Has boxer Adrien ‘The Problem’ Broner finally found some answers?
The four-time world champion returns to the ring just months after a suicide threat on Instagram
The toughest battles of Adrien Broner’s career didn’t take place inside a boxing ring.
A four-time world champion, Broner is 7-1 in title fights with six knockouts. In his most recent bout in April, he easily demolished Ashley Theophane with a ninth-round TKO. Just a few years ago, he was a contender for the mythical pound-for-pound crown as the best overall fighter in boxing.
Broner, whose well-earned nickname is “The Problem,” has a history of social media antics, ranging from flushing money down a toilet to making outrageous and crude comments. He’s had multiple run-ins with the law. He’s repeatedly had trouble making weight. But a series of Instagram posts in October 2016 were alarming in a different way.
“I’m doing it,” he wrote in one. “I’m sorry to my family and friends but I don’t want to be here no more.” He followed that with a photo of a gun and the caption, “I’m going home I love y’all.” Next he posted an image that read “25 minutes.”
All of the posts have since been removed.
Broner, 27, says now that the Instagram posts came from a feeling of being unappreciated.
“Sometimes you wake up feeling good and sometimes you just have bad days,” he said. “Last year was one of the roughest years of my profession. I’ve been through some humbling moments.”
One reason it was so rough: Broner had been charged with assault and robbery over a dispute about a gambling debt and served 30 days in jail for showing up late for his trial date in July 2016. The charges were dropped in September 2016 when the alleged victim and a key witness failed to show up. The disturbing posts came one month later.
“God got me out of that state of mind and now I’m more on a positive path,” Broner said.
The next test on that path will come Saturday, when he returns to the ring for the first time since those Instagram posts. In a welterweight bout broadcast on Showtime, he’ll face off against Adrian Granados at the Cintas Center on the campus of Xavier University in his hometown of Cincinnati. And looking ahead to a life outside the ring, he debuted as the primary promoter of a boxing card in Toledo, Ohio, last week.
“Of course I have some regrets and I could do a lot of things differently,” Broner said. “I have the understanding that everything isn’t about Adrien Broner. It’s about my seven children that I work hard for every day.”
Those Instagram posts hit close to home for some other children — the students at Dohn Community High School on the east side of Cincinnati. Broner built his Oasis Elite Boxing Club on the top floor of the school last year after learning about the work of principal Ramone Davenport through another Cincinnati boxer. Broner’s gym provides an outlet for the students to escape the violence in the surrounding area and gives them a chance to see a world champion in daily training.
“I know how easy it is to get drifted off into the streets,” Broner said. “We’re open to any kid who wants to learn.”
But back in October 2016, the students wanted to learn what was wrong with Broner.
“It was a hectic moment because the students couldn’t care less about what their teachers were talking about,” said Davenport, who called an emergency assembly for students. “They were all concerned.”
“We talked about the effects of what could lead someone to cry for help. I drilled home that everyone goes through things and sometimes you’re confronted with issues you have to overcome.”
Most of the students at Dohn arrive there after falling behind academically at other schools, or they’re returning to school after dropping out. The school also has a program where adults can earn their diplomas. It is common for students to graduate with their parents or even their grandparents.
“We have students from 15 to 70 seeking their high school diploma,” Davenport said. “We had a cancer patient who was given only so much time to live that came here to get his diploma and we were able to help him get it done.”
It’s fitting that Broner’s road back begins in a place with redemption as its basic building block.
Broner has had opportunity after opportunity, and time after time he came close to squandering a promising career because of poor choices. Broner and his twin brother Andre, who writes rap music, are two of five children (four boys and one girl) born to Dorothy Broner and Thomas Knight. The children, especially the twins, developed a reputation in their Fairmount neighborhood.
“My kids were bad,” Knight said. “I was bad [growing up] so I could relate to the badness. How bad? Adrien got a whuppin’ every day. When the twins were small, I was in [juvenile court] all day, every day. If it wasn’t one child, it was another. I would tell them not to do things, but they always wanted to touch the fire.”
Knight would hold boxing matches in the backyard with his boys and other neighborhood children, hoping lessons learned in the ring would help his boys focus. When the twins were 6, Knight took them to a local gym to challenge all comers.
“I went down to Mike Stafford’s gym and told him I got some boys that will whup all of the boys in the gym,” Knight said.
Adrien held his own. He defeated all of his opponents that day except one — Rau’shee Warren, who would later become the only American to fight in three Olympics (2004, 2008, 2012). Broner joined the gym and began training with Stafford. The two remain together.
But Broner did not always dedicate himself to boxing. The pull of the streets often became too strong and his poor decisions forced Knight to take drastic measures.
“As a teenager, he was doing some dumb [stuff] like stealing cars, and I told him he was looking at the penitentiary,” Knight said. “And I got tired of bonding him out four, five, six, seven and eight times when he went to the justice center. So this one time he goes in, and I told him how we make it so far with the boxing, and then he ends up back in here. So I left him in there. He cried and said he would do right. I ignored him for a while.”
After three weeks in juvenile jail, Broner convinced his dad he would change. An impressive amateur career followed with more than 300 bouts and what looked to be a direct path to the 2008 Olympics. But in 2007, the streets won again. At 18, Broner was arrested on four counts that included aggravated robbery and felonious assault. He served six months because he could not afford his bond. He was acquitted on all charges, but the time away from training blew his chance at making the U.S. Olympic team.
“He was ready to fight in the Olympics, but we missed out when he got in trouble,” Knight said. “I thought his career was over. So he went pro and I wasn’t sure if he was ready. But when he won his first five fights by knockout, I knew he was ready.”
Broner stacked more wins on his resume. He won the first of four major titles in 2012 when he knocked out Vicente Martin Rodriguez for the vacant World Boxing Organization super featherweight belt. In that same year, he knocked out Antonio DeMarco for the World Boxing Council lightweight title. He moved up to welterweight in 2013 and defeated Paul Malignaggi in a split decision for the World Boxing Association (WBA) crown.
But Broner’s missteps became bigger headlines than his boxing ability. He was stripped of his lightweight title in July 2012 because he was overweight and had the audacity to post pictures of junk food on Twitter weeks before the fight. He was overweight again for the renegotiated and agreed-upon fight-day limit of 140 pounds. Broner posted a video of $20 bills being flushed down a toilet in 2013. Later that year, he posted another video of himself sitting on a toilet flushing more cash.
There was the video of Broner receiving change after a purchase in Walmart — he tossed money in the air and walking out, saying he didn’t “need no change.” There was his obscenity-laden video going off on Jay Z and Rihanna for what Broner perceived as an insulting offer from Jay Z’s Roc Nation Sports.
“Sometimes a boxer has to promote himself and be entertaining,” Broner said. “Some things in my past may have rubbed some people the wrong way, but if I didn’t promote myself, my name would not be as big as it is.”
“I’ve told him to quit acting like Roy Jones and quit acting like Floyd [Mayweather] and start acting like Adrien Broner,” Knight said. “No one knows you like I do. I’m still daddy.”
Mayweather and Broner had become friends after Broner entered the Mayweather Boxing Club outside Las Vegas in 2011. Mayweather has been so much of a role model that Broner has been accused of imitating his style inside and outside of the ring.
“That doesn’t bother me,” Broner said. “Comparing me to one of the best in the game is a compliment. LeBron [James] is compared to Michael Jordan and that’s not a bad thing. Floyd’s my ‘Big Bro’ and we have a great relationship.”
Meanwhile, father and son have had their issues.
“There are days when he’ll ask me, ‘What the hell are you doing?’ ” Broner said. “There are times when I get mad at him. But I’m glad I have a father who’s been with me since day one. He knows the respect I have for him.”
Broner really needed support after he suffered his first professional defeat — in a unanimous decision — against Marcos Maidana in December 2013. Broner was knocked down twice but managed to force the judges’ decision. Mayweather, who would go on to beat Maidana twice himself, was impressed with how his “Little Bro” responded to adversity.
“When he fought Maidana, I saw Adrien had heart,” Mayweather said. “It inspired me. Maidana is one of the hardest-hitting fighters I’ve ever fought and for Broner to get knocked down by Maidana and say to him that, ‘I’m still here,’ made me proud of Adrien.”
Broner responded to his first pro loss by moving down in weight and winning the vacant WBA international super lightweight title, followed by two more wins at that weight.
Then came his 2015 bout in Las Vegas against former welterweight champion Shawn Porter. The two met at a catch weight of 144 pounds, three fewer than the welterweight limit — a weight Broner demanded. The preview hype became a battle of words between Broner and Porter’s father and trainer, Kenny Porter. The fireworks continued in the fight, which was dictated by the physically stronger Porter, who won by unanimous decision. But Broner made things interesting with a 12th-round rally, which resulted in a knockdown of Porter. But it wasn’t enough.
“Adrien lost both of those fights. But he showed that he’s never going to give up,” Stafford said. “He needed just one more round in each of those fights.”
Broner rebounded four months later in Cincinnati with a TKO of Khabib Allakhverdiev for the WBA junior welterweight title — his fourth world title. He followed that with the victory over Theophane, although Broner was stripped of his title before the fight because he didn’t make weight.
But that was the least of The Problem’s problems. He had two outstanding warrants for felony assault and aggravated robbery. Broner was accused of assaulting and robbing a man of nearly $12,000 at gunpoint after losing money to the man while betting on bowling games.
Broner made matters worse when he was late for his hearing in July and the judge gave him 30 days in jail. All charges were eventually dropped, but the month in jail was humbling.
“I’ve been in jail before, but this time I went in as a grown man and I was told when to go to sleep, when to wake up and when to eat,” he said. “I couldn’t have sex. I couldn’t see my seven kids.
“I could only spend $65 per week,” said Broner, who has earned more than $10 million over the course of his career. “On a good day, one of my outfits can cost up to $6,000. Coming from my lifestyle to being incarcerated was like, ‘OK, stop playing. Let’s take this serious and make it happen,’ because God wasn’t going to keep giving me so many chances.”
Mayweather has had his own issues with assault charges and his advice to Broner is based on those experiences.
“It’s all about growth and everybody goes through certain experiences in life,” Mayweather said. “You go through it and you learn from it. I’ll always stand by him. “
What could be the next opportunity in Broner’s boxing career began on Feb. 10 when his About Billions Promotions company staged a fight card with both International Boxing Federation lightweight champion Robert Easter Jr. and Warren, the bantamweight champ, defending their titles in Toledo. Easter won by decision and Warren lost his title by split decision. It was the first bout primarily promoted by About Billions. As a promoter, Broner’s company is responsible for organizing, promoting and producing the event. He’s essentially the face of the organization, while Ravone Littlejohn, president of About Billions, is involved in the daily operations.
“I can be successful at promoting because I have a big enough name in boxing,” Broner said. “I’m branding my fighters to have their own fan base. I don’t want them to piggyback off me.”
Stafford has trained Broner since he came into his gym about 20 years ago. He has seen a difference in Broner’s training leading up to this weekend’s bout.
“He’s coming to the gym focused,” Stafford said. “He’s all business all the time.”
And the results of his bout with Granados could determine how far Broner has come or will go. He will fight Granados, his former sparing partner, at 147 pounds. The fight was originally set for a lighter weight at 142 but Broner, who has had issues making weight before, gave Granados notice a few weeks ago about the weight change. Granados is a hard puncher who will come forward, which could mean easy pickings for Broner.
“We’ve done numerous rounds and I know he’s tough as nails and he’s got to bring it when he comes to fight me, so I know this has a chance to be a fight-of-the-year-type of fight,” Broner said. “But we’ll see once the bell rings.”
Since so much is on the line, Mayweather plans to do his part to make sure Broner reaches his goals.
“We talk regularly,” said Mayweather, who co-promoted last week’s fights with Broner. “And I tell him how when I was young I had a lot of negative people around, but when I got better people around me that genuinely cared for me, I became a better person and I was put into a better financial position. I tell Adrien that his children and family need him.”
And so does the community, especially those children at Dohn. Broner’s Twitter and Instagram are now filled with photos of his children, promotional materials for About Billions and motivational posts such as, “My focus and outlook on my career is totally different it’s time to take over BOXING.”
“It’s getting serious now,” said R&R Promotions’ Andrew Williams, a longtime adviser to Broner. “There are no more games to be played. He’s got a promotional hat on, he’s doing much better with the media and he’s working with these kids, which all shows his maturity.”
Broner’s gym hosted a forum earlier this month for the children and adults in the area to share and vent about a 9-year-old who was killed during a home invasion not far from the school in January. It was an example of how the gym brings more value than just boxing.
“This is the start of my legacy, because this next half of my career is big for me if I want to become a pay-per-view star and make my mark as a promoter,” Broner said. “I’m at at the age now where a lot of things I’ve done before is no longer acceptable. I’m cleaning up, trying to be the best role model and the best father I can be. I want to be positive and the people’s champ.”