(Feb 16, 2013; Atlantic City, NJ, USA; Adrien Broner [red trunks] and Gavin Rees [blue/red trunks] trade punches during their 12 round lightweight bout at Boardwalk Hall. Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports)
Rarely do you see a fighter win the first two rounds of a bout, as Gavin Rees did Saturday night on HBO against Adrien Broner, yet still remain so convinced that the expected mismatch will emerge soon enough. The 80-1 underdog Rees fought his little ass off, and still got TKO'd by the vastly superior talent before the bout reached its halfway point. It was nice to see a bit more competition than most anyone expected, but the conclusion was no less forgone.
Here we are, then, in no substantially different a spot with Broner than we were before: He's a real talent, a possible future cornerstone of the sport with huge HBO backing, yet with no obvious challenge at lightweight who's willing to face him. Maybe one of those things can change soon. But one of them probably won't — if anything, Rees' dalliance with success against Broner gave us a glimpse into a quality that he hasn't had to demonstrate, so the "real talent" is here to say and further enhanced.
ADRIEN BRONER – GAVIN REES
Broner gets hit so rarely thanks to his good defense that you might wonder whether he can take a shot. Rees hit him a decent amount, but none of it affected Broner remotely — which we've been given hints of in the past on the rare occasions when Broner was punched here or there. Rees is no big puncher, but if you were looking for a chink in the Broner armor around his chin parts, the search was fruitless at least for Saturday. The speed, defense and power have always been evident, and the ability to take a shot was yet more evident against Rees.
In retrospect, maybe those of us expecting a total blowout should've seen how Rees could get some work done. Against good defensive fighters, combination punching has always been key, and Rees would double up his left hooks to the head and body or fire other flurries where something landed, often his looping right. Rees also has shown off quicker hands in recent fights, and while he didn't match Broner, he was quick enough to connect. And he was more clever on defense than he used to be, and has shown off his determination even in the face of punishment.
That worked out swell for him for two rounds; Broner shook his head in disdain more than he punched back. In the 3rd round, Broner adjusted the distance and smacked Rees with a couple punches that made him think twice about charging in like he had been. Rees' pipsqueak stature no doubt exacerbated things for the oddsmakers; even when he fought at junior welterweight, British commentators compared his size aptly to that of a fetherweight rather than a 140-pounder. I barely mentioned Rees' size in my preview because he's always overcome it, but the slight distance adjustment Broner made in the 3rd was telling.
The 4th brought a right uppercut that put Rees flat on his back and sent his girlfriend scurrying for the exit, while after the round his trainer Gary Lockett contemplated tossing in the towel. Shortly after a left to the body put an unawares Rees down again when he apparently thought the ref was going to step in on the break, and Lockett asked for it to be stopped as Broner put together a finishing assault.
As before, I'd be interested in seeing Rees against any other lightweight in the world than Broner, and his gutsy performance amplified that wish. Broner, though, should only get this one showcase-style bout. The circumstances on this one coming in — HBO/Golden Boy tried for Ricky Burns, Burns went off to fight Miguel Vazquez instead, HBO/GBP already had a date lined up for Broner, HBO probably doesn't want to lose the ratings-generating Broner to Showtime where most GBP/Al Haymon-advised fighters go, they found a top 10 lightweight to take the assignment, he did better than people expected — are such that I can give Broner-Rees a pass. I wouldn't want to see another Rees-level bout next for Broner. Maybe that means Yuriorkis Gamboa, maybe it means the winner of Burns-Vazquez, maybe it means a move up to 140. Broner may only be 23 years old, but it's time to see this whole "future of boxing" notion get closer to the present.
SAKIO BIKA – NIKOLA SJEKLOCA
File this one under, "Would you rather see any boxing that none?" It wasn't much to see, this late substitute as a co-feature for the sidelined Johnathon Banks-Seth Mitchell rematch. Sjekloca was sturdy, would land the occasional hard body shot or looping right, but didn't win a round of the 12 on my card and won zero, one and two on the official scorecards.
In that Bika showed off some polish — for so much of his career, he's thrown punches with the technique of a teenager in a backyard swimming pool noodle fight — I suppose it offered SOMETHING. But does anyone think this version of Bika has any singificantly improved chance of beating Andre Ward in a rematch?
Because Bika is next in line for Ward's super middleweight title, per the alphabet belt gang. There's this view from some defenders of the sanctioning outfits that we get good fights from mandatories via the alphabets. We do, occasionally. But we also get fights like this ordered again and again and again and again, especially of late. If the alphabets have a matchmaking success rate no better than a coin flip, it's hard for me to see the virtue in them.
There are fights I'd like to see Bika in, especially now that he's not head butting and mauling quite as much – in this fight he's the one who suffered a head butt injury in the 9th round. Adonis Stevenson comes to mind. Andre Dirrell, maybe. Edwin Rodriguez — some of the younger, less tested guys. The winner of Carl Froch-Mikkel Kessler II, maybe. But I'd rather Ward dump his belt than face Bika again.