By Tyson Bruce
The iconic actress Marilyn Monroe once said, “Only the public can make a star. It’s the studios who try to make a system out of it.” The world of prize fighting often operates from a similar platform, with some fighters attaining stardom because of a natural magnetism with the public, while others earn celebrity over a long and difficult career, and then there are the fighters whose promoters and TV networks, often unsuccessfully, try and manufacture into stars like so many sausages on a conveyor belt.
This is partially necessary of course because boxing is not a team sport and selling one athlete as an attraction is much more difficult than selling lets say a brand that has a history, tradition and geography all working in its favor. The ability for a single athlete to transcend a sport and gain the admiration and affection of the masses is a rare and often fleeting quality.
However, in the often-illogical world of big-time professional boxing, where promoters/networks are always talking about making the sport more mainstream, they often seem to nominate strange candidates for the ‘cross over’ process. Remember the one million dollar checks HBO was giving Andre Berto, who couldn’t sell out his hometown with free comps, to whack out hopeless opponents like poor old Freddy Hernandez? What Berto had done to deserve such a lofty paycheck and, in hindsight, why they were convinced he was the next big thing is anyone’s guess.
The latest and most controversial fighter of this variety is twenty four year old Adrien “The Problem” Broner, an unquestionably talented athlete whose personality and behavior is so repulsive that he makes a drunken Mel Gibson rant seem charming. Can they possibly make such an overwhelmingly polarizing figure into a star that the mainstream public will feel confident in spending their sparse and hard earned dollars on? It’s certainly won’t be for lack of trying because even though Broner’s competition has been modest at best, phrases like “boxing showman”, “future boxing superstar” and “the kid who would be king” have all recently been used to describe his standing in the sport.
The fighter with which Broner is most often compared to is none other than boxing’s most famous figure, Floyd Mayweather Jr. The comparison seems natural, as Floyd is nearing the end of his illustrious career and Golden Boy and Al Haymon will soon need another fighter that can fill the stardom gap left in America. When people see Adrien Broner they make an immediate connection with Mayweather, whom he openly refers to as his idol and a “big brother” figure.
Broner is often criticized for doing a Floyd Mayweather impersonation and after watching the first episode of ‘All Access Broner-Maidana’ it’s hard to argue with that one. Broner talks smack like Floyd, fights like Floyd, hits the bag like Floyd, does the pads like Floyd, cripes he even dresses like the man. However, the one thing Broner may want to do is look a little deeper into the history of Floyd’s career. Mayweather has been in the limelight for so many years now that people seem to forget about the guy who existed before the Oscar De La Hoya fight. Prior to his conquest of Oscar he was the last fighter that experts would have predicated for mainstream stardom.
When Mayweather came out of the Olympics he was a coveted and prodigious talent and within a couple professional fights it was plainly obvious that his talent was of a potential ‘hall of fame’ level. He also had that million-dollar smile and quick wit that are essential for becoming more than just a boxer. Bob Arum (Mayweather’s old promoter) attempted to brand Floyd as the new Sugar Ray Leonard—a cookie cutter kid with a bright smile—who could end up on Sprite commercials one day.
However, two things made that a doomed strategy: Mayweather’s natural attraction to the dark and more controversial side of celebrity and Oscar De la Hoya, who really was like the second coming of Sugar Ray. De La Hoya was a natural celebrity in the most conventional and accessible way possible and every other fighter of his era (even the one’s who beat him) suffered in comparison. This caused an immediate rift between Mayweather and Arum because he felt that he was being under promoted and under paid. He famously turned down a twelve million dollar contract with HBO in 1999 labeling it as “slave wages” and who can forget about that first nasty initial split with his father as head trainer. These public outbursts clashed with Arum’s original vision of his future and the power struggle between the two men dramatically affected his potential drawing power. Early Mayweather fights on HBO often took place in obscure locations in front of very sparse crowds.
Eventually, Mayweather got his big break when he took on his long time nemesis Oscar De La Hoya. New marketing platforms like 24/7 introduced the public to Mayweather’s new ‘Money’ persona that is part Ali, the flashy trash talk and ego, and part Mike Tyson, the tabloid controversy, which finally made him into the mainstream star he is today. However, the real factor that got him where he is today and the attribute that Broner should emulate most is his work ethic and consistency. Mayweather, even with all of his tabloid controversy and outgoing personality, is not a natural star. Floyd had to force the public to accept him as one by always-kicking ass and never losing. Say what you want about the guy personally, but no one can deny his professionalism and dedication to his craft.
One can already make the argument that Broner’s downward tailspin has already begun. He looked like he was pushing about 180 pounds in the Mayweather-Alvarez All Access program and his proclivity towards partying doesn’t seem limited to just dancing and tossing around money like it does for Mayweather. Within the last two years he has got arrested for a fight in a nightclub and a rash of ridiculous videos, which include him taking a crap and flushing money in a Popeye’s bathroom and performing cunnilingus on a stripper have made there way online. And who can forget about the fantastically nauseating sex tape that, by all reports, he leaked himself? All of this seems more like a recipe for a future prison sentence and not future greatness.
While Mayweather’s stick certainly isn’t for everyone and he can at times behave ‘inappropriately’, he has never come across as this desperate and he usually knows where to draw the line. Broner, on the other hand, comes across as wholly unlikeable and doesn’t seem to understand that doing these kinds of things isn’t making him more fans or making him any more famous—it’s just alienating the few fans he already has and making him more unmarketable in the future. The punch line has landed, but the problem is nobody’s laughing. But hey, we live in often-absurd times and maybe if Broner keeps winning he will surprise us all and become a cross over star, unprotected three-way sex tape be damned!