By Tyson Bruce
The most refreshing thing in boxing is when a fighter’s name enters the cultural lexicon not through the media spin of a publicist’s hand but rather by the influence of his own fists. Not since Manny Pacquiao came from virtual obscurity to ransack and torment the lighter weight divisions has a fighter gained the kind of non-manufactured hype and mystique that Gennady Golovkin, 29-0-0-(26), has right now.
In today’s boxing climate there can be as much pressure on a fighter to define himself outside the ring as inside the ring. Boxers are not buoyed by the support of franchise or a league to help make them marketable. In boxing, athletes like Tim Duncan—the strong silent type—almost never move beyond a limited cult following. The boxing equivalent to Tim Duncan would be somebody like Andre Ward. Talented? Yes. Critically acclaimed? Mostly. Known by anyone outside of the most hardcore boxing fans? Not likely.
The few stars that do exist in boxing all possess some kind of niche, gimmick or special quality to go along with their supreme fighting skills. Even now that Pacquiao and Cotto aren’t quite the destructive forces they once were, they will always have the support of their disenfranchised and boxing-crazed countrymen. Mayweather has a lewd and outrageous personality that by fortune or design is perfectly in keeping with the times. Canelo Alvarez has the exotic looks and boyish charm that instantly distinguishes him from his Mexican counter parts. If just being really good were enough than a guy like Bernard Hopkins would have been a PPV star.
The vast majority of boxing’s other multi-talented and courageous fighters toil in relative obscurity. The best most of them can hope for is to become a dance partner for one of those aforementioned fighters. Most of the time an opportunity of that magnitude comes at great odds and, by contrast, as far less substantial reward. Just think about all of Mayweather’s B-side opponents like Guerrero, Maidana, and Ortiz that got a million dollar check and their 15 minutes on the grandest stage.
What makes Gennady Golovkin different than those other fighters is that he captures people’s imaginations. Nothing gets people more excited about a fighter than knockouts. On the “Road to Golovkin-Geale” HBO’s Max Kellerman pointed out that, “nothing is more charismatic in boxing than a guy beating the hell out of people.” Boxing, after all, is the hurt business. Golovkin has the added bonus of not fitting the stereotypical profile of a knockout artist. The fact that Golovkin looks like age-enhanced photo of Justin Beiber, as some have said, only adds to the intrigue that this guy might be the baddest man in boxing.
His thick Kazak accent—registering somewhere between Borat and Manny Pacquiao—is actually an asset rather than a hindrance to his marketability. There was something truly compelling about watching Golovkin disembowel a tough guy like Mathew Macklin and then good-naturedly (and with perhaps some sentiment lost in translation) refer to him as a “good-boy” in the post-fight interview. It was wonderfully awkward, unsettling and charismatic all at the same time.
Golovkin is mysterious in the manner only a foreign fighter can be—a sort of less-terrifying but equally compelling version of Roberto Duran. Contradictions in personality can be enthralling. People loved that a good-looking guy like Oscar De La Hoya had the heart of a killer in the ring. Golovkin possesses that same kind of paradoxical appeal. His meek demeanour and thick accent make the revelation of his monstrosity in the ring all the more fascinating. Like Oscar, Golovkin also appears to have the kind of overall talent to justify the hype.
It’s rare in boxing that a fighter that punches as hard as Golovkin whilst also possessing the kind of well-rounded package of skills that he does. So much attention is paid to his ninety percent knockout ratio that people often overlook and underrate the technical qualities that enhance his natural abilities. Golovkin has impeccable balance and underrated foot speed that he uses to close down his opponent’s movement. His punching power is accentuated by the fact that he throws his punches with near perfect technique. He turns his shots over and cranks his body into the punch just like the old-timer’s used to. Golovkin never neglects the jab, using it as rang finding device but also a point scorer, and attacks the body in the way that so many ‘lights-out’ punchers neglect to do.
The most essential part of becoming a complete prizefighter is discipline and dedication. There are a lot of very talented American boxers but many of them aren’t willing to make the sacrifices required of greatness. Golovkin’s development under the rigors of the Soviet boxing system has clearly given him the advantage over his more indolent western hemisphere competitors. He has combined the technique and discipline of his amateur days with adaptation of a Mexican professional boxing style—defined by killer instinct and body punching—courtesy of his renowned trainer Abel Sanchez. The result is a sort hybrid-style that has been stunningly effective thus far.
The biggest challenge for Golovkin it seems is the business of boxing itself. I seriously doubt that Golovkin wants to fight a guy like Daniel Geale anymore than we want to watch it happen. The problem is that no one else wants to take on the immense career/physical risk it seems to entail for fighting Golovkin. One could fairly easily make the case that everyone from Chavez Jr., Sergio Martinez and Felix Sturm have already ducked Golovkin. Can you imagine if Marco Antonio Barrera didn’t have the stones to face similarly terrifying Manny Pacquiao? That fight was the galvanizing force behind Pacquiao’s ascent towards boxing superstardom. Who knows where he would have been without it.
At the moment Golovkin’s version of Barrera would be the newly crowned middleweight champion Miguel Cotto. Cotto must be given credit for taking on all comers in his career, including giving Antonio Margarito a shot at the welterweight title when no one else would. However, doesn’t it seem likely that Cotto in the twilight of his great career and fighting above his best weight will probably bypass the murderous punching-power of Golovkin? More likely, it will be that Canelo Alvarez will get to fight Cotto in a summit meeting between rival promotional factions.
The question then emerges, where does that leave Golovkin? The answer probably points north towards the heavier weight classes where opponents might be more likely to tangle with him. If Andre Ward ever escapes the clutches of his own ego then “GGG” would make the perfect adversary. Both men have been chronically avoided by their peers and require a foil for greatness. In the meantime Golovkin must keep focused on the opponent at hand, which is the light-punching but passionate Australian Daniel Geale.
Sometimes the most dangerous opponent is the one you take for granted, however, that doesn’t seem likely with Golovkin. Golovkin asks his opponents, “Are you serious” because he treats boxing like the serious business it is. You don’t win 345 of 350 amateur bouts by being inconsistent, so you can bet that Golovkin will bring his A-game Saturday night. That’s probably good news for everyone but Daniel Geale.