ATLANTIC CITY - The last time WBC lightweight champion Adrien Broner fought in Atlantic City, he visited the local Boys & Girls Club a few weeks after Hurricane Sandy had swept through and caused extensive damage to the facility.
Broner, 23, displayed none of the braggadocio that has drawn almost as much attention as his immense talent. He spent a few hours with about a hundred kids who had no idea who he was. He wrestled with them, shot a few baskets and mostly just had fun.
Two days later, on Nov. 17, 2012, he punished reigning lightweight champ Antonio DeMarco while earning an eighth-round TKO.
"There are many sides to Adrien Broner," he said Thursday at Caesars Atlantic City. "That's the way I am. I know some people don't like me, but I was told a long time ago that if everybody likes you, then somebody is lying. But I love all my haters. Whether they like me or hate me, they still come to see me fight."
More than 5,000 fans are expected to watch Broner (25-0, 21 KOs) defend his title at Boardwalk Hall tonight against Gavin Rees (37-1-1, 18 KOs). Although Broner is heavily favored, more than a few fans - including hundreds from Rees' native Wales - will root for the underdog.
Broner, a native of Cincinnati, exudes a brashness that can irk people. Count Rees and his trainer, Gary Lockett, among those who don't care for his antics.
"He's been disrespecting me to the point where I want to give him a smack in the mouth," Rees, 32, said. "But I'll wait until Saturday night. By the end of the night, I think all of the fans will appreciate my skills and talent when I beat the next big thing in boxing."
Rees faces a daunting challenge. Aside from a close victory over Daniel Ponce De Leon two years ago, Broner has breezed through his competition. His combination of hand speed, power and defense - in addition to his cockiness - have drawn comparisons to welterweight champion Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Brawling with brother
Broner had tougher fights with his twin, Andre Broner.
They both started boxing in Cincinnati under the guidance of trainer Mike Stafford, who is still in Adrien's corner. Stafford recalled with a laugh that Andre more than held his own in their sparring sessions.
"Andre actually was the more powerful puncher," Stafford said. "He was a southpaw and he hit harder coming up. Adrien was more flashy. But Andre didn't have the drive like Adrien. He gave up boxing around 15 and started to focus on music. But Adrien loves the sport. He eats, sleeps and drinks boxing."
Success didn't come right away. Adrien weighed just 45 pounds when he first starting boxing and Stafford explained that he wasn't allowed to let Broner fight until he gained 10 pounds. His first sparring session came against future three-time Olympian Rau'Shee Warren. Broner left the gym in tears.
"That was the test," Stafford said. "And Adrien got beat up pretty bad by Rau'Shee, but he came back and that told me he really wanted this. He used to fight with Andre, too. They would spar and then sometimes there would be a fight after the sparring. But that's where it all started with Adrien.
"There are some kids that have the drive and commitment, and some kids just give it up. Adrien has always had it."
Stafford took the credit/blame for the flash and flair that Broner displays in and out of the ring.
He is seldom seen in public without sunglasses, even indoors. And he has a tradition of letting someone from his corner brush his hair after fights before he grants interviews.
"I made sure the kids all got haircuts when we went on our (amateur) boxing trips," Stafford said. "And I always made sure the kids looked good. Now it's a style that Adrien likes to portray, with the glasses and keeping his hair neat and clean.
"But there is also an 'old-school' way about Adrien that a lot of people don't see. When it's time to go to work, Adrien goes to work. He's had nothing handed to him, I can tell you that."
Broner's act was on full display during Friday's weigh-in in the lobby at Caesars.
He carried a can of Sprite onto the scale and was promptly admonished by New Jersey Athletic Control Board commissioner Aaron Davis. Seconds after checking in at 135 pounds - 1 pound below the lightweight limit - he whispered into Rees' ear during the traditional face-to-face pose down.
"I just wanted to let him know that play time is over," Broner said afterward. "I wanted to let him know what time it was. No more games. He's going to get (beat) up."
David Weinberg's predictionPunchlines: Rees weighed 134½ on Friday. ... Doors to Boardwalk Hall will open today at 5:30 p.m. with the first of seven fights scheduled to start around 6:30. ... Tickets are still available and cost $25 to $200. ... HBO's coverage begins at 10:45 with a super-middleweight title eliminator between Sakio Bika (30-5-2, 21 KOs) and Nikola Sjekloca (25-0, 7 KOs). The winner will earn the right to fight champion Andre Ward. Bika lost a 12-round decision to Ward three years ago.
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