Not everyone quite saw it that way, however. The venerable, deeply checkered history of the sweet science is full of pugs the fans have loved to hate. Many of the most charismatic fighters have been widely despised. This includes "the Greatest" himself, a.k.a. Cassius Clay, detested as much for his perceived lack of "Yes, sir," "No, sir" humility as his refusal to join the Army because he had "no quarrel with them Vietcong." There's also Mike Tyson, current teddy bear but once the ear-biting "baddest man on the planet." The fact that all of the above are African-Americans may not be coincidental. In his junior league, dumbed-down way, Adrien Broner is in this tradition; he's the heel-of-the-moment. Vegas had AB as a five-to-one favorite against Maidana, a near sure thing to successfully deploy his quick pinpoint counter rights and vaunted "Philly Shell" shoulder roll against the Argentine's kill-or-be-killed brawler style. Among a wide cross section of the sport's ever-dwindling fan base, however, the Problem was 100-to-1 to have his trap shut, the more dramatically the better.
Much of the enmity stems from Broner's relentless internet presence. Likely the most cyberized fighter in history, in a number of Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube posts Broner evinces a (vaguely) redeeming crude humor, such as the time he filmed himself taking a dump at a roadside Popeye's. "In Popeye's, taking a shit," AB deadpans as he gets up to reveal a pile of $20 bills in the bowl below. "I'm even shitting out money," he exclaims, flushing down the cash. Less amusing, however, are the videos that have regularly appeared on WorldStarHipHop, the hood Candid Camera-style website best known for posting humiliating street altercations. In one of these vids, Broner, the unmarried father of five, was filmed on a club stage throwing dollars into the crowd before pausing to go down on a stripper. After another posting showed the champ getting a blow job from "two bad b*tches," Broner offered a public apology for his seeming endorsement of unprotected sex. The show of remorse was necessary, AB said, because "kids look up to me. I'm a role model."
It isn't like any of this behavior truly upsets the fight fan. This is boxing, forever on the outward edge. Who really cares if AB (who was put out that Maidana's inability to "understand fucking English" cramped his trash-talking style) made such a big, gross show of allegedly snatching opponent Paulie Malinaggi's ex-girlfriend in the run-up to their June 2013 Brooklyn title fight, causing the usually streetwise Paulie to plead "don't brag about taking my sidepiece." Indeed, the fight fan is not even bothered by the Problem's not-inconsiderable rap sheet, which features arrests for armed robbery and purse snatching. Even immaculate samurais like Bernard Hopkins, still fighting and winning at age 49, served his apprenticeship at Graterford, the Pennsylvania state correctional facility.
No, what bugs the fight fan is when a champion fails to make weight (as Broner did in 2012) and then, instead of showing sportsmanlike contrition, tweets pictures of Twinkies, saying, "I'm addicted LOL." What bugs the fight fan about Adrien Broner is his endless sycophantic claptrap about being Floyd Mayweather's "lil bro" successor when the record shows he hasn't beaten anyone better than Paulie, and that was close. Boxing might be a sordid business, but once the bell rings, it can reach a kind of elemental purity rarely found elsewhere, MMA included. That was what the Maidana fight was about. Broner might be good, even as good as he claimed. But was he serious?
Broner, age 13, after winning the Silver Gloves Tournament.
It was something to think about in Broner's dressing room before the fight as the genial Cincinnati cut-man Levi Smith wrapped the Problem's hands. When boxing's press section was filled by such stalwarts as Norman Mailer, A.J. Leibling, and Budd Schulberg, the wrapping of a fighter's hands, the preparation of the warrior, was often described in terms of a solemn ritual. The wrapping of Adrien Broner's hands proved to be a more raucous affair, as the fighter swiveled around in his seat, singing along with a blasting version of his own rap, "Make Me." As per the rules, a member of the Maidana corner was present during the hand-wrapping, just in case Levi Smith had any big ideas of troweling a layer of plaster of paris in with the gauze.
"You're Mexican, right," Broner said to the Maidana man. "So you got to be for Maidana. I get that. But I know, down deep, you're really a Broner fan. I can tell a Broner fan, whether you know it or not."
"What?" answered the mystified trainer, who was wearing a shiny maroon satin jacket with Marcos "El Chino" Maidana emblazoned on the back.
Broner reached out to touch the Maidana man's arm. "I know this is difficult for you to admit. But we're all friends here. We won't rat you out. We just want you to confess what you feel in your heart: You want me to win. You want me to beat Maidana's ass."
"You're nuts," the trainer said.
Broner shook his head slowly. "I understand. It is hard to admit the truth. But knowing you're with us means a lot. So thanks. Thank you very much."
An hour later, accompanied by rapper Lil Durk, Broner entered the ring at the Alamodome. The venue was a bit of a disappointment since the fight was originally scheduled for Vegas, a locale more suited to AB's fast-lane style. Still, the champ made do, arriving in a $6,000 custom-made, Italian-silk robe and matching trunks that glistened with 25,000 individually hand-sewn Swarovski crystals, spelling out ab and about billions. In comparison, Maidana might have picked up his workmanlike togs at Goodwill. The mere sight of Broner brought a cascade of boos. As the champion pranced about the ring thumping his gloves against his chest, the booing grew louder, a rising crescendo of animus.
A few days before, in the Denny's across from the Rivercenter hotel, Broner had told me, "There always got to be a bad guy, right? People boo, but they don't know the real me. They never gonna know the real me. Who I really am. They boo because there's a lot of people who just can't stand to see a brother from the hood have a good time. It don't bother me because I love my haters. Each and every one of them."
On fight night, it was something to see: Broner in the middle of the ring, his arms upraised, so happy amid the hate.
Then the bell rang. Broner came out to meet Maidana, the supposed "speed bump" who, as so many had hoped, hit the Problem in the mouth. He hit him time and time again. Two hours later, after 12 rounds of getting pummeled in a way no one had thought possible, Broner was in the emergency vehicle on that forlorn loading dock behind the Alamodome, his mother sitting beside him, holding his hand. For a moment he seemed a little boy again. It was a touching tableau, until the EMTs slammed the ambulance door.