The news that Adrien Broner would defend his WBC lightweight title against Wales’ own Gavin Rees on February 16 in Atlantic City was met mostly by groans of indifference on these shores.
Hopes of Broner taking on Scotland’s Ricky Burns in a mouth-watering WBC-WBO unification bout instead may have had something to do with the disappointment. But nobody giving Rees a snowball’s chance is also a major factor in that.
Burns is adamant he wants to fight Broner somewhere down the line, but when offered this specific date, he pointed out that seven weeks notice was not adequate for such a major bout. Fair enough.
So while Burns prepares for a slightly less daunting title v title match-up against IBF title-holder Miguel Vazquez at Wembley Arena, with more time in camp to prepare for the March 16 showdown, Golden Boy Promotions pulled off a masterstroke to keep Broner ticking over.
As an opponent for ‘The Problem’ at this juncture, Rees is perfect. He’s a former world champion who has only been defeated once. It wouldn’t require a lot of spin for Golden Boy to portray a win over ‘The Rock’ as a genuine feather in their boy’s cap.
And yet, with only 18 knockouts from his 39 bouts against fighters one would not describe as world class, Rees isn’t what one would regard as a massive danger to Broner’s reign.
That and his inferior reach in the encounter mean his intrepid attack-minded approach will play nicely into the American’s ability to pick off heavy artilleries. Just ask Antonio DeMarco.
More importantly, Rees is British, just like Burns. One may be Welsh and the other Scottish, but the Americans blur those UK lines better than anybody else. There’s a distinct message being sent to Ricky.
It’s easy to see why nobody gives Gavin a chance against the undefeated 23-year-old. But there’s far more to this fight than a win or a loss for the Welshman.
Rees is experienced, exciting to watch and a very affable and modest man to boot. Yet for all of this he finds himself not only an unknown Stateside as he crosses the Atlantic for the first time, but underappreciated in his own back yard.
Those groans of indifference will drive Rees to show the British public, as well as the untapped American market, exactly what they’ve been missing out on. And he doesn’t necessarily need to pull off a shocking coup to do so.
Most sports fans judge an athlete or a team solely on how often they win and how little they lose. That’s completely understandable.
It’s the entire point of being a professional competitor. Wins equal titles, titles equal money and fame, multiple titles lead to records broken and perhaps even immortality.
But there can often be a lot riding on exactly how you win or lose, and no sport underscores this shade of grey better than boxing.
Every possible intangible factor from location, opponent, nature of the win and even identity of the ringside judges can weigh heavily on just how much people will laud or mock a result.
The upshot of this is simple: if Rees can last at least until the championship rounds – perhaps even go the distance – and look decent in the process, a defeat against Broner could do more for his career both here and in the US than those 37 wins and a five-year unbeaten run ever did.
This is the 32-year-old’s chance to show the world that he is worth watching, up against the man being called by some ‘the next Floyd Mayweather’. It’s an opportunity to drastically increase his income going forward. It’s an experience he deserves, win, lose or draw.
And while nobody, including this writer, thinks he will pull off the upset, you just never know in this game.
Rees has absolutely nothing to lose, while the brash Broner showed at the midweek press conference with his flippant regard for his foe - and his failures to make weight as a super-feather champion – that he’s definitely not above taking such a transitional fight, in his eyes, for granted.
In a 12-round battle, ‘The Rock’ only needs eight respectable rounds under his belt to win in losing. Anything else will be a bonus.
Countless British boxers in history have tried their luck in the States and come home with their reputation in tatters.
But with zero fear, zero expectations and zero respect from the mainstream, the quiet lad from Newbridge will not have that problem against ‘The Problem’.
Expect another Broner win, but don’t count on a massacre.
COMING UP THIS WEEKEND:
Eurosport-Yahoo!'s first LIVE fightcast of 2013 is this weekend to bring you the blow-by-blow details of Rees's battle against Broner. Join us on the website from 2am in the early hours of Sunday morning.
On the Broner-Rees undercard is a WBC super middleweight eliminator between Sakio Bika and Nikola Sjekloca, while Demetrius Hopkins – nephew of the legendary Bernard – meets Charles Whittaker in a 12-round light middleweight bout.
There’s one other world title to be decided this weekend, as local fighter Alejandro Lopez (24-2, 7 KOs) and the unbeaten Jhonatan Romero (22-0, 12 KOs) headline in Tijuana to decide a new IBF junior featherweight champion.