On June 22, undefeated sensation Adrien Broner (26-0, 22 KO's) will jump two weight classes to challenge Paul Malignaggi (32-4, 7 KO's) for his WBA version of the welterweight title. A win would make Broner a three-division world champion at just 23.
As Broner has developed to the championship level and moved up in weight class, over the past two years, his rise has been treated in some circles as the ascendancy of boxing's next major star. His natural ability and well-trained skill have been obvious. His string of victories has been, with very few exceptions, completely dominant.
When Broner moved up to full lightweight in November 2012 to challenge Antonio DeMarco for his WBC title, many felt Broner would finally run into a tougher test. Instead, he rolled with as much ease as before, brutally dispatching DeMarco by Round 8 TKO. He followed that up by blasting former junior welterweight titleholder Gavin Rees in five last February.
The jump from 135 to 147 would normally be viewed as a bold, risky move, especially from a fighter as young as Broner. But Paulie Malignaggi is probably the low-hanging fruit at welterweight. The Magic Man is a slick boxer, but with only seven stoppages in 36 fights, he may simply lack enough power to turn back the explosively athletic Broner.
On the other hand, Malignaggi will be the biggest fighter Broner has ever faced—and the most experienced. The Brooklyn native has been very vocal about the fact that he plans to use superior boxing to frustrate Broner and beat him up.
Broner has been extremely vocal, too, about the fact that he plans to knock Malignaggi out. Broner and Malignaggi are two of boxing's biggest talkers, and the buildup to the fight has been particularly vociferous, including more than one profanity-laden shouting match in public.
In most cases, when a young fighter faces the biggest, most experienced opponent he's ever faced, simply escaping with the win would be viewed as enough. But Broner's not most young fighters. The expectations are higher with him, and he's done everything he could to make it that way, in word and in action.
When I have interviewed Broner in the past, he has spoken confidently about remaining dominant all the way up to 147, even 154, pounds. “I make everybody look like nobodies,” he told me once.
Paulie Malignaggi is not a nobody, but he's a relatively light hitter and somewhere below the very elite level at welterweight. If Broner struggles against him at all, it will be treated as proof that a dominant run at 147 is anything but inevitable for Broner.
If Broner has some difficulty with Malignaggi but ultimately manages to win a convincing decision, it really won't slow down his career more than a tiny half-step. In the post-fight interview, he'll give Paulie Mags his respect at last, praise him as a tough veteran before crowing about being a three-division world champ.
But if Malignaggi can take Broner into the really deep waters, even if Broner still manages to escape with the win, it could rattle his confidence, along with his public image. Broner is unpopular enough with a certain segment of the fanbase that if Broner should win a fight that is remotely close, there will be loud cries that Malignaggi was robbed.
If Malignaggi ends up winning, it could be a major setback for Broner. Broner is a young, talented champion who has looked brilliant at times, so one loss to a fighter as experienced as Malignaggi should not be catastrophic.
But Broner has appeared so cocky at times that it's almost as if he refuses to admit that adversity even exists as a concept. That sort of super-confident personality doesn't always deal well with adversity when it inevitably arises.
In his June 11 interview with RingTV.com, Malignaggi referred to this dynamic in his closing remarks, aimed at Broner:
"Your world is going to change on June 22. Everything you think you know, everything everyone has made you believe is going to change. Everything is going to change."
Given the disaster a loss would represent for a fighter who has been hyped to the degree Broner has, in the end simply getting by Malignaggi with the win is probably enough. Even if it does not come about in an explosive manner that fuels Broner's hype train, at least it will keep him from going off the rails.