A distasteful malevolence curled its tendrils around the promotion for this Saturday’s welterweight boxing match between Adrien Broner and Paulie Malignaggi from its onset, choking out much talk of the actual bout and choking out any appeal it might have had for people whose tolerance for boxing’s endless capacity for ugliness reached its limit. The main culprit has been Broner, who, in the build-up to this fight, tweeted out that “ungrateful females deserve to be killed,” and sparked a press conference war of words after calling up an ex-lover of Malignaggi’s, boasting about dating her himself, and airing accusations of physical abuse. Malignaggi raced to the bottom with Broner, dismissing the woman as “weekend *****,” but at least had the common sense to voice regret for any of that happening.
Based on what he can do in the ring, Broner might well be the future of boxing. Based on what he’s doing outside it, he might not have much of a future outside of jail, and if he does, the prospect of Broner “taking over” the sport turns the stomach for people who don’t find misogyny amusing. Broner can, and has been, amusing in the past. But his “jokes” grow less comical by the day, his antics less “controversial” and more “sinister” (to borrow a word). The court record grows longer all the time, and the fact that Broner never apologized for his remarks that “ungrateful females deserve to be killed” suggests he lacks the adult guidance that could even help him avert personal implosion. Sometimes, as in the case of recently-rearrested junior middleweight James Kirkland, a fighter is going to implode even WITH a good support system. But Broner not having one certainly doesn’t help his chances.
It’s true that distasteful things have been said and done in the name of boxing promotion before, some of them perhaps equal to the misdeeds of Broner-Malignaggi. But at least some of those fights – Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier III, Bernard Hopkins-Felix Trinidad – had appeal on their own. Broner-Malignaggi never was made because anyone demanded that match-up. The hope was that Broner and Malignaggi, two gifted “talkers,” could produce some fun trash talk to in effect talk us into caring. Instead, the defining incidents along the way to Broner-Malignaggi all featured attacks on women. All we’re left with is the “entertainment” of woman-hating and wondering whether a spectacular talent’s career is on the verge of swerving into oncoming traffic.
Because the fight is one day away from airing on Showtime, we can probably assume Broner’s car crash finale won’t happen before then, so we’ll find out whether Broner, a 12:1 favorite in one sports book, can be upset by the underdog Malignaggi.
Malignaggi’s chances center on a couple things. One is that Broner is moving up two weight classes from lightweight. Malinaggi questioned Broner’s work habits recently, but judging by how he good he looked at the weigh-in, this wasn’t about fattening up and instead about moving up the divisions the right way. If Broner isn’t robbed wholesale of his speed with the move, he will be much faster than Malignaggi, who once was pretty quick but has slowed over the years. Malignaggi has never been a threat to do serious damage to an opponent’s chin, and Broner showed a good one at 130 and 135, so it’s hard to imagine Malignaggi knocking out Broner based on the size shift.
Malignaggi figures, second, that Broner has been feasting on poor boxers. It’s true that Broner’s signature win, over Antonio DeMarco, came against a rather straight-forward brawler. It’s also true that there’s nobody on Broner’s resume who has Malignaggi’s bag of veteran tricks; size being equal, I’d probably pick Malignaggi over everyone Broner has beaten except perhaps DeMarco and Daniel Ponce De Leon, except of course few people think Broner deserved the win over De Leon (although it must also be said that the Broner who has evolved into the fighter he’s become would skunk De Leon if they fought today). Malignaggi, meanwhile, has faced the likes of Miguel Cotto and Ricky Hatton and Amir Khan, all bouts he lost individually yet that amount to roster of opponents that put Broner’s to shame. So let’s give Malignaggi this one.
That gives Broner just about everything else. Malignaggi has provided his career its third or fourth life based on a move up to welterweight and a defeat of Vyacheslav Senchenko due to a cut. He subsequently struggled with Pablo Cesar Cano in a bout he probably didn’t deserve to win, and Cano, while tough, has losses on his record to very old versions of Erik Morales and Shane Mosley. Again, size being equal, Malignaggi would probably beat, if not definitively, Vicente Escobedo. Broner would wreck some of Malignaggi’s best wins – Juan Diaz, Lovemore Ndou.
It would take some exceptionally tricky tricks for Malignaggi to overcome all this. He can move and jab and sit down on punches occasionally, and that would be more than Broner has usually seen. Broner, though, is a fighter improving by leaps and bounds with each bout, a fighter who is not so fundamentally flawed as to be tricked by the above-standard technical fare Malignaggi can offer. With Malignaggi slowing down, he has become more hittable, which plays into what Broner is capable of. He places his punches well, can stand in the pocket and pick off punches coming his way, has a body attack and a killer instinct, and is doing a good job of becoming his idol, Floyd Mayweather (2.0), in the ring. That’s why he should beat Malignaggi soundly, either by late knockout or, as I’m picking, a wide unanimous decision.
After, we’ll go back to wondering whether Broner is about to become Mayweather 2.0 – a man with a jail record who has assaulted women – outside the ring, too. Like a method actor who refuses to break character when he leaves the stage, Broner has, for better or worse, devoted himself wholly to becoming the man he wants to play. That kind of obsession has been known to come from, and end up in, a dark place.