ATLANTIC CITY, N.J.—Adrien Broner can be pretty tough to take for some. The WBC lightweight champion has a swagger, a sense of achievement, that he proudly displays along with his stylish sunglasses and bright smile.
It can be annoying to some. Others just laugh at him.
Peer below and you might find something a little different—especially if you look at the path that got him here. Maybe there’s a reason for that swagger. Maybe there’s a reason why he acts the way he does. Maybe it stems from one of the today’s best pound-for-pound fighters, some say the heir apparent to Floyd Mayweather as the world’s best, actually having trouble when he first put on gloves.
Broner, the youngest of six, used to get beat up regularly by his twin brother, Andre, who is minutes older, and who gave up boxing when he was around 15 to pursue a career in music.
“Something funny about that: Andre was the powerful one, he hit harder than Adrien when they were coming up,” said Mike Stafford, Adrien’s trainer, laughing, recalling the memory. “Adrien was a flashy kid who moved — bop, bop, bop, bop. Andre was a powerful kid. Andre was a southpaw and he had the power. Now Adrien has the power. There are some kids that have the drive and commitment, and some kids just give it up—they don’t have that drive and commitment. Adrien always had it.”
Broner (25-0, 21 knockouts) will be putting his title on the line against Gavin Rees (37-1-1, 18 KOs), a former WBA junior welterweight titlist fighting in the United States for the first time, Saturday at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, on HBO’s 2013 premiere of World Championship Boxing.
Through a lot of trials and fists, Broner became an amateur standout. But his rise had some bumps.
“Adrien is a good-looking kid, and he likes to look good at all times and it’s a style he likes to portray, with the glasses and keeping his hair neat and clean,” Stafford said. “I made sure the kids got haircuts when we went on our boxing trips, and I always made sure the kids looked good. But there is an old-school way to Adrien that a lot of people don’t see. When it’s time to go to work, Adrien goes to work. He had nothing handed to him, I can tell you that.
“Adrien is the youngest, and his uncles, aunts — and with the twins being the smallest and the youngest — Adrien was the smallest of everyone. He and Andre had to play catch-up. Being the youngest, he used to get picked on. When he came to the gym he was 45 pounds, he was even too light to box. When they got to 55 pounds, that’s when they got a chance to fight. Adrien learned the hard way.”
But Adrien’s success wasn’t immediate. The only one Stafford could put Adrien in with was eventual three-time United States Olympian Rau’shee Warren, who is three years older than Broner.
“After he sparred with Rau’shee Warren, who was really the only one Adrien could spar with, that was the test,” Stafford remembered. “Adrien got beat up pretty bad by Rau’shee, but he came back and that told me he really wanted [to box]. He used to spar with his brother—and Adrien would lose. I wouldn’t let them spar, and sometimes there would be a fight after the sparring. They would be mad at each other. But that’s where it all started with Adrien.”
It’s something Adrien doesn’t easily forget. He wants to be taken seriously. Forget the dash and flamboyance.
“I respect every boxer 110 percent,” Broner said. “I do know what I’m going up against in Rees. I love to entertain. I love to put on a show. I’ve been doing this for a long time, and maybe nobody noticed, I’m a legal bank robber. I mean the way I make these fights look, it’s easy money because I’m going to make it look easy.
“I know people don’t take me seriously. I was always told, if everyone likes you, somebody is lying. I love all my haters and all the ones that love me. I’m a fan of getting hit? I’m a fan of letting a sweaty man touch me? No! I do work hard at this. I do care about my conditioning. I know the road it took for me to get here. The question is, who out there wants to fight me? I know the road I took to get here. It’s why I say Adrien Broner is the best boxer of this era.”
Photos / Naoki Fukuda