Photo by Esther Lin for Showtime
by Gautham Nagesh
Like professional basketball, boxing is a sport perpetually fixated on finding the Next Big Thing. That search continues this Saturday on Showtime when top-ranked lightweight Adrien “The Problem” Broner of Cincinnati moves up two weight classes to challenge welterweight Paulie Malignaggi at Barclays Arena in Brooklyn on a show promoted by Golden Boy.
Fight fans spend most of their time building or tearing down prospects, and are obsessed with being right about a given fighter’s trajectory. If you need further proof, just spend a few moments on Twitter surfing the #boxingheads hashtag during the undercard of a major fight. These young fighters are expected not only to not only excel in their own era, but compare favorably against the giants of the past. It’s small wonder then that so many succumb to the pressure, and fail to reach such lofty heights.
Recent years have seen the likes of Yuriorkis Gamboa, Nonito Donaire, and James Kirkland fail to live up their bllling as the sport’s next Pay Per View star. The latest pair tasked with saving boxing are Broner and Mexican junior welterweight Saul “Canelo” Alvarez. Canelo has arguably already arrived, and will embark on a continental press tour next week to promote his mega-fight with Floyd Mayweather this fall.
Broner is just a step or two behind, after showing signs in recent fights that he’s on the brink of superstar status. Doubtless his move up to welterweight this Saturday to challenge Malignaggi was intended to accelerate that process. All of the big money fights in boxing right now are concentrated between 140 and 154 lbs. Broner and his manager Al Haymon know this, and are likely eying this fight as the start of a lengthy run at the top.
But moving up two weight classes from lightweight comes with plenty of risk, and Paulie is a skilled stylist in his own right. Saturday night could provide confirmation of Broner’s potential greatness, or it could be the moment when The Problem is exposed as merely a precocious for his grade level, rather than truly elite. Having covered Broner in the past, we lean strongly toward the former. Aside from a lackluster showing against Daniel Ponce de Leon two years ago, Broner has done nothing of late to make us doubt his future atop the pound-for-pound lists.
Broner is unusual in that he is a defensive fighter that stays in the pocket, and a boxer that doesn’t move a great deal. He prefers standing flat-footed and using the shoulder roll to avoid damage, a la Mayweather. Broner’s demolition of Antonio DeMarco last year was a textbook demonstration of this technique, which should be equally effective against the light-hitting Malignaggi. Broner’s chin looked strong at lightweight, so we don’t anticipate him being rocked by any of his opponent’s shots.
Broner’s patient, relaxed approach allows him to pick his openings and deliver, often to spectacular effect. His power is undeniable, and was apparent in all his punches at lightweight. Broner has mostly allowed knockouts to come in due course, rather than forcing them by looking for the big shot. Whether he will be able to wipe away foes so easily at welterweight remains to be seen. Malignaggi should be wary of the lead right uppercut, often accompanied by Broner’s deadly left hook.
Paulie is not without hope, having been in with much tougher competition than his younger foe. Paulie is convinced his greater experience and size will help him expose The Problem, but that would require him being able to punch hard enough to keep Broner at bay. We don’t see it. Paulie is tough, and skilled enough to make it a good fight for at least the first half. But winning would require the performance of his career, a symphony of activity and movement, along with an off day from Broner.
As such, we like Broner to win this fight, and fairly easily. A stoppage in the late rounds isn’t out of the question, though a close but clear decision in Paulie’s backyard seems like a better bet. This is New York, but Broner is the house fighter, and he will get the benefit of the doubt. Paulie will need both the crowd and a little more oomph than normal on his punches to pull off the upset.
The chief support on Showtime is the rematch between heavyweights Johnathon Banks and Seth Mitchell, which I’ve previewed in detail here. My only prediction for that fight: it will be awesome for as long as it lasts. In addition, super middleweight contender Sakio Bika takes on unbeaten Mexican Marco Antonio Periban in a crossroads fight. I don’t know much about Periban, but Bika is tough as nails. If he doesn’t stop the Mexican, this fight should go the distance.
Other undercard highlights include Philly junior middleweight Julian Williams against veteran gatekeeper Joachim Alcine. Williams has looked good in the past, but Alcine should tell us more about his ceiling. There will be an London 2012 reunion of sorts, as Olympic teammates Rau’Shee Warren of Cincinnati, Marcus Browne of Staten Island and Jamel Herring of Coram, N.Y. will all appear, as will unbeaten junior middleweight Frank Galarza of Brooklyn. Galarza drew with local prospect Alantez “Sly” Fox last September, one of two split draws on his otherwise unblemished record.
We’ll be ringside in Brooklyn, follow @StiffJab on Twitter for live updates.
Promoter and cruiserweight Venroy “Hard Work” July will stage his second show on Saturday at Frederick Fight Club in Frederick, Md. July will look to bounce back from his first career loss in February to Elvin Sanchez at D.C. Armory on the undercard of Lamont Peterson vs. Kendall Holt. According to Boxing Along the Beltway, July wil fight Rayford Johnson of Longview, Texas (8-9, 4 KOs). The club card will also featuring intriguing Iraqi-American middleweight Devar Ferhadi, who showed off a devastating left hook in his pro debut.