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Don’t Blame Broner For His Bad Behavior, He’s Just Following A Successful Template

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Washington, D.C. — Boxers engaging in morally questionable behavior is an occurrence as old as the sport itself. But while a tendency to challenge social norms hasn’t changed much, the marketability and recognition of such actions certainly has.

Ten years ago one fighter made a bet that would have a profound impact on the boxing business. The most talented fighter at the time was far from a mainstream name and felt a lack of stardom was due to poor marketing by his promoter. The fighter paid to be released from his contract, effectively gambling $750,000 that he could make superior revenue by promoting his bouts himself.

Read “Broner-Theophane: April Fools Day in Washington DC” also at The Sweet Science by Thomas Hauser.

The fighter, Floyd Mayweather Jr, felt that Bob Arum’s Top Rank was applying an outdated formula to their marketing, with the promoter trying to turn him into a matinee idol of the Ray Leonard and Oscar De La Hoya variety. Instead, Mayweather was convinced that embracing 21st century hip-hop culture would be necessary to attract notoriety, and with it more money.

“The [hip-hop and rap fan base] was an untapped market, a billion-dollar industry,” Mayweather’s business partner Leonard Ellerbe told the Las Vegas Review-Journal of the decision to start Mayweather Promotions. “We wanted to capture the urban market. But we also wanted to connect with the mainstream world.”

With a moniker change from “Pretty Boy” to “Money”, Mayweather’s image transition involved an embracement of the villainous role whereby he would extol his superior abilities and denigrate opponents, in stark contrast to the portrayed innocence and bright smile during his early Top Rank days. The flaunting of wealth and habitual presence in nightclubs became other pillars of his new persona, while numerous encounters with the law added to the infamy.

Mayweather’s embrace of hip-hop and ascension to the position of world’s highest paid athlete has seen rappers such as Jay Z and 50 Cent enter the world of boxing promotion, and of course, fighters have tried to get in on the act. None are more notable than Adrien Broner. The 26-year-old has adhered to the Mayweather template, and in many ways surpassed the outrageous behavior of his acknowledged idol.

While Broner has won versions of world titles in four weight divisions, he is far from being the best fighter in the world, and is most synonymous with a litany of incidents that range from bizarre to heinous. What’s more, Broner has been responsible for the release of the scandalous material through social media.

In 2013, Broner released a video in which he flushed $20 bills down the toilet. He later released another video in which he seemingly defecated into a toilet and subsequently flushed away more wads of money. Continuing with his social media activity, Broner posted a sex video showing him having intercourse with two women, and last month added a video in which he threw his change at a Walmart cashier.

And that’s not mentioning his brushes with the law. As a teenager he spent more than a year in prison for aggravated robbery and battery. In 2013 he was charged with battery after allegedly biting a security guard, and in 2015 he was convicted of a DUI offence in which he bragged to arresting officers that he was rich, famous, and had made more than $100 million in his boxing career [a considerable overestimate].

Most recently, Broner was charged with felony assault and aggravated robbery following a January incident in which he is accused of assaulting a man and robbing him of $12,000 at gunpoint outside of a Cincinnati bowling alley. What’s unusual with this incident for Broner, is that the arrest warrant is outstanding and he was licensed to fight in a title bout Friday night in Washington D.C. with an understanding that he will turn himself in on Monday.

To add another dollop of bad taste to the bout against Ashley Theophane, Broner failed to make the agreed 140 pound weight limit, thus forfeiting his WBA world title. Moreover, he refused to even try and shake off his extra 0.4 of a pound despite being given two hours to do so [shaving his bushy beard would have gone some way to making the limit].

Despite the distraction, Broner made relatively easy work of the limited Theophane, as expected, with the referee halting the main event contest in the ninth round to save the British fighter from further punishment. In the days leading up to the bout Broner understandably received copious criticism from boxing media commentators, with many expressing disgust at his behavior. Yet, if the wider general public felt disgust, it wasn’t reflected in the interest generated for Friday’s event. A sold out crowd of 8,172 packed the D.C. Armory arena for the Premier Boxing Champions fight card that was screened on Spike.

The attendance was almost double that of a HBO-televised event in the same arena last month that featured top heavyweight contender Luis Ortiz and a welterweight title fight between Jessie Vargas and Sadam Ali. Conversely, Friday’s undercard lacked major names, with emerging prospect Robert Easter the standout. In another page from the Mayweather template, Broner has formed his own promotional outfit, AB Promotions, and has signed Easter to its stable.

As was the case with Mayweather, no matter how much Broner’s outside-the-ring actions are reviled by media commentators, the fighter will continue to receive high-profile opportunities from event organizers and TV networks as long as the consumer keeps showing an interest. Unlike with most other sports, in boxing there is no universally recognized governing entity that can act as the moral police. And unless a marketable fighter is behind bars, his visibility will remain unaffected by his extracurricular conduct.

In an era when the human attention span appears to be dwindling by the second, Broner has managed to continually generate outrageous headlines and connect with a younger audience through a masterful use of social media. However, beyond the headlines there is a man with a compelling backstory. As his trainer Mike Stafford notes, “When Adrien was eight years old I’d drive the van out to his neighborhood and there’d be 20, 30 kids trying to get to the gym. Out of all those kids, there’s only about four or five left. The rest are dead or in jail or running the streets. Adrien’s one of the only ones left.”

When in a rare reflective mood back in 2013, Broner recalled: “I know what it’s like, to wake up in the middle of the night and say, ‘I’m hungry,’ and see what’s to eat and say, ‘F—, I got to eat syrup and bread again … and water. I know what that feels like.” But playing the role of a likeable guy who overcame the odds didn’t help Mayweather at the box office, and would not be much benefit to Broner, who lacks Mayweather’s extraordinary natural talent.

Fittingly, with Broner’s notoriety at its peak, Mayweather was at ringside on Friday. Broner has habitually called Mayweather his “big bro” after the two struck up a friendship several years ago. Yet on this night Mayweather was ostensibly supporting Theophane, who is part of the Mayweather Promotions stable.

Notably, in recent weeks the relationship between Mayweather and Broner has seemingly gone sour with the pair engaging in a war of words through the media. In an interview, Mayweather criticized the images of Broner throwing change in Walmart, while Broner later countered with a video in which he implied Mayweather was a hypocrite for doing similar actions in nightclubs.

The newfound acrimony between the pair was heightened in the immediate aftermath of Friday’s bout when Broner attempted to jump over the ropes to seemingly confront Mayweather at ringside. Several minutes later during an in-ring interview, Broner challenged Mayweather to a physical confrontation. “I will never let a man disrespect me like [Mayweather did in the interview],” said Broner. “So he gotta see me. I don’t care if we spar or we fight, let’s get it on.” The D.C. Armory crowd, which had earlier booed Broner’s performance at stages in the bout, loudly cheered the braggadocio statement.

Of course, trash talk in boxing can never be taken at face value, and the friction between Mayweather and Broner only served to engender more hype about Friday’s event, which was in the interest of both parties. Indications that the “heat” was manufactured came hours after the event had finished. Standing outside his dressing room, away from the bright lights and cheering crowd, Broner admitted that the dispute between the pair was a “misunderstanding” and that he had wanted to shake hands with Mayweather after the fight to “pay homage to a man I’ve learned so much from.”

Broner has undoubtedly been the best student of Mayweather’s self-promotion techniques and will surely find new ways to denigrate the sport and shock long-time observers before the year is over. He will probably also generate more articles, retweets, and shares than any fighter outside Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao.

As evidenced by the large, relatively youthful crowd that Broner attracted to the D.C. Armory, brashness sells. Broner is adhering to promotional techniques that work in the boxing business. Mayweather’s former promoter, Bob Arum, is regarded as one of the best ever, but even he admitted to a failure in recognizing the potential for a new style of marketing.

“What did I, an old Jewish white guy, know about marketing to hip-hop?” Arum said last year in reference to his promotion of Mayweather. “I knew how to promote to African-Americans, but it was older African-Americans, not the young people. Floyd knew how to connect with the young people, and that was our mistake.”

Ronan Keenan can be contacted at ronankeenan@yahoo.com or on Twitter @rokeenan

Check out The Boxing Channel’s review of the show featuring former WBC World Light Heavyweight champion Montell Griffin, who attended the fights live.

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Canelo vs. BJ Saunders: Predictions and Analyses from the TSS Faculty

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More than 60,000 fight fans are expected to gather at AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys, on Saturday. The turnout for the fight between Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and Billy Joe Saunders represents a turning point in the COVID-19 era. Boxing has been pretty much walled-off to the general public since a sellout crowd of 15,816 witnessed the second encounter between Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder on Feb. 20, 2020 in Las Vegas.

Canelo Alvarez (55-1-2, 37 KOs) holds the WBC and WBA world titles at 168 pounds. Billy Joe Saunders (30-0, 14 KOs) owns the WBO belt. However, the hardware is largely immaterial whenever Canelo steps in the ring as he is widely considered the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. In Saunders he is meeting a slick southpaw bidding to become the second member of the Traveling community to hold multiple title belts simultaneously, joining his friend Tyson Fury. The bout headlines a 7-bout card that will air on DAZN in 200+ countries and territories worldwide and on TV Azteca in Mexico.

Whenever a fight of this magnitude comes down the pike, we invite members of our editorial staff to provide a quick analysis of the match and forecast the outcome. Their prognostications appear below with the respondents listed in alphabetical order.

The graphic is by Colorado comic book cover artist ROB AYALA, an honored guest whenever we perform this kind of exercise. Check out more of Rob’s cool illustrations at his web site fight posium.

PICKS and ANALYSIS

No gimme for Canelo here, as Saunders is a southpaw who can box, has a bit of pop in his punch, as well as a knack for making his opponents look not quite as impressive as they normally are. Still, Canelo is at the top of the boxing food chain for a reason. It’s all right for him to win some fights and not be spectacular in doing so. Figure the Mexican icon on scoring a knockdown or two along the way, but he may have to be satisfied with a win on points this time out. – BERNARD FERNANDEZ

I no longer pick against Canelo Alvarez. And certainly not against a boxing basket case like Billy Joe Saunders. There’s a huge difference in the level of maturity between these two fighters and that will be seen in the ring when Canelo becomes the first to corner the fleet-footed Saunders and put him on his back. Canelo KO in 10. – JEFFREY FREEMAN

Canelo by decision. He does everything better than Saunders, who will fight well enough to survive but not win. – THOMAS HAUSER

Billy Joe is formidable. You don’t lock in an Olympic berth at age 18 without natural talent. You don’t run circles around a big puncher like David Lemieux without a high ring IQ. But Saunders, despite his undefeated record, has been inconsistent. Canelo, as Kevin Iole noted in a recent column, doesn’t do one thing great, but he does everything well. How does one formulate a smart game plan for a boxer with no flaws to exploit? Canelo UD. – ARNE LANG

Much has been made by Saunders’ camp this week about the size of the ring that will be used in the fight. While it seems strange and even unruly that there can be such vast disparities in how large the boxing ring is or how spongy the mat can be for any professional fight card in our sport, the truth of the matter is that Saunders probably doesn’t have much hope in beating Alvarez no matter how those other factors play out. They could fight on a basketball court, and I’d still pick Alvarez. The best the cagey UK fighter will be able to muster is trying to go the distance with the Mexican. Callum Smith pulled it off back in December, but Saunders won’t quite get there. CANELO via 9th-round stoppage. – KELSEY McCARSON

There was a time, not that long ago, when I would have favoured Saunders to beat Canelo and stylistically I still feel Saunders holds all the aces. Canelo’s improvements in the last 30 months have astonished, though. He has found a meaningful fourth and fifth punch for his combinations and his strength, for whatever reason, is prestigious at whatever weight he fights. Saunders, something of a persona-non-grata here in his home country after a series of public relations disasters, is very much a man out of time.  Canelo, bodyshots, between the eighth and the tenth. – MATT McGRAIN

There is a case to be made that Canelo Alvarez has not faced a pure boxer on the level of Billy Joe Saunders since his do-si-do with Erislandy Lara in 2014, in a fight that still has some screaming robbery (Alvarez won by split decision). Of course, that was nearly seven years ago, back when Alvarez was still trading on his telenovela bonafides. Since then, he has gone on to distinguish himself as arguably the best boxer in the sport today. The same cannot be said for the erratic and self-sabotaging Saunders, who has squandered his impressive showing against David Lemieux in 2017 with consecutive lackluster outings against mostly middling opposition. The southpaw will find ways to frustrate Alvarez at times, to be sure, but expect Alvarez to slow down the jittery motions of the Brit by punishing him to the body en route to a mostly clear win on the cards. Canelo by majority decision. – SEAN NAM

I see a feeling-out type fight in the first two rounds and then Canelo begins the stalk. Saunders will be more elusive and more savvy than most of Canelo’s opponents, occasionally getting in some sharp counters. However, he will begin to tire late from an accumulation of Canelo’s body work and from backing up. This will allow the Mexican to increase the tempo looking for a way to close the show. The Traveler will survive. But Canelo will win with a dominating UD. – TED SARES

Two names come to mind for me when deciding how this fight will play out. First, Erislandy Lara, who I saw outbox but not outfight Alvarez. Second is Alexander Povetkin, whose horrible performance against Dillian Whyte was reportedly due to coronavirus residue, which Alvarez also claims to have been afflicted by. Can Saunders, another left-hander with a bit more of a reach advantage than Lara, take advantage of a possibly weakened Canelo? Don’t bet on it unless Cinco de Mayo weekend gets cancelled and nobody from Texas or Mexico shows up for the fight. Saunders seems capable of making it interesting, but Alvarez wins by wide decision or late TKO.  – PHIL WOOLEVER

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A Heinous Crime Will Likely Land Felix Verdejo in Prison for the Rest of His Life

Arne K. Lang

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“Felix has a sparkling personality, a flashy fighting style, and he’s good. He’s also f-a-s-t.” The quote is from Thomas Hauser who wrote those words in June of 2015 after Verdejo improved his record to 18-0 with a near-shutout of fellow unbeaten Ivan Nejara on an HBO card from the Theater at Madison Square Garden.

At this juncture it appeared that Verdejo, a former Olympian, was destined to become the next icon of Puerto Rican fight fans, the heir-apparent to Felix Trinidad and Miguel Cotto.

Today, news stories about Verdejo make no reference to his sparkling personality. It’s an attribute inconsistent with the portrait of a monster.

This past Saturday, as hardcore fight fans were glued to the telecast of a show in Manchester, England, it came to light that authorities in San Juan, Puerto Rico, had found the body of a young woman who had been reported missing after failing to turn up at her job at a dog grooming salon on Thursday morning, that the decedent was plainly the victim of foul play, that Verdejo was the primary suspect in her murder, and that he wasn’t cooperating with the authorities.

When the corpse of the missing woman was fished from a lagoon, her body was reportedly so mangled that forensic examiners had to consult dental records to confirm that the decedent was indeed Keishla Marlen Rodriguez Ortiz, the 27-year-old woman they were looking for. The boxer and Ms. Rodriguez had reportedly known each other since middle school. According to Rodriguez’s family members, she was pregnant with Verdejo’s child and the boxer, who was married with a 2-year-old daughter, wasn’t happy about it.

Keishla

Keishla Rodriguez

With each new detail, the story became more sordid.

It is alleged that the victim was thrown off a bridge after being punched in the face and injected with a syringe filled with an unidentified substance. Verdejo and an accomplice – who hasn’t been charged and is identified only as a witness – then tied her hands and feet with wire and weighed the body down with a cinderblock before tossing it into the water. When the body was slow to sink, Verdejo allegedly fired a bullet at it. A shell casing was found on the bridge and the authorities have corroborating evidence from toll booth cameras.

As first reported by veteran boxing writer Jake Donovan, the boxer surrendered to FBI agents yesterday evening (Sunday). He appeared this morning via zoom before federal magistrate Camille Velez Rive who ordered him returned to prison and held without bail.

Many of the headlines in the tabloids say that Verdejo is facing the death penalty. That’s technically true. The three crimes for which he has been charged — carjacking resulting in death, kidnapping resulting in death, and intentionally killing an unborn child – are federal crimes. As a commonwealth of the United States, Puerto Rico is subject to U.S. federal laws. However, Puerto Rico abolished capitol punishment in 1929. The country hasn’t executed anyone since 1927 when a man named Pascual Ramos was hanged for killing his boss.

It’s doubtful that prosecutors would pursue the death penalty unless the trial were moved to the mainland. However, domestic violence has become a hot-button issue in Puerto Rico and the national mood toward crimes of this nature is trending toward harsher retribution. Yesterday, according to the Daily Mail, hundreds of people, mostly women, including Rodriguez’s sister, gathered at the bridge that spans the lagoon to pay their respects and demand justice for the victims of domestic violence.

Felix Verdejo turned pro  at age 19 after representing Puerto Rico in the 2012 London Olympics. He rose to #1 in the WBO lightweight rankings after defeating Oliver Flores in February of 2017, but was demoted for inactivity. There were extenuating circumstances including fights that fell out and a 6-day stay in a hospital following a motorcycle accident.

He returned to the ring after a 13 ½ month absence and suffered his first pro defeat. An unheralded Mexican, Antonio Lozada, stopped him in the final round, the 10th. Verdejo was ahead on two of the scorecards through the nine completed rounds. There were 23 seconds remaining in the contest when the bout was stopped.

Verdejo’s most recent fight came in December of last year. He was stopped in the ninth round by Masayoshi Nakatani at the MGM Bubble in Las Vegas, reducing his pro record to 27-2. As happened against Lozada, Verdejo faded late, squandering a big lead.

Verdejo photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank via Getty Images

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In Boxing, a Quadrilogy is Rare. Going 2-2 Against Butterbean Even More So

Ted Sares

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The late heavyweight Mitch Rose could not translate his Golden Gloves amateur skills to the pro ranks. He retired with an underwhelming 2-11-1 mark, but he did enough quirky things to put his life story in a book and one of the most memorable parts of it involved his being the first fighter to stop Eric “Butterbean” Esch, the legendary knockout machine who was trumpeted as the King of the Four Rounders. Rose did it on an undercard bout at Madison Square Garden on a show with Oscar De La Hoya and Arturo Gatti in the featured bouts.

“… Rose was a tried and true New Yorker. As loud and funny as he was, he never seemed to take himself too seriously. He had a big heart, a lot of dreams, and an emotional honesty that was extremely refreshing.” — Robert Mladinich, NYFIGHTS

As Bernard Fernandez noted, Eric Esch, aka Butterbean, rebounded nicely. “(He) went on to continue his unlikely advance to stardom of sorts as a bald and blubbery blaster.”

Butterbean, who also competed in MMA and in Tough Man competitions, developed a cult following and retired with a boxing record of 77-10-4. But Butterbean’s last three losses as a boxer came between 2009-2013, long after he should have left the boxing scene.

Enter Kenny “The Raven” Craven (here’s a recent picture).

Craven

Craven

 “Wherever you find yourself in time… Please remember to do the right thing.” — Kenny Craven

A soulful and righteous man who believes in equality and walks the walk, Craven, a Mississippian from tiny Ellisville, is a follower of the teachings of Desmond Tutu. He is pro-people and pro-underdog and will not bypass injustice.

“I wrote a post yesterday on Facebook that expanded my view of the power of the people. All of us know we have this power but we have no idea how to use it. Well, we do know how it is used but we make a conscious decision not to. Why? We the people have supreme authority but we give this gift to just a few people who do not even like us.” — Craven

Kenny Craven finished his pro boxing career with a 28-20 record. He won 23 by knockout BUT all of his 20 losses came by knockout and that made him an exciting fighter, if nothing else. Kenny was a fan favorite on the southern circuit and if his opponent didn’t get him, he usually got his opponent and the fans could anticipate with near 100 percent accuracy that someone was getting knocked down.

The other thing about Kenny was that he fought a Who’s Who of elite fighters. They included Henry Akinwande (37-1-1 coming in), Michael Nunn (55-4), Vaughn Bean (41-2 and no relation to Butterbean), Attila Levin (27-1), Albert Sosnowski (33-1), Clifford Etienne (28-2-2), Calvin Brock (25-0), Timur Ibragimov (20-0-1), Oliver McCall (46-8), Vassiliy Jirov (36-3-1), and Ezra Sellers (28-7).

In 1999, “The Raven” was stopped by Butterbean (48-1-2) in the second round on the undercard of the De La Hoya vs Trinidad fight at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. It was Alabama vs Mississippi. However, in the first round, Craven displayed the blueprint on how to beat the ‘King of Four Rounders” by using a stick and run approach.

In 2005, Kenny lasted until the third round before the Bean (then 71-3-4) overwhelmed him.

 But just three months later in Jackson, Mississippi, Kenny finally figured out Esch and utilized the blueprint by jabbing and moving laterally, and won a majority decision over the heavily favored Bean in front of a small but howling and disbelieving crowd. The fact that Tonya Harding was on the undercard added to the circus-like atmosphere.

Then, three months later in Bejing, China, Kenny did it again. Yes, in China!!? This time he had his way with Eric and cruised to an easy win.

In a rare Quadrilogy, Kenny Craven went 2-2 with Eric Esch who never managed to knock Kenny down or even hurt him. No mean feat.

Mitch Rose had his moment. Kenny Craven had two. As Kenny says, “I did the best I could for a guy with three amateur fights and growing up in rural Mississippi. I loved every second, the good and the bad.”

Ted Sares can be reached at tedsares@roadrunner.com

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