Adrien Broner stared straight ahead, hands slightly above his waist as he tried to wriggle through a shaky defense. But this wasn't an arena Broner, a boxer with world titles in four divisions, was comfortable in.
In front of him sat Cuyahoga County judge Nancy Margaret Russo. On this particular day this past November, in that Ohio courtroom, Russo had decided that Broner had failed to comply with orders regarding a lawsuit stemming from a 2018 criminal case.
"This is a problem, Mr. Broner, because you have ignored basically every order I have given you," Russo said before sending him to jail for contempt, according to footage taken by Cleveland.com. "Now there is a punishment."
Broner is nicknamed "The Problem," a moniker used during his ascent in boxing. More than two years removed from his most recent fight, a loss to Manny Pacquiao, and four years out from his last win, Broner's legal and financial issues might explain why he's facing Jovanie Santiago, an undefeated but unheralded foe, on Saturday (Showtime, 9p.m. ET).
Broner owes $855,682.03, which is how much he is required to pay to settle the lawsuit, as of an affidavit filed on Jan. 29. That follows a criminal case in which he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault and unlawful restraint after he forcibly kissed a woman at a club in 2018. In a court filing submitted on Jan. 29, Wells Fargo said Broner had no funds available, with a large stamp across blank lines.
Broner, who once said his initials stood for About Billions, insists, however, that financial considerations aren't the driving force behind his ring return.
"Even if I didn't have these pending cases against me, I'd still be training my ass off and be ready to get back and make a fortune," Broner told ESPN on Feb. 9. "God gave me a blessing and God gifted me with some great talent, and I'm not going to let it go to waste."
What he still has to offer in the ring remains to be seen. One could argue that Broner has been on the decline in boxing for several years.
At one point, Broner appeared to be the heir apparent to Floyd Mayweather. From a similar shoulder-roll defense to a grandiose persona, the resemblance was uncanny.
Then Broner stopped winning. In 2013, he suffered his first pro loss against Marcos Maidana, who went on to give Mayweather his toughest fight as a welterweight just a few months later.
Broner (33-4-1, 24 KOs) last tasted victory via split decision against Adrian Granados in 2017. Since then, he is winless in three fights -- a loss to Mikey Garcia, a majority draw against Jessie Vargas and the loss to Pacquiao.
"I'm someone who never looked for the easy way out," Broner told ESPN. When [Showtime president] Stephen Espinoza and [Premier Boxing Champions exec] Al Haymon come to me, I just never say no. Things can happen like that sometimes. It is what it is. But I'll take the bitter with the sweet."
Broner's court appearance in November gives further insight into that relationship. As Russo grilled Broner about his money problems despite flashing cash on social media, Broner said he receives money from Espinoza, Haymon and WBA "regular" lightweight world titlist Gervonta Davis, who, coincidentally, is the latest to be tagged as the next Mayweather.
Broner also told the judge that once he gets in the ring again, he'll be able to pay his debt. The attorneys representing the woman Broner owes are banking on that as well, according to court records.
On Jan. 28, the woman's attorney filed a notice about the lack of information surrounding Broner's next fight despite numerous media reports about it.
"This strategy of projecting deliberate ignorance must end," the attorneys wrote, noting that the woman is entitled to know the fight details in order to file a lien for Broner's purse proceeds.
Despite the financial circumstances Broner finds himself in, the 31-year-old sees this weekend's fight against Santiago (14-0-1, 10 KOs) as a potential reset for his boxing career and a chance to climb the ranks once again.
"I've got a lot of fight left in the game," Broner said. "I'm not here to rush anything. I think everything's going to fall into place. I just gotta do what I gotta do, and that's get this victory."
Broner wants to stay at 140 pounds, a weight he hasn't successfully made since 2015. This weekend's bout is a chance for Broner to remind people of how he was once an elite boxer, more than someone marred by legal issues, that includes the assault conviction and a driving under the influence charge in 2020 while he was on probation.
It's just one of many questions Broner will have to answer over the next few months.
"I gave myself time to miss boxing," Broner said. "I've been away a long time. I'm ready to go in there and win some more world titles."