by Kieran Mulvaney
There are, by and large, two schools of thought on Adrien "The Problem" Broner.
One is that he is a fighter of almost limitless potential, possessed of power, speed, and offensive and defensive skill. Exhibit A in support of the contention is his one-round blowout last year of Jason Litzau - who, lest it be forgot, was at the time on an improbable roll following wins over Rocky Juarez and Celestino Caballero.
The other school of thought is a little less effusive.
While not necessarily dismissive of Broner's talents, the adherents to this second school contend that he is untested, that he has achieved notoriety and fame largely on the basis of blowing out opponents not worthy of a true contender's resume. On the one occasion he did swap punches with a high-caliber opponent, the argument continues, he escaped with a points win he arguably didn't deserve against Daniel Ponce De Leon in March 2011. And as for his most recent outing, when he never came close to making weight against Vicente Escobedo - well, that's the sign of a young man who has rocketed from youth to adulthood without ever stopping to fill up on maturity.
Broner (24-0, 20 KOs) and his team had already elected to move up in weight from the 130-pound weight class in which he had been competing, and his struggles with the scales prior to dispatching Escobedo within five rounds in July only served to affirm that decision. On November 17, in Atlantic City, he takes his bow at lightweight against Antonio DeMarco, a foe even his critics agree could provide a genuine test.
DeMarco (28-2-1, 21 KOs) has himself had to contend with doubters. They raised their voices most loudly when, after attracting attention as an up-and-coming prospect, he was dominated and defeated by Edwin Valero in 2010. It was a fate that DeMarco was hardly alone in suffering: Before his career and his life crashed to a violent halt, Valero stopped all 27 of his professional opponents, of whom DeMarco was the last. But the manner of DeMarco's capitulation cast doubt on his mettle, and a relatively inactive 20 months following that loss did little to suggest the man from Los Mochis, Mexico had rediscovered a desire for combat.
His return to the big time came last October, in a lightweight title bout against another fighter seeking to reestablish himself as a top-level contender after a stoppage defeat, Jorge Linares. For the first 10 rounds, Linares was dominant, winning virtually every round on every scorecard. DeMarco, hopelessly behind on points, seemed destined to join the swollen ranks of those who had once promised much but fallen far short of their potential. Worse, even as he fell farther and farther behind, he seemed unable to break free of the passivity that had plagued him against Valero.
But in the eleventh round, Linares, blood pouring from a cut on the bridge of the nose, took a short left hand that seemed to stun him. DeMarco, throwing punches in fluid combinations, saw an opportunity, and turned his opponent's face into a crimson mask as he went on the attack. Linares fought back, but now DeMarco's were the punches that had authority, and suddenly, as if the combatants of the previous 10 rounds had stepped through a looking glass into a bizarro world, referee Raul Caiz stepped in to save Linares and stop the fight.
As if energized, his confidence restored by his dramatic come-from-behind victory, DeMarco has been dominant in his two subsequent outings, dropping Miguel Roman flat on to his face in the fifth round in his first title defense, and then wiping out John Molina in the opening frame of his most recent bout.
DeMarco, then, would seem to be the ideal examination for Broner, yet questions still remain. Can he once again be regarded as the contender he was before the Valero wipeout, or is his run more like that of Litzau's - looking good against shaky opponents, but likely to be undressed against someone of Broner's standard? DeMarco retains a reputation of being able to dish it out but not necessarily take it; will his tall, lanky frame be enough to keep the powerful, stocky Broner at bay? Was his ability to break down Linares a testament to his power, or to the Venezuelan's own suspect chin, a weakness that had revealed itself before and did again, but one that Broner has shown no sign of possessing? Will Broner seek to overwhelm DeMarco and pressure him, or will he use his stiff jab - despite a three-inch height advantage, his reach is officially equal to the Mexican's - to try and outbox and work his foe from the outside?
Should DeMarco provide stiff resistance before falling, the likely verdict will be that Broner has finally encountered and overcome a worthy opponent. Ironically, should Broner win with ease, the opinion of the cognoscenti is likely to be that the encounter revealed more about DeMarco's post-Valero weaknesses than Broner's own strengths. The intangibles - the speed, the power, the punch resistance - all seem to favor Broner, but should he in fact fall short, should DeMarco's resurgence manifest itself in the biggest victory of his career, then there can be no doubting the rapidity with which critics of "The Problem" will be ready to dismiss his career to date as a chimera.
In the co-main event, undefeated American heavyweight Seth ‘Mayhem' Mitchell (25-0-1, 19 KOs) returns after five months to take on Johnathon Banks. In his last outing, Mitchell had to endure the toughest few minutes of his professional career as a series of right hands from Chazz Witherspoon left him reeling in the first round. But Mitchell showed he has a fighter's heart, as he rebounded to attack Witherspoon to the body in the second, and then stop him in the third.
Banks (28-1-1, 18 KOs) has a fluid punching motion, and Mitchell will be on the lookout, particularly in the wake of the Witherspoon test, for his opponent's right hand, which flattened Travis Walker in spectacular style in 2010. At the same time, he'll be aware that Banks' lone defeat came on a stoppage to then-cruiserweight Tomasz Adamek, and he'll feel confident that if the relatively undersized Pole can dent Banks' chin, then the former Michigan State linebacker can do likewise.