Problematic: Adrien Broner Wins But Fails To Impress Against Paulie Malignaggi

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Photos by Tom Casino for Showtime

by Sarah Deming

BROOKLYN, N.Y.—Boxers are typically taught that winning is enough. Any night that ends with getting your hand raised is considered a success. 

By that measure, Adrien Broner’s performance here at the Barclays Center on Saturday night against Paulie Malignaggi passes muster. Broner was clearly the better man, walking through his opponent’s flurries and moving Paulie’s head with hard punches in almost every round. Broner clearly won the fight, despite the lone scorecard from judge Tom Miller in favor of Malignaggi. But if the goal is future Pay Per View stardom, just winning is not always enough.

Professional boxing lacks the structure of other sports, so every fighter is in essence a franchise unto themselves. They must not only win, but do so in an appealing enough fashion to ensure fans will pay to see them fight again. Broner has been tabbed by many, including this site, as someone with the potential to eventually rule the sport. Reaching that point will require more heart and less complacency than Broner showed during his cakewalk against Malignaggi.

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Broner has positioned himself as the heir apparent to Floyd Mayweather Jr., but it is difficult to imagine Floyd looking so pedestrian against the likes of Malignaggi. Broner may be used to the present-day Floyd, whose standing atop the sport is so secure he can be satisfied with dominating lesser opposition without pressing the issue. Broner is not even close to that level yet. He may never reach it, if his recent past portends future behavior.

Broner’s first taste of real fame and fortune in recent months have been accompanied by a distasteful stream of headlines, which have highlighted both his questionable public conduct and a disturbing streak of misogyny. Without dignifying the matter with details, he and Malignaggi engaged in a disgusting back-and-forth during the pre-fight buildup over a young woman and mutual acquaintance. Broner was quick to return to that tired ground in his post-fight interview, perhaps eager to distract the crowd from his less-than-scintillating performance.

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Of course this being boxing, no one cared how obnoxious Broner acted, so long as he was knocking people out. Six straight knockouts since struggling against veteran Daniel Ponce de Leon two years ago had helped Broner garner the attention of casual fans and sports columnists, a sure sign his star was on the rise. But having your father brush your hair only goes so far; Broner’s failure to turn up the heat against Malignaggi was in some ways even more unforgivable than his constant mouthing off.

Fans expect the flashy fighter from Cincinnati to be a a bit of an idiot. What they won’t tolerate is boredom or complacency, and Broner caused the former and suffered from the latter at times against Malignaggi. On occasion it appeared the only thing separating Broner from the stoppage win was his unwillingness to release his hands. Yet showed little interest in doing so, instead allowing Malignaggi to reach the final bell.

If Broner wants to reach the same level as Mayweather, he will need to significantly increase either his aggression or the quality of his opposition. Prancing to the ring to terrible rap music and preening after decimating second-tier foes will never get him past premium cable. And winning in such lackluster fashion against ordinary opposition will do little to enhance his market value. If Broner is content to win decisions, he better be fighting the best competition out there. Malignaggi is not that, so hopefully the road will only get tougher for The Problem from here.

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The heavyweight rematch between Seth “Mayhem” Mitchell and Detroit’s Johnathon Banks failed to live up to expectations, as Banks barely threw any punches on his way to a clear points loss. The Detroiter had Mitchell in serious trouble at various points in the fight, but he was far too content to wait for the perfect opening to counter instead of simply moving his hands.

To his credit, Mitchell executed his gameplan almost perfectly, patiently jabbing while maintaining his balance at all times. Mitchell may not have set the world afire with his performance, but he did get his hand raised, which is all that matters in boxing. Unfortunately, the win will do little to improve Mitchell’s standing in the sport, even though he avenged his only loss. Still, Mitchell out-boxed the boxer, and did so in the face of considerable skepticism. If nothing else, his win shoed tremendous poise and mental toughness.

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But Mitchell did nothing to dispel the notion he is there to be hit and hurt by a quality heavyweight. Banks managed to rock him at more than one interval, and only his reluctance to throw punches appeared to prevent the Detroit native from taking control of the fight. Mitchell deserves credit for sticking to the script, but it’s not clear that such a conservative approach would work against the pinpoint right hand of heavyweight kingpin Wladimir Klitschko. However, that fight now looms for Seth, and the temptation to cash in on his name appeal will be great.

Banks has never had great stamina but his fade was particularly pronounced on this night. His performance was bad enough that some questioned whether his heart was ever in the fight to begin with. It is difficult to see him ever getting another shot at this level as anything but a trial horse, especially without the influence of his former mentor Emanuel Steward. Perhaps his win over Mitchell in November was the anomaly, and this is the real Johnathon Banks. Either way, he will remember this night for a long time as an opportunity wasted.

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The televised opener between super middleweights Sakio Bika and Marco Antonio Periban started slowly, drawing jeers from the crowd just halfway through the opening round. Neither fighter is particularly crowd-pleasing, and the combination of the two was downright ugly at times. Bika is a rough fighter that punches widely and wildly, yet somehow it works. It doesn’t hurt that he can take an immense amount of punishment without flinching.

The fans were eventually rewarded as both men worked their way into the fight, then began winging bombs at each other with little regard for their welfare. Bika somehow landed a number of wide, overhand shots with both hands, and appeared to have Periban in trouble late in the fight. But the Mexican held on and evened the scores, finishing with a draw according to our card. Judge Julie Lederman agreed, but the other two saw it for Bika, awarding him a majority decision.

Three-time Olympian Rau’Shee Warren of Cincinnati floored Jovany Fuentes several times en route to a second round stoppage. We walked into the arena as Warren was depositing his opponent on the mat, and found our seats just as he repeated the trick minutes later. Warren is undoubtedly close to a finished product, but the question remains how good he can become after such a long amateur career.

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