In the first fight that Adrien Broner had after moving up to campaign full time at lightweight in November, he knocked out Antonio DeMarco in the eighth round of an utterly one-sided affair to win a world title.
"The Problem" was never challenged, dropping DeMarco in the eighth round before his corner threw in the towel, and then proceeded, as is his custom, to get his hair brushed after the victory. Broner had won a world title in his second weight class, further stamping him as the potential future of the sport.
By laying waste to DeMarco, Broner -- a flashy 23-year-old from Cincinnati -- easily defeated the fighter many considered to be No. 1 in the 135-pound division. And therein lies the dilemma for Broner and his team: If Broner could so easily annihilate the No. 1 guy in his weight class, what the heck is he supposed to do for an encore and beyond?
"To this day, right now, I could literally leave boxing and be like, 'I did more than anybody in my family ever did,'" Broner said at this week's final prefight news conference. "I could provide for my kids and my family. But I'm not going to settle for that. I'm trying to be the best boxer to ever lace up a pair of gloves. That's my goal.
"I have my own legacy. Everybody has their own legacy. Who knows? Maybe I go all the way up to 154 and win a championship. I know I could do it."
Perhaps he will in the future, which would mean he will have followed in the footsteps of Floyd Mayweather Jr., the fighter whom Broner looks up to and is most often compared to. Mayweather, the pound-for-pound king, has won titles in the five weight classes from 130 to 154 pounds.
But Broner's possible move up that high in weight is still in the distant future. For now, he is staying at lightweight, and when it came to setting up his first title defense, the options were quite limited. There was no megafight for Broner at junior lightweight when he held a title in that weight class, and there is none at lightweight, either.
Perhaps the best Broner can hope for would be a three-belt unification fight with the winner of the March 16 two-belt unification bout between Scotland's Ricky Burns and Mexico's Miguel Vazquez, but both of those matches are tricky to make and neither is a blockbuster.
Perhaps Broner could meet the winner of the March 2 vacant title bout between Richard Abril and fellow Golden Boy fighter Sharif Bogere, but is that really a big fight?
Probably the biggest fight at 135 that Broner could hope for would be against interim junior lightweight titlist Yuriorkis Gamboa, who has talked about moving up in weight. But the drama surrounding Gamboa -- including recently being linked to the Miami performance-enhancing drug scandal -- and the unlikely event that his promoter, rapper 50 Cent, would make a deal with Golden Boy, Broner's representatives, make the fight unlikely.
Beyond those names, the lightweight division is awfully thin, and Broner has said he isn't yet ready to move up to junior welterweight after winning his 135-pound title just a few months ago. Once Broner gets to 140 pounds -- not a question of if, just when -- there are attractive opponents for makeable matches: titleholder Danny Garcia, interim titlist Lucas Matthysse and former titleholder Amir Khan, although none is likely in the near future.
So it's against the backdrop of a division bereft of star power -- besides Broner's -- that he returns to the ring against Gavin Rees of Wales on Saturday night (HBO, 10:30 ET/PT) at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J., the same venue where he smashed DeMarco.
"When you say that guy's name, I start to sneeze," Broner said of Rees, mocking a sneeze. "I think I am allergic to him. I don't do anything different for any opponent. I just do me.
"Put your glasses on because I am going to shine. Hook, right, good night."
Broner said he has never seen Rees (37-1-1, 18 KOs) fight because he claims never to watch video of any of his opponents. He barely even knows who Rees is, in fact, which might sound disrespectful to some. But Broner comes off as being playful.
"I really don't know this guy," he said. "I just want him to bring his A-game, because if you want to get things just right you have to bring nothing but your A-game. So I just hope he's ready and I hope he is in shape."
In the televised opener, super middleweight contender Sakio Bika (30-5-2, 21 KOs), 33, a native of Cameroon living in Australia, will face Nikola Sjekloca (25-0, 7 KOs), 34, of Montenegro, in a title elimination bout for the right to become one of champion Andre Ward's mandatory challengers. Bika lost a lopsided decision to Ward in 2010. Sjekloca will be fighting in the United States for the first time.
Broner's laid-back attitude and massive confidence seem to have annoyed Rees, 32, a gritty fighter with a solid résumé. A former junior welterweight titlist, Rees moved down in weight in 2010 and eventually claimed the European title.
"I'm going to knock this [expletive] out Saturday night, and I can't wait," Rees said. "His attitude stinks, man. He shows fighters no respect, but he hasn't even earned the right to do that. What has he done? I've been in the States for five weeks now, and American boxing fans don't like him. They tell me they hope I beat him and shut him up. I think he acts like a fool for no reason, and no one really likes that.
"Who has he fought? I've seen his fights, and half of those guys just stood in front of him letting him dictate the pace of the fight. I'm not going to let him do that. This is the first fight that I have trained away from home because I'm going to show him I'm no walk in the park."
However, Rees is considered a long shot by most -- a 40-1 underdog on one gambling website. Saturday's fight is supposed to be easy work for Broner (25-0, 21 KOs).
"Gavin has been written off, and some of the odds have been insulting, frankly," said Matchroom Sport's Eddie Hearn, who promotes Rees. "We're here to win. Gavin deserves a helluva lot more respect than he's been getting, and we're confident that he will cause a massive shock."
Rees also is unmoved by the odds or the fact that he will be fighting in the United States for the first time.
"He's got all the mouth; let's see if he can back it up," Rees said of Broner. "It's just a normal fight to me, to be honest. It's just a ring. I've been over to Paris and won, so fighting away from home doesn't bother me in the slightest. He's pretty cocky, and I think he underestimates me."
Broner said that isn't true.
"He is going to be there all night or until I put him to sleep," Broner said. "We are going to be eating ice cream in no time. This is going to be a fun year for me. I'm not looking past this fight, but I'm ready to fight whoever. We're going to take care of business Saturday night."
Broner said he isn't looking to hand pick his opponents. He said he will fight anyone in the lightweight division and Rees is who was offered.
"He's a former world champion, so he has to be somebody, even though I really don't know him that much," Broner said. "I have to keep throwing that in there because I really don't know these guys. I just fight whoever they put in front of me. People come to me and they're like, 'You're hand picking fighters.' I don't pick my fights. I just fight whoever is weighing in on the time it's to weigh in. Sometimes I don't even know [who I'm fighting] until three weeks out or a month out. So this is new to me. I know Gavin's not just a walkover. He was a world titlist and he's got to have a record, 37-1 or something like that, with a draw. That's a helluva record on the professional level."
Golden Boy COO Dave Itskowitch said Broner's confidence shouldn't be taken as though he is looking past Rees.
"Adrien is known for rapping himself into the ring and getting his hair brushed before his interviews," Itskowitch said. "But he is also one of the hardest-working fighters you will ever see. There are no days off for Adrien Broner."