Two extremely talented, yet brash fighters who won world titles in their early twenties. One uses racial slurs to get under the skin of an opponent. The other pretends to forget the name of a foe during a pre-fight press conference. The former is revered throughout sport and the latter is described as “loathsome” and “scum”, amongst other even less salubrious epithets. Two sides of a very similar coin, Muhammad Ali and Adrien Broner. Welcome to the pick and choose world of boxing’s moral soapbox.
The furore surrounding Adrien Broner’s fight with Newbridge’s Gavin Rees on Saturday was truly a sight to behold. Grown men reduced to slinging childish insults that should have long since been left in the playground. And that was just the fans.
Message boards, blogs and even broadsheet newspapers were falling over themselves to label Cincinnati’s Broner as disrespectful. The “new Floyd Mayweather” had everyone’s undies in a bunch as Broner appeared to forget the Welshman’s name ahead of their Atlantic City showdown.
In reality Broner was simply using the time-honoured means of winding an opponent up. Contrary to popular belief the American can be eloquent and thoughtful but he plays the role of the “heel” as well as any professional wrestler and as a result he is very well paid for it.
The strange thing is not that Broner appears to have got under the skin of British fight fans in a way we haven’t seen since, well, the old Floyd Mayweather. There are plenty of justifiable reasons why this is the case. What I find odd is how certain fans apply this unwritten moral code.
The Guardian’s Kevin Mitchell wrote a faintly embarrassing piece which described Broner as a “world class clown” and grandly spoke of “the gulf in etiquette between British and American boxing”.
Mitchell is perfectly within his rights to dislike Broner but to paint British boxing as some sort of moral barometer is laughable. Lennox Lewis echoed Ali’s use of the “Uncle Tom” insult ahead of his fight with Frank Bruno. David Haye and Dereck Chisora proved that gentlemanly conduct was a far-flung ideal. Even going back through the ages we’ve had undignified rows. Cooper and Bugner, Kaylor and Christie, the list is endless.
Last night I saw one boxing writer act as judge and jury when he proclaimed on Twitter that he’d “just read that Broner spent 14 months in prison for attacking a 60 year-old lady and snatching her purse. What a horrible little **** he is”.
Broner did spend time in prison but he’s been very coy on the reasons why. In 2010 he was charged with attacking a woman and snatching her purse but he was never convicted. It would seem that 2 + 2 = 5 in this case. People are desperate to paint Broner as a menace to boxing and society in general.
I can understand why people are keen to protect the moral fibre of a sport which we all love. However, this stand loses the right to be taken seriously when we see how haphazardly the tenets of it are applied.
Mike Tyson, a convicted rapist is virtually deified by fans. Bernard Hopkins was sentenced to 18 years in jail for a string of felonies. He proclaimed to Joe Calzaghe that he’d “never let a white boy beat me” and yet we now seem to view him as a bespectacled sage of the game. Even one of boxing’s favourite sons, Ray Leonard was accused during divorce proceedings of hitting his wife.
The idea of Adrien Broner being disrespectful is easy to get on board with. If we look at little closer though he has yet to really scratch the surface of disrespect in comparison to other boxers. Ahead of his first fight with Sonny Liston, Muhammad Ali, then Cassius Clay, drove to Liston’s house at 3am and started yelling threats through a loud haler. After knocking Liston down during that bout Ali stood over the fallen champion, taunting him. I see no difference between that and Adrien Broner dancing around the ring as an opponent lies stricken on the canvas.
Much of how Adrien Broner conducts himself leaves me feeling slightly uncomfortable. Nonetheless, he is not the first fighter to behave in this manner and he certainly will not be the last. Fans should be free to criticise and root against him but they should keep one thing in mind. If you’re willing to impeach one man’s character you should be prepared to have some consistency in your accusations or you run the risk of making your grievances redundant.