If the boxing career of former four-division champion Adrien Broner has nine lives, it's unclear how many have been used up entering the in-ring return of the controversial and enigmatic star.
Broner (33-4-1, 24 KOs) will snap the longest layoff of his pro career at just over two full years when he takes on the unheralded Jovanie Santiago (14-0-1, 10 KOs) on Saturday in a 147-pound bout headlining a Showtime tripleheader (9 p.m. ET) from the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut.
Asked during an appearance last week on "Morning Kombat" whether the world of boxing needs the 31-year-old back, Broner was his typically entertaining self.
"Yes, of course, we can admit that," Broner said. "Don't get me wrong, you have great fighters and good fighters like Gervonta Davis, Errol Spence, Shawn Porter, Teofimo [Lopez], Devin [Haney] and Ryan Garcia, but Adrien Broner is just different. When you say the name Adrien Broner, everybody watches -- your grandmother, your step son, everybody is going to watch Adrien Broner."
Can't get enough boxing and MMA? Get the latest in the world of combat sports from two of the best in the business. Subscribe to Morning Kombat with Luke Thomas and Brian Campbell for the best analysis and in-depth news.
What's most interesting to consider on the flip side is just how much Broner still needs boxing after a fairly tumultuous -- even for his standards -- time away from the sport that featured multiple legal issues, cryptic social media messages teasing suicide and others begging fans for money. He also noticeably ballooned up in weight.
Talking to Broner, however, doesn't produce any noteworthy feelings of regret or remorse from the Cincinnati native about what has taken place, especially as it concerns his brand and status as one of boxing's most marketable (and notorious) stars.
"No, I think the [bad publicity] adds on to it all," Broner said. "Even with my regular life, it brings more light to my career because boxers, you can go say their name to whomever just walking up the street and they won't know him if you are not into boxing. But if you go up to them and say Adrien Broner, they will say, 'Oh, that's the one guy who did this and who got in trouble.' I take the bitter with the sweet."
Regardless of the one-liners and constant boasts that people will still tune in to see him fight more than ever even though he has lost the four biggest fights of his career by convincing margins, Broner does admit to there being a turning point where he decided to stop living loose and actively chose to give his fighting career another sincere try.
Last September, Broner was posting threats on Instagram aimed at Showtime and Premier Boxing Champions founder Al Haymon demanding $10 million or he won't fight. But the months that followed saw Broner quietly posting training videos that showcased his weight loss and progress.
"I woke up one day at a hotel, I was drunk as f--- the night before, and I called Gerald Tucker, one of my coaches, and I said, 'You know what? I'm done drinking. I'm going to start back training and I'm going to get back seriously into boxing,'" Broner said. "And everybody didn't believe it. But from that day on, I told myself that I would be a world champion and I have just been pushing forward every day."
Broner hasn't fought since making his pay-per-view debut in January 2019 when he was nearly stopped in a wide decision loss to Manny Pacquiao that saw Broner shell up and land just 20 total punches over the final six rounds. To make matters worse following such a lifeless defeat, Broner argued during the post-fight interview that he deserved the decision and was robbed.
The capstone to the infamous interview, to which the MGM Grand crowd in Las Vegas unmercifully booed him, saw Broner dedicate his performance "to the hood." Regardless of how the moment was received, and the tumultuous hiatus that followed, Broner said he never once believed he was done with boxing and retained the confidence that an eventual decision to return would be well received.
"I just be myself," Broner said. "I knew that the fans would always appreciate me, even though I have fans that hate me and love me. I know the fans that hate me, they really love to see me fight. So I just try to be myself and now that I'm back, I just try to put on a good show."
If you're wondering whether Broner cares much about the notoriety -- or lack thereof -- of his opponent, he predictably doesn't. Rumored for most of the last year to be fighting Ivan Redkach in his return, Broner's comeback opponent was instead initially announced as Pedro Campa, until an injury suffered by the Mexican fighter shortly after removed his name from the running.
Eventually, Santiago's name was chosen. The 31-year-old from Puerto Rico has never fought outside of his home island or the nearby Dominican Republic as he prepares for his U.S. debut in a massive step-up opportunity.
"At this point, I didn't give a f--- who got it," Broner said. "They could have said Donald Trump and I would've said, 'OK, let's do this.' I'm just ready to fight."
Asked what motivated above anything else to recommit himself to the sport, Broner mentioned his legacy.
"I think if I was to really retire, I would be inducted to the Hall of Fame but I just feel like I have more to give and more championships to win. That's my goal. I still shake up the scene in boxing. Adrien Broner is still one of the biggest names in boxing.
"This is for the culture, man. It's Black History Month."
In the co-main event, Dominic Breazeale faces off with Otto Wallin in an intriguing heavyweight showdown. Breazeale hasn't fought since May 2019 when he was stopped emphatically by Deontay Wilder in a finish that scored some Knockout of the Year awards. But outside of the Wilder knockout and a stoppage loss to Anthony Joshua, Breazeale has maintained a strong record in the ring with 18 knockouts in 20 pro wins. Standing opposite him in this one is Wallin, who made news by nearly stopping Tyson Fury in 2019 and derailing the Wilder rematch. Wallin lost on the scorecards but bounced back with a TKO win over Travis Kauffman last year.
Fight card, odds
Odds via William Hill Sportsbook
- Adrien Broner -800 vs. Jovanie Santiago +550, welterweights
- Dominic Breazeale vs. Otto Wallin, heavyweights
- Robert Easter Jr. -650 vs. Ryan Martin +475, junior welterweights
From his hand speed to even his power at any weight below 147 pounds, Broner's physical gifts have never been in question. His motivation and willingness to give his best effort in fights in which he's outmatched is a different story.
There are certainly questions only Broner can answer with his performance this weekend, including whether his freewheeling lifestyle outside the ring has dulled his skills. Yet the level of matchmaking in this case isn't likely to reveal that even if it might be the case.
For as underwhelming as many of his performances against elite or even very good competition have been, Broner has long been at his best when he can bully less-skilled opponents by walking them down and relying on his quick counterpunching to break them.
Expect Broner to have his way in this one provided he doesn't take too long readjusting to live action while getting his sea legs back under him. Santiago's record is a glossy one but his level of competition simply doesn't match that of Broner who, when he wants to, can still box at a very high level, particularly in fights he's expected to win.
Pick: Broner via UD