallop, superior athleticism-Escobedo has never been made to look like a pushover. Hey, you don't luck into making the Olympic team.
The key for Escobedo will be timing. He won't be able to strike faster than Broner, so he'll need to strike smarter, using his jab to disrupt Broner's unorthodox rhythms, making the fight as conventional in style and pace as possible. Slow and steady wins the race, as long as your opponent makes a mistake and you're still hanging around to capitalize on it. Escobedo needs to keep plugging along until he's able to knock the brashness out of Broner. Escobedo needs to figure out a way to embarrass the hometown fighter.
But Broner isn't easy to embarrass. This is a man who openly tweets about getting dumped, about girlfriends cheating on him. ("I really don't care what people think, I'm going to be me," he says in response to a question about making his personal life public.) This is a man who puts an unreasonable amount of time and effort into choosing which pair of Technicolor socks he'll wear on fight night. This is a 22-year-old father of four who stands out in a crowd because he has no interest whatsoever in blending in.
That's why he's the star of Saturday's show. He's the lead actor, and Escobedo is in the supporting role.
But we've seen enough role reversals already this summer not to make any assumptions about what the outcome will be.