ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- Although lightweight titleholder Adrien Broner was a prohibitive favorite to beat Gavin Rees -- the latter a 40-to-1 longshot on at least one gambling website -- it was a fun fight for what turned out to be the expected Broner blowout.
Broner dropped Rees twice and retained his 135-pound world title on a fifth-round knockout when Rees' trainer, Gary Lockett, threw in the towel at Boardwalk Hall before a crowd of 4,812 on Saturday night. But it was quite interesting getting to that point.
Rees, a former junior welterweight titlist from Wales, was a pesky fighter who showed great grit and determination. He landed more shots than anyone probably expected and had the crowd cheering, but Broner didn't seem too troubled.
Broner, with a significant height advantage (although the official tale of the tape laughably listed them both at 5-foot-7), stayed calm and focused and went to work, eventually turning the fight into a rout.
"I knew he was going to come to fight. He's a world-class fighter," said Broner, who is known as "The Problem." "He kept coming through every shot like it was his best shot. I knew he would hang. He's a world-class fighter.
"When you have two world-class fighters going toe-to-toe, it's going to be a fight. He's tougher than a steak that's well done."
Broner didn't do much of anything in the first round, but the fighters traded quite a bit in the second round. A right hand hurt Rees, but then the challenger landed a flush shot when Broner was looking at referee Earl Brown, which brought the crowd to life.
Still, it was clear that Broner's size, speed and overall skills were going to be too much. He badly hurt Rees (37-2-1, 18 KOs) in the third round with a fast eight-punch combination while Rees was trapped on the ropes.
In the fourth round, Broner landed a tremendous right uppercut to send Rees to the canvas, flat on his back. Rees, 32, was shaky when the fight resumed, and Broner landed several hard shots before the round concluded.
Broner (26-0, 22 KOs), 23, of Cincinnati, was in command in the fifth round when he landed a digging left hand to Rees' liver. Rees dropped to a knee and was clearly winded. He made it to his feet and was game, but as Broner was teeing off, Lockett climbed up the steps and threw in the white towel, prompting Brown to call off the fight at 2 minutes, 59 seconds.
Lockett is familiar with Boardwalk Hall and knockout losses. He was knocked out by Kelly Pavlik in the same ring in a 2008 world middleweight title fight.
"I tried to pull him out after the fourth round," Locket said. "But Gavin said, 'There's no way I am quitting.' He's so tough and so proud. He wouldn't let me."
Broner closed the show by landing 40 of 57 power shots, according to CompuBox.
"I got reckless in the third and fourth rounds, and that was pretty much the end of it," Rees said. "I disagree with Gary pulling me out, but he knows I would have boxed on until I was knocked out cold. I was always going to get up. Quitting is not a part of my way of life."
For the fight, Broner landed 149 of 309 blows (48 percent). Rees was credited with landing 88 of 262 (34 percent). Even if Rees was disappointed by Lockett's intervention, a knockout seemed imminent -- it was only a matter of time.
"We knew Gavin was going to come in, and I wanted Adrien to take his time and pick his punches," trainer Mike Stafford said. "We knew Gavin was going to be game but make mistakes. Adrien countered each mistake he made."
"I'm disappointed with my performance," said Rees, who moved down in weight in 2010 and eventually won the European title. "I made a lot of mistakes. I think I have a better skill set than that. I didn't show it."
Broner, a former junior lightweight titlist, moved up in weight in November and stopped Antonio DeMarco -- considered by many to be the top lightweight in the world going into the fight -- in the eighth round, also at Boardwalk Hall. Now a lightweight, Broner is running into the same issue he had at 130 pounds: a lack of significant opponents to face.
With Rees out of the way, the question again becomes: Who's next? Broner fights in a division with little star power and no big names. Many have called for him to move up to the talent-rich junior welterweight division, but he has said he isn't quite ready.
Still, there is one potentially interesting fight for him at lightweight -- a unification bout with Ricky Burns of Scotland. Burns will fight Miguel Vazquez in another unification bout on March 16 in London, and Broner would like to fight him if he wins.
"If I fought Ricky Burns, he would get burned up," Broner said. "I want to fight him, but if he doesn't want to fight me, oh well."
Broner was Burns' mandatory challenger when Burns held a junior lightweight belt, but he moved up in weight and didn't fight him. Broner went on to win the vacant title at 135.
"I don't care what they put in front of me," Broner said. "I will fight them."
If you ask Rees, Broner probably would beat whoever "them" is.
"He hits incredibly hard for a lightweight," Rees said. "I knew he was going to be powerful, but his power really stunned me.
"Broner is the best I've been in with. He's not a superstar in the making. He's already there. Nobody ever treated me like that in a boxing ring. Best of luck to him in the future. He is going to go a very, very long way."
Maybe all the way to No. 1 on boxing's pound-for-pound lists.