Adrien Broner is a dick.
This won’t come as hold-the-presses news to anybody who follows either the fight game or the celebrity crime blotter. In the last few weeks alone, the dickishness of the four-time, four-weight-class world champion has gotten lots of ink. Some of his alleged dickishness is serious. Police in his hometown, Cincinnati, issued warrants for his arrest on felonious assault and aggravated robbery charges last week, and a related civil suit filed against Broner by alleged victim Christopher Carson asserts that Broner beat up and robbed Carson outside a bowling alley in January after the boxer lost thousands of dollars in bets to him earlier in the evening.
On a less felonious but still dickish note, video recently surfaced of Broner attempting to humiliate a Walmart cashier by making it rain in a checkout lane.
News on these displays of dickishness came right around the time I got my own minor but up-close-and-personal view of Broner-as-dick. It came earlier this month, when I showed up about five minutes early for an interview with Broner at the Bald Eagle Recreation Center, the Washington, D.C., gym where he’s been training for Friday’s fight against Ashley Theophane, to be broadcast on Spike. Not to compare myself to the beaten bowler or the embarrassed cashier, but I can now testify that reading about Broner’s dickishness and being on the business end of it are about as far apart as his career circa the summer of 2013—when he was an undefeated welterweight champ and The Ring’s #6 pound-for-pound fighter in the world—is from his career now that he has two losses on the books and is scrambling to find a basic cable channel willing to show his fights.
His professional decline notwithstanding, Broner still carries himself like a pay-per-view headliner. The interview had been in the works for more than a week; before I showed up, I was told by PR people that Broner had approved everything, and folks with his camp who were at the gym when I arrived told me that Broner knew I’d be coming. But as soon as I said hello to Broner, I learned he was no longer on board.
“No interviews!” Broner announced to seemingly everybody in the busy gym, then quickly walked away. I was left in awe. I hadn’t personally witnessed this level of dickish virtuosity from a celebrity since I saw Van Morrison scream maniacally at a roadie and order him off stage during a 2009 show at DAR Constitution Hall during his Astral Weeks tour. After the show, all anybody was talking about was Van the Man’s thrilling display of dickishness.
There are far less fascinating places to hang out than a fight club, and I really wanted to see if Broner would give me an encore if I hang around. So I took a seat and wondered how things were going to play out.
When I first learned that Broner had set up camp in D.C., I figured that meant he’d changed his stripes, mostly because I knew Broner came to town to train with Barry Hunter, whom I’ve long admired. Hunter, founder of Headbangers Boxing Club, is best known for grooming Anthony Peterson and his brother, Lamont. I first met the three of them in early 2002, when Hunter’s club was just for kids, and was based in the basement of Lincoln Junior High School in D.C.’s Columbia Heights neighborhood. Back then the Petersons, who were in foster care when Hunter taught them how to box, were the best fighters in the club, and for competitive reasons were always paired for workouts. So the teen brothers beat the crap out of each other in a makeshift ring set up in the school’s boiler room, with puddles on the floor. Despite the modest facilities, they went on to fine amateur and professional careers—Lamont Peterson, now 34-3-1, is a former IBF world super lightweight titleholder, and Anthony Peterson is now 36-1 and waiting for a shot. (He’ll be fighting on the Broner vs. Theophane undercard.) Boxing isn’t known as a bastion of loyalty, but the trio stuck together.
And they’re not training in the boiler room anymore: To honor Hunter for all his work with kids and reward the Petersons for the renown they brought the local boxing scene, in 2013 the D.C. Department of Recreation built a $5.3 million, 6,600 square-foot fight club for Hunter and the Headbangers on the grounds of the Bald Eagle Recreation Center, which sits on a hill above the Potomac River in the southernmost corner of the city. It’s doubtful there’s a nicer public training facility for fighters in the country.
I also assumed that Broner would have realized by now that the dick act is best left to winners, and that he isn’t one. This is no longer the same guy who was barely into his 20s when he won world titles in the super featherweight and lightweight divisions, and was talked about as a pay-per-view headliner waiting to happen and even name-dropped as a possible successor to Floyd Mayweather, Jr.’s throne. That guy could get away with being a dick.
Broner’s peak dickishness came in the run-up to his June 2013 fight against Paulie Malignaggi for the WBA welterweight title. Broner decided he would pump up the fight by boasting about dating a former girlfriend of his opponent, but he wasn’t smart enough to keep that conceit funny, and things got ugly fast. He went on radio to do interviews about “banging out Paulie’s girl.” He made jokes about Malignaggi beating her up to prove he had knockout power. Malignaggi dove into the gutter in response, threatening at one press conference to release “porno tapes” of his ex. By fight night, Broner and Malignaggi were making homophobic rants against each other, and the woman caught in the middle was being asked by the boxing press about whom she’d been beaten by and slept with, and forced to deny faking a pregnancy and talk about an abortion she’d had. If the boxing realm has witnessed a sleazier promotion in recent years, none come to mind.
Broner won the fight by split decision in Barclays Center in Brooklyn, Malignaggi’s hometown, but still took the low road after the final bell. In the post-fight interview broadcast by Showtime, Jim Gray asked the winner if he had any regrets about how the PR campaign had gone.
“Negative,” Broner told Gray. “I beat Paulie, I left with his belt and his girl.”
But Broner, who was 27-0 after the win, wasn’t laughing for long. In his very next outing, also as a welterweight, Broner went in as a heavy 1-5 favorite against Argentina’s Marcos Maidana and got destroyed. Broner was knocked down twice during the fight, the first time in his professional career he’d hit the canvas. He left the ring as the unanimous decision against him was announced, without even shaking hands with Maidana. “He looked like a bit of a broken man walking away,” the commentator from BoxNation, a UK fight network, observed as Broner fled.
Broner had always dropped slogans using his initials—“About Billions” was an early nickname as well as the handle of his new promotion company. In the wake of his first loss, and with folks realizing he wasn’t as invincible as he claimed, the internet teemed with new uses for the letter pairing. Among them: Argentinean Beatdown, Almost Bankrupt, and Ass Beatings.
He learned his dick routine had worn thin with more than internet commenters. Following his May 2014 win over Carlos Molina, Broner told interviewer Gray that he’d just lived up to one of his many nicknames—“The Can Man”—because “I just beat the fuck out of a Mexi-can.”
Gray cut him off. “Let’s show some class and dignity,” he said. And though Broner’s misguided attempt at humor was nowhere near as offensive as his and Malignaggi’s slur-filled PR campaign, Broner got punished his time around. The WBC, which had sanctioned the fight, immediately suspended Broner, with officials of the group saying in a statement that he had “offended many persons of the world with his words.” The suspension was lifted when Broner issued a non-apology apology days later via Instagram: “If I said ‘Canadian’ would there have been this much of an uproar?” he wrote.
Whatever remained of Broner’s veneer of potential greatness disappeared when Shawn Porter whipped Broner last year. Broner spent the fight holding, and threw elbows or tried to shove Porter’s head down after most clinches. NBC analysts repeatedly called for the referee to deduct points from Broner for fighting dirty, and the crowd booed him all fight long.
Heels who lose are just losers. Now, even Mayweather mocks Broner.
At a press conference in D.C. last month promoting the Broner vs. Theophane fight, Broner boasted that the future of boxing depends on him alone. “Big brother Floyd Mayweather is gone,” he said. “Everyone else is too boring, so I’m taking over the sport.” Then he tried to get laughs by saying, “Fuck TMT!” a reference to Mayweather’s own promotional outfit.
Broner had trained with Mayweather in Las Vegas up through the Porter fight. But at the D.C. presser, Mayweather crushed his former protege. “You have to know when to turn it on and turn it off. When I was young I said some things because I was young,” Mayweather said. “We saw that with the Maidana fight, Adrien was getting up off the canvas a few times. Remember this. Remember this. Today, Adrien Broner got up here and said, ‘Fuck TMT!’ You know, a company that’s making millions. ‘Fuck TMT.’ But remember, when Adrien Broner lost to Maidana, I was the first one there that was having his back. And I was the shoulder for him to cry on. I’m not here to go back and forth bickering, or carry myself in a childish way. If you don’t carry yourself in an orderly fashion or in the right way, all you’re going to do is hurt yourself in the long run, and you’re going to be back to living in poverty.”
While I’m hanging around at Bald Eagle, a guy who introduces himself as Brendan, a personal assistant of Broner’s, tells me the fighter will talk to me when he’s finished with his workout. I don’t know what caused the change of heart, but I sit and watch as Broner goes through extended sparring and heavy bag sessions, and speed exercises with Hunter overseeing him and occasionally screaming profanities and commands that he work harder. Broner, who looks much older than his 26 years, not only obeys, but when he’s done with Hunter, he jumps into a ring and starts doing pushups on his own. Lots and lots of pushups. At one point, while exhausted in between sets, Broner lets on, wittingly or not, that the Money Man’s jabs had hit home.
“I heard the motherfucker say I’m gonna go back to poverty!” Broner blurts out to nobody and everybody. “They’re gonna take me back to poverty!” It’s been nine days since Mayweather made his comments, but he’s still in Broner’s head.
Soon after the pushups, Broner calls it an afternoon and retreats to the dressing room. And within minutes Brendan comes over to tell me Broner is ready to talk. It’s now about 90 minutes after the interview was originally going to take place. Much as his heelish behavior is stuck in my craw, even at my most peeved moments I’m fully aware that an athlete, dick or not, has other things to do besides talking to a reporter; I’m also full aware before, during and after his workout that not everybody gets to see an athlete as accomplished as or with the otherworldly physical gifts of Broner from the awesome proximity my Charmin-soft, entitled-media-member ass is getting at Eagle’s Nest. Besides, I’ve been fascinated by all the boxing-related goings on I’ve witnessed since Broner’s brush-off, so I’m at peace as I head into the locker rooms for what I’m told will be another audience with the dick—er, Broner.
Alas, our second meeting goes a whole lot like the first.
“No interviews unless it’s me AND Robert!” Broner declares this time around.
I don’t understand what his words mean right away, but eventually determine that Broner is now demanding that I agree to devote half of any article I write to Robert Easter, who fights for About Billions, Broner’s fledgling promotion company. I then confess to Broner that I’ve never heard of Easter, whom I learn from subsequent Googling is an undefeated but little-known lightweight, and that because of my ignorance I can’t promise that I’ll write anything about him. Easter is sitting nearby and seems very nice and wholly embarrassed by being roped into the boss’s dick act, which kicks into another gear after my confession.
“Go!” he says, waving his hand toward the exit. “Go! Brendan, take him out!”
I’m in awe all over again. A flack for PBC, the powerhouse outfit run by current fight game kingpin Al Haymon, comes over to offer help after seeing me leave the locker room. It turns out that she was tasked to the gym after getting wind of Broner’s “No interviews!” shenanigans earlier in the day. I tell her that I’ve been tossed from the locker room, and she tells me she’ll get him back on board. Within minutes, I’m told that Broner is now stipulating that he’ll talk if I “ask one question” of Easter, though his demand that Easter get any mention in the story has been dropped. Sure, I say, and I approach Broner one last time.
“Exclusive!” Broner says. “You know you’re getting an exclusive?”
I spend the next half-hour talking to him about changing weight classes and feuding with Mayweather and blah blah blah. When it’s over, I’m still thinking about Van Morrison and the roadie, and that maybe Adrien Broner acts like this because even he now knows that everything else about Adrien Broner is far less fascinating than what a dick he is.