The eye-catching sparkle, thrown up from yet another diamond-encrusted Audemars Piguet or a jewelled, limited edition Rolex screams ‘success’ at the top of its lungs. It’s been a status-symbol for decades, the ridiculous timepiece flanked by equally flashy bracelets and unbearable chains, causing gradual whiplash with pendants as gaudy as Adam Sandler’s Pokémon-themed accessory seen in Netflix original, Uncut Gems.
Boxing has watched this same story play out, over-and-over again; Struggling through a difficult childhood, a young athlete is blessed with immense talent and then, plagued with the propensity to fuck it all up. The money quickly turns heads and derails careers, with hangers-on feasting on the scraps left behind, pinching pennies and encouraging growing, unruly behaviour. When it’s all over, those wearing masks of friendship will slip back into the shadows, waiting for another Golden Gloves champion or Olympic hopeful, hungry to make a quick buck.
In recent years, there have been two exceptional case studies, familiar to fans of the sport. The streets of Cincinnati and Baltimore have choked the hope from thousands of kids, falling victim to the whisper of the streets and becoming reliant on dollars generated from criminal activity. Drugs, gangs and domestic violence painted the walls of their childhood apartments, but they were supposed to be better than that. They were role models.
Iconic HBO television series, The Wire, paints an accurate picture of life in Baltimore for kids on the corner, with a handful slipping through the net. In Cincinnati, Ohio, bullets fly towards civilians and law enforcement, in neighbourhoods that were dubbed America’s most dangerous just a decade ago. Sport is the only hope for young, black teens, when attempting to break the cycle, with lucrative contracts available in the NBA or NFL. But fighting always comes naturally. Boxing has saved the lives of many tempted, easily-led young men in cities across the US, but when money becomes an accessory, bad habits and reminders of the street seem to float to the surface, like plastic floating in the ocean.
[ENTER ADRIEN BRONER, STAGE LEFT]
Once known as Floyd Mayweather’s heir apparent, Adrien Broner was catapulted into boxing’s limelight in 2012, after impressively stopping Antonio DeMarco. The world became excited with ‘The Problem’, yet never quite understood how apt his ring moniker would become. It’s tough to pin the tail on the donkey with Broner, who always seemed arrogant and dismissive of boxing’s unwritten rules. Those who watched him on the way up will remember the uncomfortable, incessant combing of his hair post-fight. Strange and slightly irritating, but in no way malicious.
Broner would go on to capture World titles across four divisions, beating questionable opposition at times, but doing so in style. He was beautiful to watch, slipping and sliding, throwing bombs effortlessly as though it was part of a warm-up. He had it all his own way, with the support of Goldenboy Promotions and Floyd Mayweather himself. But money became his priority and social media provided a stage fit to capture his gradual downfall and consistent idiocy. Flushing money down the toilet, live for fans and followers to see, was a PR disaster. But it was only the beginning.
Diamonds, grills, cars and thick bundles of cash were of highest importance to ‘About Billions’. Boxing quickly took a back seat, only fuelling week-long benders and all-day sessions in strip clubs, throwing money at the public or the performers. Adrien Broner had a family at home. Young children, carved in his image, raised with the promise of financial security. The wheels have come off for Broner over the last five years and some examples include; Claiming he would shoot gay men in the face; being arrested multiple times for assault or DUI; having a worrying meltdown on Instagram, begging his fans for money if they ‘love him’ and viciously beating and stealing from a ‘friend’ after a game of bowling went South.
Broner had EVERYTHING he needed to create a glitch in his Matrix, but he was dragged back to the streets, smiling with golden, diamond-encrusted teeth instead of kicking and screaming. After his latest release from incarceration, his first act was to boast about hitting the Vegas strip. Case closed.
[ENTER GERVONTA DAVIS, CENTRE STAGE]
More recently, a young prodigious champion with the world at his feet has been caught up in a similar storm. Born and raised in Baltimore, Gervonta ‘Tank’ Davis was trained by Calvin Ford – the inspiration for the character ‘Cutty’ in The Wire. The pair forged a bond based on an understanding that boxing was their escape from the streets. Ford has been acting as a distraction for hundreds of young, black men in the area and until recently, his work with Davis had kept the young, two-weight champion out of trouble.
Davis burst onto the scene after clubbing then-champion, Jose Pedraza, and winning his first World title on a massive Mayweather Promotions show in Brooklyn, New York. That was January 2017, over three years ago, and Davis has been trundling along at relatively impressive pace. The excitement that surrounded his explosive entry into the sport’s elite has slightly fizzled out. Davis has missed weight, piled on the pounds between camps and has also become fixated on material possessions, flashing jewellery that lights up a darkened room.
At the beginning of the year, Gervonta went viral for all the wrong reasons. Flushing money down the toilet would have been a blessing, as footage emerged of Davis grabbing his female partner by the throat. He was filmed dragging her out of a busy event, passing security guards and fellow attendees. It was damning. It was uncomfortable viewing. But it wasn’t a shock to many, familiar with this narrative. Boys raised with nothing and taught that respect has to be earned on the streets of tough neighbourhoods don’t abide common courtesy. They are encouraged to further their ‘character’. They feel untouchable.
Boxing must take greater care of its vulnerable, younger talent. Forgetting these isolated American examples, we’ve watched fighters with lesser profiles become destroyed by outside influences. The company they keep, the members of their teams, assembled without any professional guidance or expertise often leads to financial loss shortly after any type of profit. It’s been happening for years. Mike Tyson was financially gutted by men he barely knew. Boxers achieve six-figure paydays, spend their entire purses between camps and expect boxing to continue rewarding them.
The American Dream is being realised every year by boxers, escaping overcrowded housing, addiction or violence. It was realised by Adrien Broner and Gervonta Davis, with one still competing at the top level, despite recent controversy. But it doesn’t last forever. Waking up in five years, with three shiny, ridiculous watches and a car that’s depreciated massively won’t pay the bills. Paying child support and overdue taxes, but with plenty of pictures on your Instagram of strip clubs and bank notes banded up, held to your ear like a mobile phone, won’t leave you feeling fulfilled.
Legacy doesn’t switch itself on and off when you fancy an elaborate spring break – none of this can be replayed.
Written by: Craig Scott
Follow Craig on Twitter at: @craigscott209