By Tyson Bruce
You first heard of him as an Internet urban legend. Rumors started building in boxing chat rooms and YouTube about a meek, smiling fighter from a country most Americans have trouble pronouncing, let alone identifying, who supposedly hits like a middleweight Mike Tyson. His list of amateur opponents reads like a who’s who of professional opponents, with victims including Lucian Bute, Andre Dirrell, Andy Lee, and Matt Korobov. The fighter is, of course, Gennady “GGG” Golovkin and that kind of non-manufactured and mysterious hype is rare in boxing and is the stuff from which legends are made.
Golovin’s HBO debut was supposed to come against defending belt holder Dmitri Pirog, but a last minute cancellation saw fringe contender Grzegorz Proksa take his spot. Most people who tuned in knew very little about the then 23-0 with 20 knockouts Golovkin, but after a three-round demolition job that had poor Proksa looking as though he’d been run over by a bus, a momentum of excitement and curiosity began that has not been seen in boxing for a very long time.
When a fighter looks like Mike Tyson or even James Kirkland, violence and destruction are almost assumed, but when the guy looks like a ballroom dancer or Justin Bieber, as some have said, and possesses a similar ruthlessness, the reaction can be even more powerful and captivating. Golovkin, like Manny Pacquaio before him, is all smiles when he walks into the ring, as if he were about to play a casual round of tennis, as opposed to entering the most brutal and demanding physical sporting event known to man. Once inside the ring, however, it’s as if a dark cloud passes over him and a monster emerges.
Most of his opponents, especially his most recent victim Matthew Macklin, had a look of utter dread on their faces almost as soon as the first bell rang. The impact of his punches possesses a distinct sound that registers somewhere between a baseball bat hitting a raw slab of meat and a watermelon bursting open onto the pavement. He doesn’t have a frenzied attack like a Jack Dempsey or a Mike Tyson, but rather with the patient guile of an assassin, more akin to Julio Caesar Chavez or Joe Louis. What appears to separate Golvokin from boxing’s other top gun slingers like Lucas Matthysse or Marcos Maidana is that he has the subtle skills and diverse package that is a requirement for top-level dominance. His ability to cut off the ring, limit an opponent’s offence through subtle defensive prowess, and the patience he shows in dissecting an opponents flaws, is what has experts salivating.
This has been well documented in his most recent outings. Golovkin was able to knockout Nobuhiro Ishida, something top fighters Paul Williams and Dmitry Pirog were unable to do, and disposed of Macklin about eight rounds sooner and with much less difficulty than middleweight champion Sergio Martinez. The latest example of his dominance can be traced back to last weekend, when the much-touted Peter Quillin struggled gravely and was on the verge of a potential upset defeat at the hands of Gabriel Rosado, only to be saved when a cut over Rosado’s eye forced an early stoppage. Golovkin, even while suffering from a well-documented flu, was able to rip through Rosado like hot a knife going through butter when they met earlier this year.
The biggest criticism that can be leveled against Golovkin is his quality of opposition. However, it’s not for lack of trying, as finding opponents for the Kazakh slugger has been next to impossible according to his promotional outfit K2 Promotions. He has travelled the globe in order to get fights, having boxed in over seven different countries, including locations like Denmark, Monaco, Panama, and the Ukraine. Even lineal champion Sergio Martinez, once the most avoided fighter in the sport, has steadfastly refused his challenge. Golovkin and his outspoken trainer Abel Sanchez have stated that they will fight anyone from 154-168, with only Andre Ward appearing out of the question at this point. No one has taken the bait, and that is why instead of fighting Martinez or one of the other belt holders at 160, he is fighting Curtis “Showtime” Stevens.
Curtis Stevens was once a coveted up and coming super middleweight prospect, with he and fellow New York prospect Jaydon Codrington being dubbed the “chin checkers”. That was until he got his own chin checked and was knocked out in the eighth round by the unheralded 20-15 Marcos Primera. The loss started a downward spiral for Stevens, as he suffered a decision loss in one of the most unwatchable fights in recent memory against Andre Dirrell and incurred a one- sided beatdown in a title eliminator against, of all people, one time Contender participant Jessie Brinkley.
After a brief hiatus from the sport between 2010-2012, Stevens returned in order to make a name for himself at middleweight, where his lack of height and reach wouldn’t put him at such a physical disadvantage. Although going down in weight late in ones career has seldom been an effective strategy, with well-documented recent disasters by Chris Byrd and Roy Jones Jr., Stevens’ relative youth (he is just 28) and time away from the sport to mentally regroup seems to have made the transition work. He’s shown a newfound energy to go along with ruthless killer instinct and punching power, scoring resounding knockout wins on national television against Elvin Ayala and Saul Roman.
The wins, albeit against extremely modest competition, seems to have given Stevens a chip on his shoulder. He has self-promoted by adapting a fierce gangster persona and has vocally called out all of the top middleweights. Gennady Golovkin, in particular, seems to ruffle Stevens’ feathers, as his frequent put-downs and challenges of the champion verge on inappropriate, even by boxing standards. The strategy, though tasteless to some, appears to have worked, as Stevens has managed to talk his way into a fight that no one else wanted to take. For that, his courage, if not his methods, has to be respected. In the buildup to the fight, Stevens and his entourage performed a mock funeral for Golovkin, something that even managed to upset the normally stoic Kazakh fighter.
This could be the classic case of be careful what you wish for, as Stevens’ taunts will most likely motivate rather than psyche out Golovkin. On paper, this fight looks like an epic slaughter in the waiting, but this is boxing and anything can happen. If Stevens is as unafraid of Golovkin as he appears to be, then he has, if nothing else, the proverbial puncher’s chance to win the fight. Plus, both guys like to come forward and look for the knockout, so while it lasts, the bout should be edge of your seat entertainment.
That being said, don’t let the highlight reel knockouts and vicious boasts by Stevens fool you into thinking this is a competitive fight. Fights are won in the ring, and all the talking in the world and certainly not his recent wins against club fighters, can’t prepare Stevens for what Golovkin will show him in the ring. Golovkin is the truth, and come Saturday night Stevens could be in for a cruel reality check, as well as another chin check.