We almost didn’t get Saturday night’s card on HBO because Adrien Broner unprofessionally failed to make weight and put his junior lightweight bout against Vicente Escobedo in jeopardy. Judging from the outcome, we might not have missed much. Certainly, Broner is a visibly sparkling talent whose performances are worth watching, and welterweight Keith Thurman showed on the undercard why he’ll be a prospect to watch.
But did we truly need to see a twice-overweight Broner combine his natural ability advantage with a size advantage to whoop a more honest, professional fighter who faced the risk of getting no payday had he turned the bout down? Did we need to see Thurman in a fight that ESPN2 would’ve gladly aired but that Showtime’s ShoBox program for developing prospects might well have rejected? Did we only get this card because of HBO’s continued affiliation with influential adviser Al Haymon, even with the network’s new leadership? Answers: No, no, and almost certainly.
KEITH THURMAN-ORLANDO LORA
Many boxing fans and writers greeted the replacement of Ross Greenburg as head of HBO’s boxing programming with Ken Hershman as a sign that some things would change. This card on paper — and, really, the first half of 2012 — suggest that there has been little tangible improvement at the network, which has had a decidedly “OK, could be worse” year so far and hasn’t broken the habits that were so unpopular under the old regime.
A bit over the halfway mark of 2012, seven Haymon-advised fighters have appeared on HBO so far, equal to the number that appeared on the network in 2010 and a few short of the 10 that appeared in 2011, two years in which some boxing scribes dubbed HBO the Haymon Boxing Organization and relentlessly hammered Greenburg for his close affilation with Haymon. Hershman is at least as close in that affiliation so far. (Of note: Showtime has more than doubled down on the annual Haymon-fest since its leadership change, with 13 Haymon fighters appearing on Showtime this year compared to four each in the previous two years. Some of that is because Haymon has restocked his stable with several prominent acquisitions and Showtime has added additional cards on Sho Extreme, but my perspective remains that if Haymon’s power level was overrated in the past two years, it might be underrated right now.)
As with those two previous years, some of HBO’s 2012 Haymon-eseque fights have been worthy, some not. Thurman-Lora was not. There has been no one comparable to Thurman’s low level of experience who has visited HBO’s airwaves this year, and absent that, it would be hard to isolate what exactly warranted his arrival at such an early juncture if not Haymon.
That said, Thurman has talent that is plain to behold and a personal charisma that offers something a little different from most. And Lora comported himself better than I expected. On paper, this was one of the worst HBO fights I’ve ever encountered; in practice, it was a notch or two above that.
Thurman had knocked out every opponent but one coming in, while Lora had struggled against journeymen. Thurman was connecting early against Lora on flush shots while circling backward and countering, and Lora was stalking with alacrity. For two rounds, Thurman totally dominated his slower, less skilled opponent, showing off pretty good defense against an offensive-minded Lora who wouldn’t take a punch for an answer.
In the 3rd and 4th, Lora began to connect some, and appeared to be gauging the timing of Thurman pretty well, cornering him and landing on him rather than merely cornering on him and getting countered. Still, at the end of the 3rd Thurman wobbled Lora with a combination, and by the 5th it was becoming clear that Thurman could stop Lora with a little extra oomph. That extra oomph came in the 6th, when Thurman caught Lora with a step-back counter left hook that essentially ended matters, followed by a right hand on a stumbling Lora that put him down, with Thurman leaning over to stare as Lora fell.
Lora got up, but walked over to his corner with his mouthpiece in hand. It’s still not totally clear what happened, whether the corner stopped it or Lora quit, but it looked a bit like Lora quit, which is too bad, considering the gutty performance from Lora to that point. All in all, though, he probably comes out a bit ahead of where I had him in my mind before, showing a bit more skill than I knew he had — and, remember, he was a late-ish replacement for Marcos Maidana, so anything you get from a replacement is gravy. He is, nonetheless, a gatekeeper at most until he proves otherwise.
Thurman might not have the punching power his record suggests, but he does have a decent scoop of the stuff, and while his speed is unexecptional, against Lora he looked a bit more skilled than I might’ve expected, which should help him when and if he meets a quality opponent who won’t go away over the course of a full fight. In his post-fight interview, he was eloquent and engaging — while the fans booed him for calling out Floyd Mayweather, an obviously premature target, I admired his ambition. He’s also a guitar-playing, Aristotle-reading power puncher, and that’s a cool enough angle to interest people in his “story.” I want to see more of Thurman. I just don’t want HBO paying for Thurman fights against opponents of this caliber.
ADRIEN BRONER-VICENTE ESCOBEDO
I had set up shop in the pro-Broner camp, but no longer. At his best, Broner is a “Did you just see that?” specimen and a funny cat, to boot. But he put both of those characteristics to cruel use Saturday against a far more sympathetic fighter in Escobedo.
Broner had spent the weeks leading up to the fight tweeting about his affection for Twinkees and other junk food, which made his subsequent inability to make weight Friday — he was off by 3.5 pounds — look like wanton disregard for his sport. Escobedo’s team said they’d take the fight the following day so long as Broner didn’t weigh in above 140, but then Broner weighed in above that, escalating to a reported 148 by Saturday afternoon. Nor, in interviews since the fight was agreed to, has Broner sounded like someone who had any intention of making weight properly or someone who has any remorse about it afterward.
Escobedo’s team rattled their saber as hard as they could, and nobody would’ve blamed them had they walked away from this fight. But in the end, Escobedo got himself a sizable compensation package — said to more than double his purse to $300,000, although accounts vary — and he took the fight. And why wouldn’t he? A noble stand would’ve kicked boxing in the ass and turned Escobedo into a minor folk hero. But a noble stand doesn’t get Escobedo a payday the likes of which he has surely never seen, and unlike Broner, he can’t count on Haymon escorting him back into the hands of HBO for yet another so-so (at best) fight with minimal risk.
The outcome was predictable. Escobedo was a decent opponent, and is a solid fighter, but he was the second straight borderline top-10 junior lightweight and realistically had no chance. He can box, but he can’t punch, and he offered none of the things that were offered by Daniel Ponce De Leon in a fight Broner critics still bring up as an unofficial loss — De Leon is tough, hits hard and puts serious pressure on his opposition with better-than-perceived boxing ability. Give Broner a size advantage over an opponent who shows him little he hasn’t seen before, and there’s not much expectation of competition.
Escobedo in the early rounds did connect more frequently on Broner than his recent past opposition, although one of those guys had been snorting cocaine shortly before the fight and the other guy was woefully out of his league. Escobedo has an educated jab and it would get down the middle against Broner on occasion, along with a few body shot flurries.
But Broner was far too quick and far too powerful. Make no mistake, he’s a total asshole, but he’s one of the best pure specimens in boxing and he’ll start with the equivalent of a seven-run 1st inning against nearly anyone he faces. The Esbobedo jab was getting through, but Broner’s was, too, and so were counters to Escobedo’s jab. He hurt Esbobedo in the 2nd, had him bleeding from the nose and mouth in the 4th and absolutely ravaged him in the 5th. It got real ugly, in fact, with Broner pouring it on to the head and body and with me worrying that Escobedo was taking one of those poundings that a fighter carries around with him for the rest of his career. Thankfully, the referee stopped it, although it’s not clear if he ever recognized that Escobedo trainer Joel Diaz had been trying to get him to stop it for a good while before he actually did.
The post-fight interviews were revealing. Broner has made a habit of post-fight interview antics, which some hate and some love. This one featured Broner pretending to propose to some lady only to instead ask her to brush his hair. It would’ve been cute if the goof-off personality Broner has cultivated hadn’t reared its head in such a cringe-worthy fashion before the fight, when Broner should’ve been taking boxing seriously rather than screwing around with junk food. (I don’t buy his “I’m a growing youth” excuse, by the way. As someone who has lost some weight in the last few years, I can tell you that, when trying to drop pounds, a Twinkee here or there can make a massive difference in whether you’re able to hit the target from one week to the next.)
Escobedo’s interview was more poignant. He composed himself early during it, but as the interview went on he became teary-eyed. He explained that he just wanted a fair fight. And he deserved one. The fight would likely have been little different whether Broner made weight or not. But every sportsman just wants a sporting chance, and Escobedo couldn’t even get that. He might yet be able to contend for a title against an actual junior lightweight given his current spot in the rankings, but that wasn’t enough of an enticement beforehand for Escobedo to turn down this fight. Alphabet titles are worth something to most boxers, sadly, but they aren’t the economic empowerment tool some would have you believe. Network money still is as good as it gets. And Escobedo couldn’t really afford to say “no” to that. Still, it would be great to see Escobedo achieve some of his goals, if for no other reason that he’s an honest pug.
Broner put HBO’s programming at risk Saturday with his weight problems, and one would hope that the network would look at him more skeptically next time, insisting on a tough fight if they have him on for his next bout. This is something of a test of the Hershman regime; will they say “yes’m” to whatever Haymon proposes for Broner next, or will they insist that Broner take an extremely serious fight and take that fight extremely seriously? Broner said he intends to move to lightweight, a divsion where there just aren’t that much better options than at 130. He mentioned Antonio DeMarco, who would more than do. Broner would almost certainly be a huge favorite in that fight, too. But at least he could come by that status honestly, if he bothered to make weight beforehand. Whateve he does next, he made a few less fans this weekend, and better hope that he can sell in his hometown of Cincinnati, with HBO and as a villain — because any hope of him being sold as a lovable miscreant just flew out the window. Missing weight, expressing zero remorse and wearing a “Free Money May” t-shirt in the ring (Mayweather being in jail for beating up a woman and all) will do that for you.