Landing His Mark: Broner Decisions Santiago

By the time any of the first-person musings and pre-packaged on-screen interviews with Adrien Broner began rolling in from his latest training camp, there was nothing left to be shocked about. Broner had risen to fame (or ignominy, depending on your slant) on the delivery of a riffing, foul-mouthed, money-talks persona that could best be described as second-act Floyd Mayweather turned up to 11. Had Broner held a presser for the boxing media at a Cincinnati strip club and declared his initiation of a hostile takeover of Guam, no one would have batted an eye.

But lately, we’ve seen a different Broner — one seemingly overwhelmed by life, liquor, and libido. He has been rung up on criminal charges for multiple incidents, including sexual assault; missed court appearances, one of which Broner showed up for late that prompted the judge to say, “He looks like he’s drunk or hungover;” served jail time; been estranged from his wife, and spiraled into financial desperation. In recent years, his untouchable act has been pierced by public moments of frustration, despair, and even something resembling contrition, which has, at least at times, humanized him in ways many of us wouldn’t have expected he could show or we would perceive. Ahead of Saturday’s fight, Broner talked of a recommitment, a back-to-basics bootstraps-pulling that would balance his life and send him back into the company of boxing’s elite.

Now, anyone who has spent a hot minute around the sport knows the newfound humility of a fighter is nothing to be trusted. But Broner has been at this for a bit. His personal struggles have run a parallel path to his professional decline, and the combination of a career-long 25-month stretch of inactivity and an 0-2-1 record in his previous three fights set up Saturday’s fight as a crossroads that couldn’t have been more plainly obvious if Satan himself had been sitting ringside at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Connecticut, with a Stratocaster in hand. As Broner (34-4-1, 24 KO) walked out, sans entourage, to take on unknown Jovanie Santiago (14-0-1, 10 KO), you had to wonder if he finally saw what we see: a 31-year-old fighter with a little salt in his pepper, his waves a bit, er, choppier, his paunch more stubborn and his need for a positive moment more pressing than ever.

Spoiler alert: He did not. Instead of seizing the day, Broner all but seized up against Santiago, showing a casual disinterest toward throwing punches and an almost pathological compulsion to avoid a compelling performance, or at least a good fight. The cherry on the shit sundae served up to boxing fans in the Showtime main event was Broner’s skeevy unanimous decision over Santiago, despite his being outpunched (by a lot) in every round and outlanded in all but one.

It was that kind of night — one that has become all too frequent in the sport, and which is now something of a trademark for Broner. After being matched with Santiago, an utterly uncredentialed opponent fighting in the U.S. for the first time, and having the scheduled 140-pound fight recontracted at 147 pounds, Broner would have been right if he’d then felt an obligation to put on a show. Instead, he threw just 12 punches in the 1st round, landing none, and still somehow won the frame on two of the three judges’ scorecards.

You could argue that every ounce of entertainment value provided by the fight came from one of three sources:

  1. Santiago’s body punching. The 31-year-old Puerto Rican gave a game effort in pressing forward, hooking at Broner’s midsection and (falsely) assuming he’d be rewarded for his efforts at night’s end.
  2. Broner’s yelping. No other fighter shrieks, “I won’t stop until the world honors me as the Maria Sharapova of boxing!” while somehow saying nothing at all.
  3. Arthur Mercante’s condescending bullshit. On the one hand, this fight needed a distraction. On the other, Mercante’s smug and self-aggrandizing communication with the fighters — “Act like a professional,” “Be a gentleman,” and “That’s sportsmanship” — and constant ADHD impulses to almost constantly interfere with the action made me wistful for a time when boxing had the resources to build a cannon powerful enough to shoot a referee into the sun.

The non-spectacle threatened to grow interesting in a few other moments. At the end of the 3rd round, Santiago clubbed Broner well after the bell, drawing a point deduction and a Miss Manners scolding from Mercante (“I’m not gonna stand for this shit!”). In the 7th, with the fight half over, Broner finally upped his work rate to something bordering on respectable, and in the 8th he clipped Santiago with a sweeping counter left hook that caught the challenger off-balance. No damage, but it gave us a glimpse of what Broner might still be capable of were he to actually, you know… give a shit.

The joke’s on us, of course. Expecting Broner to reflect, to grow, to feel compelled to exist as anything other than the quintessential version of Adrien Broner — we’re talking A.B., “About Billions,” “The Can Man” — would be like expecting a sloppy drunk, oversexed zebra to change its stripes. What’s his motivation? For the love of Christ, the metaphor — proudly emblazoned on the man’s trunks — is as subtle as a cattle prod: “The Problem.”

After Broner received his gift-wrapped scores of 115-112 (huh?), 116-111 (smirk) and 117-110 (my new ska band name: Peter Hary’s Blackout Spells), he gave a postfight interview that began with a considered response, maybe even a flash of introspection. When Showtime’s Brian Custer asked him how the win felt after such a long wait, Broner paused and said, “It was cool.”

Two minutes later, he had managed to “motherfuck” boxing good guy Steve Farhood, shift responsibility for his own behavior to Showtime boss Stephen Espinoza and promoter Al Haymon for not keeping him busy, and then offer one final gem: “Listen, I ain’t gonna lie. For the rest of the weekend, we gonna pop bottles and cash checks and have sex.”

Whether that’s the real Broner or he’s just leaning into what sells hardly matters. Point is, he gets the grift. He knows a mark when he sees one. And any good confidence man knows you’ve gotta work an angle until it doesn’t work anymore.


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