ATLANTIC CITY — A few boxing fans trudged down the snow-covered Boardwalk toward a nearby casino early Sunday morning after watching WBC lightweight champion Adrien Broner notch a fifth-round TKO over Gavin Rees at Boardwalk Hall.
Some of them wore Cincinnati Reds baseball caps and were getting ready to celebrate another impressive performance by Broner (26-0, 22 KOs), a 23-year-old Cincinnati native. Others grudgingly acknowledged Broner’s talent but admitted to being put off by his brashness.
Along with welterweight champion Floyd Mayweather Jr., Broner is one of boxing’s most polarizing figures. While the majority of the 4,182 fans at the arena Saturday cheered for him against Rees (37-2-1, 19 KOs), there were some who wouldn’t have minded seeing the 32-year-old Welshman pull off the upset.
Rees had some modest success early in the bout, but Broner eventually showed the amazing blend of hand speed and power that has vaulted him into the conversation as one of the top American fighters with Mayweather (43-0, 26 KOs) and super-middleweight champion Andre Ward (20-0, 16 KOs).
Because of his talent and personality, Broner may be fighting again in Atlantic City. His last two fights — he won the lightweight title with an eighth-round TKO over Antonio DeMarco last Nov. 17 — have been at Boardwalk Hall and Caesars Entertainment consultant Ken Condon is hoping to bring him back.
“Adrien Broner just keeps rolling along and he’s becoming quite an attraction for Atlantic City,” Condon said early Sunday morning after the fight. “He’s a great boxer who will only get more popular. He put on a great show and I’m looking forward to having him fight again in Atlantic City as soon as possible. I’d have him back in a heartbeat.”
Broner staged a theatrical ring entrance Saturday that appeared to be a cross between former fighter Prince Naseem Hamed and fictional heavyweight champion Apollo Creed of “Rocky” fame. He wore a microphone and joined in a rap song while sporting a glittery red jacket that featured epaulets and his nickname, “The Problem.”
Early in the bout, it appeared as if Rees had some answers.
The 5-foot-4 native of Newport, Wales, worked his way inside and pounded Broner’s midsection with hooks while also landing a few overhand rights and lefts on Broner’s face. He landed 88 of 262 total punches in the fight, according to CompuBox statistics.
“I knew he was going to come to fight because he’s a world-class fighter,” Broner said. “He kept coming and was throwing every shot like it was his best shot. He was tougher than a steak that’s well done.”
Broner began tenderizing Rees in the third round and kept up the onslaught. CompuBox reported that Broner connected on 104 power shots — any punch other than a jab — over the third, fourth and fifth rounds to Rees’ 44.
Rees hit the canvas for only the second time in his career in the fourth after Broner launched a right uppercut that thudded against his chin. After the fourth, Rees’ trainer, Gary Lockett, told Rees he was stopping the fight, but Rees talked him out of it.
“I tried to pull him out after the fourth round, but Gavin said, ‘There’s no way I am quitting.’ ” Lockett said. “He’s so tough and so proud. He wouldn’t let me.”
Lockett didn’t wait to ask for Rees’ opinion in the fifth.
Broner stepped up his attack and landed a left hook to the liver that caused Rees to wince and drop to one knee. Once he got up, Broner punished him along the ropes. Lockett grabbed a white towel, climbed to the edge of the ring and waved it until referee Earl Brown halted the fight with one second left in the fifth.
“He hits incredibly hard for a lightweight,” Rees said. “I knew he hit hard, but the power just stunned me. He’s the best fighter I’ve ever been in with.
“But I disagreed with my trainer stopping it. I was always going to get back up. I was going to keep getting up until I got knocked out cold. Quitting is not a part of my way of life.”
The problem for Golden Boy Pro-motions and HBO is finding opponents who can challenge Broner. The most interesting fight would be a unification bout that would pit Broner against the winner of the March 16 clash between fellow lightweight champions Ricky Burns (35-2, 10 KOs) and Miguel Vazquez (33-3, 13 KOs).
Burns, a native of Scotland, has a huge following that perhaps would fill Boardwalk Hall.
“If I fight Ricky Burns, he will get burned up,” Broner said. “But I don’t care who they put in front of me.”
Punchlines: In Saturday’s co-feature, Australian super-middleweight Sakia Bika (31-5-2, 21 KOs) earned another fight against Ward by taking a 12-round, unanimous decision over Montenegro’s Nikola Sjekloca (25-1, 7 KOs). Ward beat Bika via decision three years ago.
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