What’s The Problem: Can Adrien Broner Find Some Consistency?

Adrien Broner has never had a problem convincing us that he has the look of a superstar. His issues usually arise when he steps into the ring. It’s then that he has a hell of a time convincing us that he belongs among the best fighters in the world. For whatever reason, Broner’s performances in the ring have been as erratic as his actions outside it. For all of Broner’s skills — the electric handspeed, the combination punching, the reflexes — there has always been something undeniably off about him. Even when he’s won, we’re often left scratching our heads, wondering how the hell he made it look so difficult.

Some nights he seemed to wander away, like against Paulie Malignaggi, where he let the badly faded veteran nearly squeak out an upset by simply being disinterested. Other nights, it’s been his maddening habit of holstering his guns, refusing to throw punches when he could easily put his stamp on a fight by upping his output. Too often, he attempts to simply shrug off punches using a shoulder-roll technique and trying to counterpunch off of it. But that means putting away his best trait, his offensive prowess. In a sense, he’s often fighting counterintuitively.

Then, there are nights like the one he had against Marcos Maidana. He appeared utterly clueless that he was in the ring with a violent, vicious puncher who cared very little about looking crude and who blitzed him from the opening seconds. Broner took an absolute beating and looked completely bewildered by what was happening. He tried to bail out of the fight by feigning death when Maidana headbutted him, but referee Laurence Cole doesn’t concern himself with things of that nature.

But something interesting happened toward the end of that Maidana fight, the one where he suffered his first and only professional loss — the best of Adrien Broner came roaring out. By this point, he was hopelessly behind, the victim of multiple knockdowns. It seemed way more likely that he’d get knocked out than pull off a come-from-behind victory. What actually happened was that he began to fight his ass off. He flurried away, nailing Maidana with pretty much every power punch he threw. And though he continued to take too many blows, he fought on pure heart. He was angry. He was violent. He was entertaining.

Saturday on NBC, he’ll face his most dangerous opponent since Maidana in the hard-charging Shawn Porter. Porter, like Maidana, does not mess around. He fights to break an opponent’s soul with unrelenting pressure and hard power shots. His gameplan will be to smother Broner until he breaks or until he lands something that turns Broner’s legs to jelly.

He’s exactly the type of fighter that could give Broner nightmares. Porter takes a good shot, throws a good shot, and possesses an indefatigable will. How Broner deals with him will depend entirely on which version of “The Problem” shows up. The guy who fought Malignaggi and Maidana is going to be in trouble.

But if the whirlwind who destroyed Eloy Perez, Jason Litzau, and Tony Demarco shows up? Well, then we’ve got ourselves a fight. The “Premier Boxing Champions” match-ups have generally had mixed results, but this is probably the most interesting one so far. A lot of that lies with the fact that Porter is a very good fighter, and Broner has shown signs, albeit just glimpses, of being elite.

Broner’s over-the-top persona is all part of the plan. Like his hero, Floyd Mayweather, he is acutely aware of how his behavior affects his image. It’s an on-the-nose attempt at success through ostentatiousness. And to some degree, it has worked for him. Broner is very good at keeping his name in the news, regardless of whether or not he has a fight in the works. But at some point, he needs to prove that he’s got the goods. We’re past the point of wondering when it will happen, and we’re now on to whether or not it will happen at all.

This fight is actually a perfect starting point for Broner to do just that. While the bout will be contested at what’s becoming way too common in the sport –a catchweight of 144 lbs. instead of at the welterweight limit of 147 — a weight-drained Porter is a way better fighter than a faded John Molina, the light-hitting Carlos Molina, or perennial ESPN fighter Emmanuel Taylor. Porter is extremely dangerous, he’s in his prime, and he’s desperately hungry for success.

Broner has an opportunity to silence the critics who claim he is simply an overrated fighter who cannot defeat an A-level opponent. The most important thing for him is to know exactly who he will be facing — a man who will be in his chest all night long. If Broner goes into his shell, he’s going to lose. He might even get stopped. But if he opens up and uses all of those fantastic weapons he has, he could finally make good on that talent.

He’s developed his persona exactly the way he wants. He looks the part. The only thing left is to prove it in the ring. Fans love a guy who can back up the talk.

We forget pretty quickly about the ones who can’t.

Image: Adrien Broner enters the ring prior to his bout with John Molina, Jr. (Credit: Harry How/Getty Images)