When Adrien Broner defends his WBC lightweight title against Gavin Rees this coming Saturday, the prospect of the brash Cincinnati fighter losing almost seems laughable. While this might seem insulting to the credible Rees (37-1-1, 18 KO), Broner’s assumed victory has everything to do with what fans and pundits have come to expect from the young champion.
Of course, Broner (25-0, 21 KO) will face a dogged and determined challenge from Rees, a former titlist at 140-pounds. Since losing his WBA title to Andriy Kotelnyk in 2008, Rees has won 10 of 11 fights (with one technical draw), including a 4-0-1 stretch at 135-pounds. During this span, Rees claimed the British and European lightweight titles.
That said, Rees still lacks the marquee status of the kind of opponent Broner figures to be fighting as soon as his next bout. When scouring Rees’ record, one can’t help but note that he is four years removed from a world title bout, pushing 33 and perhaps most adept as a fringe world-level prizefighter at this juncture.
Given Rees’ combination of credibility and obvious limitations, what exactly is at stake for Adrien Broner in this fight?
A loss to Rees would be shocking and drastically stunt Broner’s quest to be boxing’s marquee attraction. In Broner’s last fight—a dominant eighth-round TKO of former champion Antonio DeMarco—he firmly established himself as the most fearsome fighter at lightweight and appears poised to rule the division.
The reason for Broner’s rapid ascent at 135 is a combination of the division lacking depth and the fact that he annihilated one of the class’ best fighters in DeMarco (28-3-1, 21 KO). In that fight—Broner’s first at lightweight—he displayed frightening power, speed, poise and ring generalship. DeMarco, a legitimate champion and quality fighter, was thoroughly outclassed and beaten into submission. For Broner, this appears to be only the beginning.
In dismantling DeMarco, Broner only enhanced the aura of invincibility that has been steadily building during his rise to boxing’s pinnacle. What is at stake for Broner against Rees is preserving and enhancing this mythology.
To get the most out of his title defense against Rees, Broner will require a tremendous deal of self-motivation. Even a plodding win against Rees won’t lose Broner any major lightweight fights. Broner is unequivocally the division’s marquee attraction, and every other champion and contender at lightweight needs him more than he needs them.
Most significant for Broner is that a loss or underwhelming performance against Rees would dampen the luster surrounding a potential unification fight against Ricky Burns. Broner and Burns (35-2, 10 KO) have a history dating back to their days at 130-pounds, and the question of whether Burns is ducking Broner has been discussed ad nauseam (and I include myself as one of these perpetrators).
Whether Burns is ducking Broner or not, Broner-Burns for all the lightweight marbles has to happen in 2013.
Adding to the Broner-Burns intrigue is that Burns will next defend his WBO title in a unification fight against IBF champion Miguel Vazquez. Should Burns defeat Vazquez—a skilled fighter who often finds himself in boring bouts because of his constant movement—the timing will be perfect to schedule a fight against Broner.
Considering that they are fighting exactly one month apart, only a myriad of questionable excuses can stand in the way of Broner and Burns clashing for three lightweight belts by the middle of 2013. In terms of Broner undoubtedly cementing his status as a top pound-for-pound fighter, unifying titles with Burns is the only fight he genuinely needs this calendar year.
Broner will also want to look spectacular against Rees given the likelihood that he will eventually make the jump to junior welterweight. Should Broner beat Rees, the question of when he will move to 140 will inevitably surface. And yet, despite the dearth of attractive opponents at 135, Broner is in no rush to leave the division (per BoxingScene.com).
Though Broner appears sure of his choice, speculation is natural as the junior welterweight division houses such fighters as Danny Garcia, Brandon Rios, Amir Khan and Lucas Matthysse, amongst others. And yet, what defeating Rees most immediately assures is that Broner will be well on his way toward an extensive belt collection and lineal champion status at lightweight.
For Broner to clean out a division is crucial given his sojourn at junior lightweight that ended with him losing his WBO title on the scales. Becoming a unified and lineal champion at lightweight will allow Broner to make some of the sport’s biggest fights in 2014 (and heck, maybe even in 2013).
For Broner, a spectacular win over Rees carries the stakes of further convincing all fans and pundits that he has just as much substance as style.
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