Adrien Broner: Will His Trash-Talking Ways Turn off Boxing Fans?
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It is said that the sport of boxing needs a villain.
For the past several years, that villain has been personified by boxing's pound-for-pound king, Floyd Mayweather, who despite his immense in-ring talents, has carefully crafted a persona designed to polarize fans, and create a thin line between love and hate.
But nothing lasts forever, and with Mayweather beginning to wind down his illustrious career, the search is on for his successor—not just in terms of talent, but as the sport's primary attraction that sells fights by making people hate him.
Adrien Broner, who won a third world title in a third weight class this past weekend at the Barclays Center, has spent his entire career attempting to walk in Mayweather's footsteps. He's crafted a boxing style, and public persona that is certainly polarizing, and rubs many the wrong way, but will his antics eventually push the envelope too far?
The thin line he's attempting to walk was pretty well summed up by ESPN's Michael Wilbon:
I already find Adrian Broner somewhere between annoying as hell and completely loathsome...maybe that's just what boxing needs though...— Michael Wilbon (@RealMikeWilbon) June 23, 2013
Being annoying as hell will sell, but what about being completely loathsome? That's a different question.
The genius of Floyd Mayweather Jr. has been his ability to push the limits of discourse, without actually stepping over them. Sure he's brash, and at times disrespectful, but he always tiptoes around the line without ever actually going over it.
He makes you hate him just enough to buy his pay-per-views, in the hopes he'll get knocked out, but not enough to make you tune out completely. And that's the danger for Adrien Broner, especially given the added perception that his mouth outpaces his talent in the ring.
To say that the promotional campaign for Broner's most recent fight, a split decision victory over Paulie Malignaggi, was heated would be putting it lightly.
The two men engaged in a vicious, and extremely vulgar, campaign of personal smears and attacks which included references to ex-girlfriends, questions of manhood, and all sorts of other topics that even in the sordid world of boxing are considered off-limits.
You can dole out the blame in any share you want, and Malignaggi was certainly no victim and gave as good as he took, but he's not the one making a play for superstardom in the sport. He's not trying to market himself as the next big thing in boxing.
So calling another fighter's ex-girlfriend/your current girlfriend at a press conference might make for good theater, especially in the theater of the absurd that often is professional boxing. But it's also a risky move, especially given so much of the public is not yet sold on Broner.
He's not Floyd Mayweather. He doesn't have the luxury of saying and doing as he pleases, at least not yet.
And even Mayweather, for all his brashness, and at times disrespectful nature, never seemed willing to cross certain lines. Pre-fight hype is what it is, a tool for getting people interested, getting them to buy tickets, or tune in on television.
But when the fight ends, so does the hype. And say what you will about Floyd, but he truly respects the game of boxing. He understands its nuances, and that every guy who steps through the ropes deserves credit and respect.
For all his trash-talk before, and during the fight, he's nothing but effusive in his praise of his opponent afterwards. He understands that boxing is a business, and that when business is over, it's all about who you are as a man.
If last night is any indication, Adrien Broner has yet to learn that lesson.
"I'm good. I lifted his belt, and his girl," he told Showtime's Jim Gray in the ring immediately after the fight, prompting another confrontation with an angry Malignaggi who had to be restrained.
The reference of course, was to a young lady named Jessica, who was frequently used by both men as a prop during the pre-fight hype. If you listen to Broner, he'd tell you that she was Malignaggi's girlfriend whom he stole, but if you listen to Malignaggi she was just a girl he slept with but was of no real consequence.
That this even became a discussion shows you how far we've devolved here.
But it also highlights an important lesson that Broner must learn if he's going to avoid becoming the guy that turns people off, but doesn't get them to tune in.
Being brash, and disrespectful does sell. And people love to hate the villain.
But if Broner ever wants to be like the man he idolizes, he should take a cue from Floyd Mayweather.
Do your talking in the ring, but be humble when it's over.
Kevin McRae is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained first-hand unless otherwise noted.
You can follow him on Twitter @McRaeBoxing
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