THE late Jim Brady, who used to write some outstanding features for the Boxing News print paper, loved the phrase, “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”. He often used it when talking about Las Vegas, meaning that Sin City proved the final destination for many boxers – the place where their careers as high earners inevitably came to an end, however good they were at their peak.
Big fights have happened there regularly since the early 1960s, although it wasn’t until the late 1970s that Vegas really became established as THE place for major bouts. Vegas has survived a challenge from Atlantic City, where legalised gambling enabled casinos to bring in top shows, and is still going strong even though a large Latino fan base in California and Texas has seen many recent promotions head to those two states.
The position of Vegas as a career terminus came to mind owing to two upcoming contests there. This weekend, in the first of Al Haymon’s time-buy free-to-air NBC shows, Adrien Broner has a real crossroads bout with John Molina at the MGM Grand. Broner’s notched two easy wins since suffering his first pro loss to Marcos Maidana, but the gutsy Molina is good enough to trouble him if “The Problem” is below his best.
Then at the end of the month (March 28), the Palms hosts a featherweight title clash between Mexican veteran Jhonny Gonzalez and one-time golden boy Gary Russell. There are similarities between Broner and Russell: both are part of the large Haymon stable, and very talented amateurs who have never quite convinced as pros, even though Broner has won world belts at three weights (130, 135 and 147).
Russell was matched very softly before he got his big chance in a title bout against Ukrainian super-amateur Vasyl Lomachenko, and even though it was only the double Olympic champion’s third pro fight, he knew too much for the Capitol Heights, Maryland southpaw. Losing to “Loma” is no disgrace but if Gary doesn’t beat Gonzalez, it will be hard to take him seriously as a major force at 126lbs. Russell must find a way to avoid Gonzalez’s bombs.
Broner’s career is in a healthier position, if only because his colourful personality garners much publicity. And while Molina is not as good as Gonzalez, that cuts both ways: the pressure is on Adrien to not only win, but look good doing so. To earn a shot at the big names out there at 140 or 147, on March 7 Broner needs more than just a drab points victory in which he survives some rocky spells.
It all means that, if Adrien Broner and Gary Russell aren’t at their best in these march tests, Las Vegas could prove their Boulevard of Broken Dreams.