The Future of Boxing?
Jay Caspian Kang [ARCHIVE]
February 14, 2013
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When we first meet, Adrien Broner, the 23-year-old undefeated lightweight champion who calls himself the future of boxing, asks if I'm a faithful guy. We have just shook hands in the locker room of a Bally's fitness center in Colorado Springs, and although it's freezing and overcast outside and swampy and flora-lit inside, Broner wears an oversize pair of Ray-Bans. I have no idea how to answer his question, so I just sort of shrug. He says, "I knew it. I knew you must be about the hoes because you look too much like Jeremy Lin to not be about the hoes." Before I can defend my fidelity or point out just how very little I look like Jeremy Lin, Broner asks his follow-up: "So you're about that Colorado life, huh?" Again, I shrug, not really knowing what he means. Broner pulls his shades down and peers into my eyes, doing his best impression of a concerned optometrist. He says, "You seem very aware that weed is now legal here in Colorado." I tell him that I'm tired and that my stoned voice is just some vocal chord thing. Broner laughs, puts his Ray-Bans back on, and says, "I'm just fucking with you. We're going to have some fun."

We are surrounded by eight remarkably fit men, all of whom have traveled to Colorado Springs to participate in Broner's training camp. They are all young — even by athletes' standards — and they all seem obsessed with their physiques. "My six-pack is showing out," one says. Another responds, "My eight-pack is showing out, bruh." A couple of the fighters sneak onto the locker room's scale, looking over their shoulders for cut man Levi Smith, who they know will chastise them for any excess pounds. Among friends, in training, Broner does not especially stand out — the self-professed missing puzzle piece of boxing, the man who has pledged to generate a billion dollars in pay-per-view revenue, does not yet have, as they say, an aura. From a pure physical standpoint, Broner does not look particularly imposing — he's cut, of course, but not as impressively as some of his training camp mates. Although he's plenty big for a lightweight, or even a junior welterweight, he still stands a mere 5-foot-7. He has that blocky head, unique to boxers, where it almost seems like the years of wearing headgear during sparring sessions have squared off the corners of the skull. His hands, I notice, are remarkably small.

This past November, Adrien Broner electrified the boxing world when he stopped tough-as-shit Mexican fighter Antonio DeMarco in the eighth round of their championship fight. In past bouts, Broner's reputation had him pegged as a brash, promising, but ultimately unproven young fighter who had probably watched a few too many 24/7's. DeMarco vs. Broner changed all that as Broner displayed elite speed on the outside and suprising power on the inside. He marshaled the ring with a confidence that far exceeded his relative professional inexperience. By the end of the fifth round, DeMarco had been battered into a bloody mess. By the end of the sixth, his corner asked if he wanted the fight stopped. DeMarco held on gamely till the eighth, but his trainer ultimately stopped the beating. It takes a hell of a champ to stop a game, determined fighter from Tijuana. Broner did that. And perhaps, most shockingly, he made it look easy.

Broner's doubters, who had pointed out his easy fight schedule and the relentlessness of Golden Boy and HBO's hype machine, had to step back and reconsider. Nearly every major fight outlet published a piece that proclaimed Broner to be the future of the sport.

This morning, the fighters in Broner's camp turn in eight miles on the treadmill. They jog side by side and stare out at the gym's parking lot. Broner runs with his earbuds in and a faded USO headband. The Ray-Bans stay on. After about a minute of sprinting, Broner hops his feet off to the side of the tread and starts to dance. He then yells to nobody in particular: "Nobody can beat me. Nobody works harder than me. People have doubted me forever, but now they're going to know." Declaration finished, at least for now, Broner hops off the back of the machine and does 20 quick, short-burst push-ups. Before climbing back onto the treadmill to start the process all over again, Broner points wildly at himself and crosses his arms around his chest, striking his best Run-D.M.C. pose.

Nobody in the gym pays Broner much attention. An old Army vet riding a nearby exercise bike chuckles and says, "He's certainly a character."

Is this really the future of boxing?

Adrien Broner grew up in the Westwood neighborhood of Cincinnati, one of 12 kids born to Thomas Knight. All of Broner's siblings learned how to fight with gloves on, but none quite took to it like Adrien and his twin brother, Andre. At the age of 6, Broner had impressed his father enough that Knight brought him to Mike Stafford's gym and claimed that he had twin boys who could whip anyone Stafford put in front of them. The boast held true until Stafford had Broner fight Rau'shee Warren, a future three-time Olympian who also made the trip to Broner's camp in Colorado Springs. Warren beat up Broner and made him cry. After that, Stafford wondered if the twins and their father would return. "We showed up the next day," Thomas said.

Mike Stafford has trained fighters in Cincinnati for about 30 years. He has coached amateur champions, Olympians, and now Broner. But his connection with Broner runs deeper, and not only because of Broner's seemingly unlimited potential within the sport. As a boxing coach who works with kids of all ages, Stafford has had a firsthand look into the urban decay that has crippled the city. "When Adrien was 8 years old," Stafford explained, "I'd drive the van out to his neighborhood and there'd be 20, 30 kids trying to get to the gym. I'd make some of them run down to the gym cause they couldn't all fit. Out of all those kids, there's only about four or five left. The rest are dead or in jail or running the streets. Adrien's one of the only ones left."

As a kid, Broner's boxing career oftentimes took a backseat to his activities on the streets of Cincinnati. "I did everything you can name," Broner says, "but when I got in trouble the last time, my mom told me, 'You can't be king of the streets and king of the ring, you gotta pick one.' I had to make a choice. I chose the ring." Before Broner came to prominence, Stafford helped produce another promising young prospect named Ricardo Williams. Like Broner, Williams started fighting before the age of 10. But unlike Broner, whose success has come as a professional, Williams turned in one of the most storied amateur careers in recent Amerian history, capped off by a silver medal at the 2000 Olympics. But after he turned pro, Williams's career was derailed by trouble with the law. In 2005, he was convicted for conspiracy to distribute cocaine and sentenced to...
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