Two years ago, some of the top minds in boxing considered Adrien Broner, then an undefeated rising star, among a handful on the short list of Floyd Mayweather Jr.'s heirs apparent. He wasn't just any rising star—Broner was thought to be one of the men capable of leading boxing into the future.
It was a rise to fame based on his bigger-than-life persona. A natural promoter, Broner's brash attitude made him popular everywhere he traveled in the world of new media. Whether it was a fake wedding proposal, reported strip-club shenanigans or his very own alleged sex tape, Broner was leading boxing's charge into the new millennium.
Since he's become famous in truth and rich enough to literally flush money (Warning: NSFW language) down the toilet, Broner nearly lost a decision to a fading Paulie Malignaggi, was blown out of the water by Marcos Maidana and lost overwhelmingly Saturday night to Shawn Porter.
Broner's (30-2) brilliance nearly saved him in the 12th and final round at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. Trailing the relentless Porter (26-1-1) on the scorecards, he needed his prayers of desperation to be answered—and they almost were.
Broner's left hook landed squarely on Porter's face. It was the kind of punch that boxers dream about, the kind capable of sending Porter, a man who has never hit the mat, down to the canvas.
"Broner did what champions do," boxing Hall of Famer-turned-NBC announcer "Sugar" Ray Leonard said. "You can never count a champion out."
We saw Broner's potential flare up in his most desperate hour. He reminded fans, once again, what he might be able to do if he truly put his mind to it.
But it was not, it turned out, enough. Round by Round Boxing provided the fighters' punch stats:
After he wiped the surprise look off his face, Porter gathered himself and finished out the round. Eventually, he even reverted back to being the aggressor. Even with his professional hopes hanging in the balance, Broner seemed too cool to care.
Despite the defeat, that performance makes Broner the story. What if he had opened up earlier? What if he had sat down on his punches? What if he trained a little harder? What if he watched a little more tape?
While we don't yet know whether he can turn it around, the once-rising star appears to be falling back to earth at alarming speeds. Even at 25, he seems to be beyond hope, the classic case of too much being given to a developing fighter way too soon.
Broner's incredible persona made up for enormous flaws in his game. You can see those cracks in the armor as far back as his appearance on ShoBox: The New Generation against Fernando Quintero in 2009, way before they became fault lines against Maidana and Porter. Broner can be backed up, he doesn't have a particularly stout shoulder-roll defense, and most importantly, he can be out-thrown and out-landed.
The problem isn't that Broner lost a fight to a great competitor; it's the way he lost. Against the real thing in Porter, Broner simply let too many rounds go. He refused to punch or fight. Instead, he chose to run and hold.
Broner wasn't just a loser—he was a loser who looked bad. Worse, he was a loser who looked boring.
Network television has taken away some of Broner's prodigious self-expression. No one expected he'd look so lost without his obscenity-laced high jinks. What's left is a safety-first boxer, a Broner who isn't capable of entertaining us—inside the ring or out.
In truth, Broner isn't made for network TV. He's too brash, too outspoken, too bold, too vulgar, too everything for the kind of viewers who might accidentally stumble upon NBC's boxing programming.
Broner is for cable, for the Internet, for short videos streaming to our cellphones and tablets and for the streets. In short, for every place but where he is right now.
"I'm OK. My kids OK. I'm financially fine. It's OK," a sneering Broner said after the fight on the broadcast. "At the end of the day, everybody in here will take my autograph and take a picture with me."
It was classic Broner bravado, albeit a bit hollow after his dismal showing against Porter. It's one thing to be flippant and sharp-tongued when you're winning fights. Winners write their own rules. When you try to pull off the same attitude after coming up short, fans aren't nearly so accommodating.
It's unclear what's next for Broner. His two appearances in prime time on NBC show what high hopes Premier Boxing Champions and promoter Al Haymon had for the young star. After an unimpressive win and an even less impressive loss, it's time to rebuild—both in the ring and beyond.
For the first time, one of Haymon's chosen few have fallen short. He now faces his sternest test yet as boxing's new creative force: figuring out how to redeem the clown prince who looks more and more like a mere clown.
Jonathan Snowden covers combat sports for Bleacher Report.