Monday, March 20, 2023  |



Gray Matter: The Manny Pacquiao and Adrien Broner experience

Manny Pacquiao (left) and Adrien Broner. Photo credit: Esther Lin/SHOWTIME

“It’s 5-1-3 . . . don’t ever fuckin’ ask me for that again,” barked Adrien Broner when I requested his cell number.

I was in the MGM Grand media room following Floyd Mayweather’s unanimous decision win over Miguel Cotto in May 2012 and was in the process of grabbing boxing contacts before the fighters arrived for the post-fight press conference. Paulie Malignaggi, a future Broner opponent, had graciously given me his number seconds earlier, but “The Problem” was proving to be a much greater challenge than “The Magic Man.”

All 5-foot-6 of Adrien Broner stared up at me (I’m 6-foot-1) and I looked back. Suddenly the then-WBO junior lightweight titleholder burst into laughter and slapped me on the back. “I’m just fucking with you, it’s 5-1-3 . . .” and he gave me the rest of the number. I considered myself lucky, because I doubt my seven-inch height advantage would have worked in my favor had things turned nasty.

Broner was extremely short but, then again, I grew out of the highest weight class he’s competed in when I was at 12 years old. What I will say is the guy is a unit; he was huge, as in powerlifter huge. In fact, I was far from surprised when he lost his 130-pound title on the scales prior to a stoppage win over Vicente Escobedo two months later. How the hell Broner ever made 130 is beyond me.

At that time, I rated Broner. He wasn’t pound-for-pound list material, which is an honor I traditionally reserve until a fighter has secured a defining victory, but he had plenty of weapons – speed, power, technique, accuracy. There was a lot to be excited about back then.

Unfortunately, the interview I got when I returned to the U.K. was far from exciting, it was crap. Maybe I caught AB at the wrong time. Despite being from Scotland, I rarely encounter any difficulty when talking to American fighters, but our conversation seemed destined to be flushed down the toilet like a stack of $20 bills.

We haven’t spoken since. Don’t worry Al, you’re not the only one, pal!

Three years earlier, almost to the day, I was in Sin City for Ricky Hatton vs. Manny Pacquiao. This wasn’t work, this was play, so I was an alcoholic most of the time. My English brethren may not have drunk Vegas dry, like they did during Mayweather-Hatton fight week, but they were giving it a damn good try.

On the Friday after the weigh-in, I bumped into Carol Hatton, Ricky’s mother. She looked positively unnerved and was struggling with the pressure of the occasion. “What do you think?” she asked. “I think Ricky can do it, he’s hard to discourage!” Basically I lied; I was picking Pacquiao in seven or eight, but only an asshole would tell her that.

Hatton didn’t last seven or eight. He was floored twice in Round 1 and switched off with a monster left hook in Round 2. I had pretty good seats for $300, maybe halfway down in the Grand Garden Arena. What I remember most, other than the knockdowns and the finish, was Pacquiao’s movement. The Filipino superstar glided around the ring with the most incredible grace, and when he stopped to let his hands go he was a force of nature.

I had mixed feelings afterward. I was honored to have witnessed a great fighter like Pacquiao at the peak of his powers, but I was devastated to see Hatton get hurt so badly. It remains the most chilling knockout I have seen live in a world title fight.

On the way out of the arena, I spoke to former two-time junior lightweight champion Genaro Hernandez. “Chicanito” had been battling cancer for several years but was now in remission. He was as dazzled as I was by what he’d just witnessed. “How are you feeling, champ?” I asked. “I’m good,” he said before flashing that infectious smile. Tragically, we lost him two years later.

My last memory of Hatton-Pacquiao, which will be 10 years old in May, is of sitting on a stool on the MGM casino floor. I just stared into space with Pacquiao highlights rocketing through my mind. I guzzled a beer or six before being consumed by a post-fight comedown.

These are my most direct memories of the two fighters who face off Saturday night in Las Vegas. I thought I would tell a story that sways away from the narrative of Pacquiao being worshipped and Broner being a pest. Hey, deep down I want Manny to kick his ass, but the formula buildup is getting a bit tired now.

Let’s hope it’s a good fight!


Tom Gray is Associate Editor for Ring Magazine. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing


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