ATLANTIC CITY -- The crowd waited until the early Sunday morning hours for Adrien Broner, most without complaint. Boxing press conferences are absurd events, hastily put together sideshows where fans, family members and autograph seekers mix in with media members, and anyone can ask a question. The chilly room in the bowels of Boardwalk Hall filled mostly with hangers-on burst into cheers when Broner climbed the steps to the dais, a toothy smile on his mouth and barely a mark on his face. After five easy rounds against Gavin Rees on Saturday night, Broner didn't look like he had been in a fight. He thanked Rees for his toughness, thanked his parents for making such a beautiful baby before urging reporters to make their questions quick.
"I want everyone to get their questions out," Broner said. "Because I don't know about y'all, but I want to have sex."
And there it is: Boxing's next big thing had spoken.
For all the claims of robust ratings, strong attendance figures and the involvement of fledgling networks, boxing is enduring a difficult stretch. The sport is plagued by mismatches, by the influence of shadowy manager Al Haymon and by its two promotional giants, Oscar De La Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions and Top Rank, refusing to make a fight. But for all the problems boxing faces, perhaps the biggest is this: What to do when Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao leave it.
Mayweather and Pacquiao are the unquestioned elite in the sport, money-making machines who count pay-per-view buys by the millions. From the hardcore fan to the casual one, most will buy a Mayweather or Pacquiao fight or go someplace that will show it. They have elevated themselves out of the fringe and into the mainstream, but they won't be around for much longer. Pacquiao is 34, coming off a devastating knockout loss and is clearly on the decline. Mayweather is 35 and still winning, but the elusive fighter from the early 2000's has been replaced by a more stationary target. Figure it's two years or less before both are either gone or in a Roy Jones like downward spiral.
There are good young fighters in boxing -- Saul Alvarez, Danny Garcia and Brandon Rios, among others -- but perhaps no one like Broner, who blends Mayweather's collection of skills with a power that Floyd never possessed. At 23, Broner (26-0) is already the kingpin of the lightweight division, a two-division champion with breathtaking talent. He has the financial backing of HBO and the outlandishness that made Mayweather a superstar.
Broner swears that his personality isn't camera motivated, that he is who he is, with or without them. In his locker room before the fight with Rees, with the camera's switched off and only a reporter around to document the day, Broner was at his best. When referee Michael George came in to ask him if he had any questions about the rules, Broner asked if he could just wear tights and a cup during the fight. When Rees's cutman, who used to work for Broner, came in to observe the hand wrapping, Broner shook his hand and told him not to feel bad about working for the enemy.
"Boxing is a business," Broner said. "Get your money. You're going to be busy tonight."
Broner's entourage is deep, but easily identifiable. His crew -- dubbed the Band Camp -- all wear personally monogrammed red and white letterman jackets. He talks to them in the hours before the fight. But mostly, he talks to himself.
"I'm just thinking about how I'm going to win," Broner said to no one in particular. "Will it be the hook or the right hand that does it?"
"Skills. Talent. Defense. I win fights. You can pull trains, but that don't help you win fights. Skills. That's what wins fights."
"Here's the thing about being the best. Hearing you are the best and still putting the work in? That's the difference."
Broner gets irritated just once, when a photographer wishes him luck on his way out the door. "I'll tell you this one time," Broner said. "Don't ever tell me good luck. Because luck runs out. Just pray for me. I'm fine with that."
Rees was a scrappy former world title-holder at 140-pounds but he proved to be no match. He was aggressive early, but Broner seemed just to be waiting for his opening. It came in the fourth round, when he dropped Rees with a picture-perfect uppercut. He continued to inflict heavy damage in the fifth and would have done more had Rees's trainer, Gary Lockett, not mercifully thrown in the towel. His fighter had heart, but was simply outgunned.
We have anointed stars in boxing before, occasionally with disastrous results. But Broner appears to be the real thing. An anticipated showdown with Ricky Burns this summer will give Broner a chance to lock up the lightweight division before he moves up to 140-pounds, where countless high profile fights await him. Indeed, as Mayweather and Pacquiao wind down, Broner just appears to be warming up.