Cincinnati's Adrien "The Problem" Broner won the fight Saturday night, but he lost the title.
Broner, contracted to defend his WBO Junior Lightweight title (130 pounds) against Vicente Escobedo on Saturday in a fight broadcast nationally on HBO, failed to make weight, coming in more than three pounds heavy.
The undefeated Broner automatically lost his title, while Escobedo, who faced more risk fighting the heavier Broner, had the option to cancel the fight. After negotiating substantial additions to his share of the purse, Escobedo agreed to proceed.
No longer a title fight, the 12-round bout began with a pattern Broner continued throughout the night: jabbing low to the body early each round, then mixing his punches — crosses, hooks and uppercuts with both hands — with jabs higher up. Broner struck at first in single or a few shots, but increasingly unleashed torrents of hard shots with speed and power in both hands throughout the first four rounds.
Both men landed punches, but Broner landed significantly more jabs and the more telling power shots. For four rounds Escobedo stayed in the center of the ring with Broner, though faring worse in the exchanges.
At the end of the fourth round, both men headed back to their corners. Broner gave Escobedo a long look then told his trainer, "I'm going to walk him down." Calm in his corner, Broner remained sitting until the final moment when the bell signaled the beginning of the round.
Broner's pace and intensity ratcheted up. The battered Escobedo barely forced his way off the ropes through a barrage of punches, circling not Broner but the whole ring, his back to the ropes.
The final, measured attack saw Escobedo bent double, nose bloodied, unable to respond to Broner's attack. The referee halted the bout in the fifth round as Escobedo's corner threw in the towel.
"It was time to open up," Broner said after the fight. "I was opening up every round, getting closer and closer. He's a world class fighter who has a chance win a world title one day, but today was not his day."
"I felt his power. He's fast and hard to hit," Escobedo said. "I did my job and came in here like a professional and he didn't. That's the past, and he was the better man tonight."
For Broner, the TKO victory means he can explore bigger possibilities in higher weight classes as an unbeaten, phenomenally skilled, yet only modestly, tested pound-for-pound candidate.
Broner's trainer Mike Stafford said Broner "can be comfortable at 135; he can be comfortable at 140. But right now, we're going to . We're not going up two weight classes because we don't have to."
Broner, who previously has said he might go as high as 154, said, "The task only gets bigger from here, going to lighweight. We'll give them all hell: [Antonio] DeMarco can be next, after that, [Juan Manuel] Marquez, [Brandon] Rios ... anybody."
Broner's failure to make weight on Friday has been criticized by many and interpreted to reflect his attitude toward life both in and outside the ring. It's too soon and the situation too complex — networks, promoters, pundits, the fighters and camps are all in play — to reach definitive conclusions about how Broner will continue to develop as a person and a fighter.
In the meantime, the measured approach of Broner and his team gives him the best chance to demonstrate possibly elite skills against more challenging competition.
Three other Cincinnati-area fighters on the undercard won their bouts Saturday night, including middlewight Chris Pearson, junior lightweight Brandon Bennett and heavyweight Danny Calhoun.
The Cincinnati pugilist (23-0, 19 knockouts), who lives in Westwood, faces Vicente Escobedo (26-3, 15 knockouts). The fight will be broadcast on HBO's Boxing After Dark and represents the next step in a career that may propel Broner into the highest levels of the sport. This will be Broner's fifth appearance on HBO.
Broner is the youngest current U.S. title holder after winning the WBO Junior Lightweight belt with a third-round knockout of Vicente Rodriguez last November. His first title defense came in February of this year, also in Cincinnati. He easily defeated Eloy Perez, prompting additional fan, cable and promoter attention. His second title defense this Saturday may be a turning point, leading to the next tier of exposure and reward — and perhaps much tougher fights.
Escobedo is a 2004 US Olympian, though he did not medal. He's fighting at 130 pounds, having tasted defeat as a pro at 135 pounds in a split-decision title fight loss versus Michael Katsidis in 2009. After four victories in the new weight class, the 30-year-old Escobedo now faces one of the most highly touted prospects in boxing today in Broner.
In the ring, Broner's athleticism, speed, power and preparation, as well as his side-on fighting style and offense-from-defense positioning, have led to comparisons with current pound-for-pound great Floyd Mayweather, Jr. Broner says he doesn't watch tape of opponents but prefers to adapt in the ring.
Outside the ring, he's known for a flamboyant style that also has brought comparisons to Mayweather's flashy persona, but Broner shows adaptability in the arena of life as well. Broner describes strong and apparently nourishing interests, including recording his own music. So far, when it's time to focus — in the ring or answering serious questions about his claims to elite status — the 22-year-old can be frank, direct and thoughtful.
But he's also being called over-the-top. A rare talent. And, of course, undefeated.
Cincinnati sports fans are on notice that maybe, just maybe, they have a new, hometown, world-class athlete worth following on the international stage.
Broner-Escobedo headlines an extensive undercard on Saturday, July 21. U.S. Bank Arena doors open at 5 pm. HBO Boxing After Dark coverage begins at 10 pm. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster.