The very notion of a blueprint implies the plotting of an ideal—something that makes sense after meticulous deliberation and planning. But a blueprint is only useful insofar as it is executed, and in boxing, even the most intelligent fight tactics cannot necessarily take into account the superior talent and physical gifts of one combatant.
This Saturday in Atlantic City, Gavin Rees will attempt to wrest the WBC lightweight title from Adrien Broner. As one might expect, Rees (37-1-1, 18 KO) is a massive underdog, and this is certainly understandable. Without intending any disrespect toward Rees, the expected one-sidedness of Broner-Rees has everything to do with what fans and pundits expect from Broner (25-0, 21 KO).
So, given the supposed seismic gap in talent that separates Broner and Rees, what is Rees’ actual blueprint for pulling off what would be a monumental upset?
Before dissecting what Rees should hope to accomplish against Broner, the Welshman deserves credit for his own accomplishments and talent level. In 2007, Rees captured the WBA junior welterweight title, though he failed to successfully defend the belt. Still, Rees reinvented himself by dropping down to lightweight, where he currently owns the British and European titles.
While Rees was perhaps always best suited as a lightweight, his divisional swap is significant in that it suggests Broner won’t necessarily hold a decisive strength advantage. Now, Broner is obviously a much harder puncher than Rees, but Rees’ ability to compete at a world-class level at 140 pounds indicates that he can hold his own with Broner when they clinch and wrestle for position.
But for many, this is where the positive possibilities for Rees end. As ESPN.com’s Dan Rafael points out, many view all of Broner’s potential opponents at lightweight as underwhelming at best:
But Broner's possible move up that high in weight [to 154, like Floyd Mayweather] is still in the distant future. For now, he is staying at lightweight, and when it came to setting up his first title defense, the options were quite limited. There was no megafight for Broner at junior lightweight when he held a title in that weight class, and there is none at lightweight, either.
Perhaps the best Broner can hope for would be a three-belt unification fight with the winner of the March 16 two-belt unification bout between Scotland's Ricky Burns and Mexico's Miguel Vazquez, but both of those matches are tricky to make and neither is a blockbuster.
The first thing Rees must ensure is that Broner does not blitz him early.
To prevent this, Rees must start the fight with purpose and refuse to simply remain a stationary target. Employing an active jab and pressing forward where there’s an early opening is crucial for Rees. Whether he’s landing punches or not, activity and placing Broner on his back foot could bolster Rees’ confidence.
Few would argue that Broner possesses a staggering speed and reflex advantage over Rees. In order to attempt to nullify Broner’s physical superiority, Rees would be wise to attack Broner’s body. Rees will likely miss badly if he head-hunts, and digging into Broner’s body will mean that Rees has closed distance and crowded the Cincinnati fighter.
Body shots, in theory, could force Broner to drop his hands and slow him down in general.
Such tactics are definitely a long-term investment for Rees, but consistent body punching could also disrupt any of Broner’s attempts to move laterally. If Rees is fighting on the inside, Broner will also have fewer chances to time him with hard right hands and hooks from an optimal range.
Perhaps the most essential tactic that Rees should consider is punching with Broner. While this might sound counter-intuitive, it is the only chance Rees has to land a fight-changing punch.
Rees is not a power-puncher and only sports a 46.15 knockout percentage (per BoxRec). That said, timing and the element of surprise can partially overcome this natural deficiency. Rees’ only chance to hurt Broner is when the champion exposes himself by throwing punches.
With a combination of luck, straight punching and a brief breakdown in Broner’s fundamentals, Rees might be able to land a few significant shots.
If Rees waits until Broner finishes throwing a combination to counter with his own bursts of offense, he will get peppered and stopped early. While punching with Broner leaves Rees open as well, simply allowing Broner to attack unopposed will lead to stark one-sidedness unworthy of a championship fight.
The last thing Rees wants is for Broner to establish a rhythm of landing three-plus punch combinations and then stepping out of range. To prevent this, Rees also needs to employ rough tactics, force clinches and wrestle on the inside.
If the fight becomes physically grueling on the inside, Rees could potentially force Broner into uncomfortable and unknown circumstances.
That said, Rees’ greatest obstacle is the near-complete boxing package that is Adrien Broner. While some of Rees’ blueprint might appear logical and self-evident, the issue for Rees is that implementing his plan will require flawless execution. And you know what they say about the best laid plans.