When Adrien Broner meets welterweight champion Manny Pacquiao on Saturday night, it will go a long way in defining one of the sport’s most perplexing personalities.
Pick an adjective. Talented. Troubled. Funny. Disturbed. Friendly. Depending on the moment, they all apply to the former four-division champion from Cincinnati.
He’s 33-3-1 with 24 knockouts, but has drifted from his once limitless promise, going 6-3-1 in his past 10 fights.
Pacquiao, 40, arrives at the Showtime pay-per-view at MGM Grand striving for a rematch with Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Last week, Broner, 29, had attorneys representing him on separate sexual misconduct cases – one in Ohio, the other for allegedly groping a woman at an Atlanta mall in February.
Broner restricted his comments on the legal trouble.
“I’m fine. Right now my main focus is [Saturday] … ,” he said.
He otherwise had plenty to say in an interview with The Times that revealed the conflicts that reside within a fighter who’s admitted if he didn’t have boxing, he’d likely be a drug dealer.
The conversation started with a memory of Broner in his late teens, fighting an undercard bout in Cincinnati when he crossed paths with Pacquiao’s seven-time trainer of the year Freddie Roach.
Broner overheard that a Roach-trained fighter on the card was overweight and headed to a sauna to shed pounds.
“Can I go with him?” Broner asked Roach, who was surprised by the youngster’s kindness after watching Broner remain in the steam room for two hours with his fighter.
“I remember that day,” Broner recalled last week. “I do stuff like that all the time. I just don’t film it. I stayed with Freddie’s fighter the whole time to give him that comfort.
“In boxing, sometimes you need that extra person to stay with you to help push you to the extra limit and get through it, so I just decided to deal with him … . Boxing is a lonely sport. Boxing’s a tough sport. After the bell rings, it’s just you. No one can help. You can’t call a timeout. You can’t sub anyone in. You’ve got to finish it yourself. It’s a lonely sport.”
Which raises the question of how Broner might have performed had he decided then to align with Roach.
“He would have had a great career, but he’s won many belts and he’s in one of the biggest fights of his career now, so I’d say he’s done all right,” Roach said.
Yet, Broner admits isolation got the best of him after his fighting gifts took him to his first world title at age 22.
“There’s times when you’re by yourself and you want your girl around or your kids around. You just need somebody around,” Broner said. “And other times, boxing makes you feel like you want to be by yourself. You get emotional. That’s why after some wins, I cry. Even in my losses, I cry. Because I know how hard I work, and I always want to be victorious.”
Broner’s longtime trainer Mike Stafford, who’s assisting new lead trainer Kevin Cunningham this camp, said the fighter’s missteps should be viewed from that prism.
“To me, he got it so fast – the money and the titles. He was tested and answered the bell inside the ring,” Stafford said. “But outside … when you sit up there on top, it’s so hard to stay there when the distractions come. It was just too much. He still had the love for boxing, but everyone was pulling on him and he had to change his ways. You can’t stay in the same world. He stayed too comfortable for too long. And it bit him by the ass.”
After getting dropped twice in a 2013 loss to Marcos Maidana, Broner was roughed up by current WBC welterweight champion Shawn Porter in 2015, out-boxed by four-division champion Mikey Garcia in 2017 and fought former welterweight champion Jessie Vargas to a draw in April.
“God puts you through things – steps in life – and you get over them,” Broner said. “I’ve been through so much in this game. I’ve been up. I’ve been down. It’s the way I grew. Everybody’s different. Everybody’s not a Floyd Mayweather, an Oscar De La Hoya, a Roy Jones or a Sugar Ray Leonard … everyone has his own legacy in boxing.”
Mayweather Promotions President Leonard Ellerbe sees Broner’s edge as a necessary motivational tool for this bout.
“People will be surprised by the performance he puts on, and I see him winning the fight,” Ellerbe said. “He can right his wrongs with the victory. He knows this is the biggest fight of his life.”
Nicknamed “The Problem,” Broner said he embraced the loneliness in camp, focusing on positivity, yearning for the redemptive triumph that will transport him from the self-inflicted trials that have cast him as wayward and star-crossed.
“He was always in the gym when he was young, but he had a side. He would do kid stuff and we’d could correct it,” Stafford said. “His issues now … he’s a man. He has to realize these things are illegal and it can put a stamp on your career. It hurts me to know he’s getting in altercations that are not him … it’s basically stupid stuff.
“He hasn’t robbed a bank, stole anything, sold drugs or raped anyone,” Stafford said. “It’s just stupid stuff that turns into legal stuff. I don’t see anything in all of this that makes him a real-life criminal. But he’s a celebrity now so it gets blown up more than if it was me or you.
“I know deep down inside, when he wakes up the next day, he’s always apologetic. He always make amends for whatever he does.”
This time, a judge’s sentencing may determine how Broner makes amends.
Beating Pacquiao, reverting to the humble spirit of that young fighter who befriended another on that Cincinnati card would also be a step in the right direction.