I remember the first time I saw junior lightweight contender Adrien Broner fight. It was November 2008 and he took apart Terrance Jett en route to a sixth-round knockout in his fourth professional fight on the Ricky Hatton-Paulie Malignaggi undercard at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
Shelly Finkel, Broner's manager at the time, told me a bit about him and I was interested in seeing him for myself. Broner looked like a can't-miss prospect that night -- and has most nights since then.
Two weeks later, I was back at the MGM Grand for Manny Pacquiao's demolition of Oscar De La Hoya and Broner was again on the undercard. I had just finished making an ESPN appearance to preview the main event and was still in the media center when Broner's fight began airing on the big screen. I stood and watched the bout with former HBO Sports president Ross Greenburg, who asked what I knew about Broner. I gave him the lowdown and we watched as Broner destroyed Scott Furney in the first round to move to 5-0 with five knockouts.
It was hard not to be impressed with Broner's speed, power and poise. I said to Greenburg that I was quite sure in a couple of years Broner would be on HBO. So it's no surprise that the fighter's last two bouts were aired by the network -- a close decision in a dreadful fight with former junior featherweight titlist Daniel Ponce De Leon in March and a sensational first-round knockout of Jason Litzau in June.
Now Broner (21-0, 17 KOs), who turned 22 in July, will be back on HBO for a third consecutive appearance -- some say that is due to manager Al Haymon's massive influence at HBO -- when he faces obscure Vicente Rodriguez (34-2-1, 19 KOs) of Argentina for a vacant 130-pound title on Nov. 26.
"My first world title fight, it surprisingly came so fast, but we knew it would come sooner or later," Broner told me Tuesday as he was on his way to the U.S. Bank Arena for the formal news conference to announce the Rodriguez bout. "I'm definitely pumped for it and ready to rise to the occasion."
We can debate all we want about the merits of Broner facing an unknown fighter on HBO, or even the fact that he was invited back by the network for the Litzau bout after the abominable fight with Ponce De Leon. But one thing is quite certain: Broner is a tremendous talent in the Floyd Mayweather Jr. mold and might already be the best fighter in the world in the weak 130-pound weight division. He is nicknamed "The Problem," presumably because he is going to be a problem for opponents for many years to come.
He is also another in a long line of fighters to come out of Cincinnati, where the fight with Rodriguez will take place as part of a split-site tripleheader that will also feature 2008 U.S. Olympian Gary Russell Jr. (18-0, 10 KOs) against an opponent to be determined, with the televised main event being Saul "Canelo" Alvarez (38-0-1, 28 KOs) in a junior middleweight title defense against Kermit Cintron (33-4-1, 28 KOs) from Mexico.
Broner is young and excitable. He says some dopey things -- just watch his YouTube videos -- and can talk trash with the best of them. He's a very confident kid, to put it mildly, but a playful one, too.
He is also quite aware of the great lineage of Cincinnati boxing and the fact that he is next in line.
It's rare to hear a young fighter invoke the name of all-time great Ezzard Charles, the former heavyweight champion, but Broner knows all about the Hall of Famer -- probably because Charles' nickname was "The Cincinnati Cobra."
Broner is also friends with Cincinnatians Ricardo Williams Jr., a 2000 Olympic silver medalist who never came close to living up to his potential, and Rau'shee Warren, a three-time U.S. Olympian who will go for gold next year in London.
"I grew up with Ricardo and I've known Rau'shee since I was 6," Broner said. "He's like a big brother to me."
There is also former longtime heavyweight contender Larry Donald, whom Broner said "still comes around and trains a little bit." And former heavyweight titleholder Tony Tubbs, whom Broner also sees from time to time.
He also knows former bantamweight champ Tim Austin, who carried the nickname "The Cincinnati Kid" and headlined the last HBO card in the city all the way back in 2001.
"He used to come to the gym and spar when I was like 12," Broner said, "and some of the kids would get some rounds in with him, but I didn't spar with him because I saw that he hit too hard."
And then there is the most famous of all Cincinnati fighters: Hall of Fame former junior welterweight champion Aaron Pryor.
"I see him all the time," Broner said.
Pryor is a regular at Broner's fights. He has walked him into the ring, and Broner said he will do so again when he fights Rodriguez for the belt.
"It lifts me because he was so great in the sport, and having him behind me, it makes me go out there and try to accomplish what he did or even better," Broner said. "That is what I am pushing to do, and I am on the right path -- 21-0, 17 knockouts. I will just keep working hard and let's try to make the best of it. I don't see nobody who's going to be beat me in this weight class or will be a challenge. But whoever they bring me, we will see what they will do. I am just here to get the victory and look good."
And do it at home.
"My name is buzzin' through the city now," Broner said. "And I think people want to come out and see me fight and take this title."