By Sean Crose
Yup, that’s Gennady Golovkin you see shadowboxing in that Apple commercial. No doubt it’s a sign that Madison Avenue feels the Kazakh fighter can move from the margins which currently contain the sport’s contemporary fan base and into the mainstream consciousness. Golovkin is unique, after all. His prep school haircut and boyish face separate him from the likes of say, Adrien Broner or Tyson Fury, men who want to make it clear what big dogs they are with each and every breath, step and fiber of their beings.
Yet Golovkin isn’t different from most top fighters in that he grew up hard. How hard? He was raised the son of a coal miner in the Soviet Union. Furthermore, he reportedly lost two brothers before he was fifteen. Life doesn’t seem to come easy for most professional fighters and Golovkin is no exception.
Why, then, has the man arguably surpassed Canelo Alvarez as boxing’s next big thing in the post-Mayweather era? Canelo, after all, is young, talented and handsome. He may not speak English well, but let’s’ be honest here, neither does Golovkin. What’s more, Canelo has an entire national fanbase – that of Mexico – behind him. How many Kazakhs do you know living in North America?
Some will undoubtedly say Golovkin is getting the spotlight shone on him largely because he’s white. That statement can be disproved however, once one looks at Wladimir Klitschko, a thoroughly Caucasian fighter who white Americans, generally speaking, neither know nor care a whole hell of a lot about. The UFCs Ronda Rousey may fit the bill for a modern day media darling, but Golovkin isn’t anywhere near the bill.
Why, then, is this man on the verge of becoming a mainstream star? The answer is simple – because he’s being constructed to be one by some very smart people, one of them being the fighter himself. None of this means Golovkin is a fraud, mind you. Not by a long shot. Indeed, there’s a lot of skill to go with the man’s power, skill that’s come from a long and exceedingly impressive armature career.
It takes more than skills to become a household name, though. If ability were all that counted, the name Roman Gonzalez would be known in every home in the Western Hemisphere. It takes a plan, and requires real marketing craftsmanship, the kind shown by team Golovkin over the past few years now.
For instance, the Wall Street Journal wrote way back in 2013 of Golovkin’s handling by the gang at HBO and Madison Square Garden, where he was at the time set to meet Curtis Stevens, who he ended up dropping in highlight reel fashion.
“He walked the red carpet for the season-opening premier of HBO’s series ‘Boardwalk Empire,’” the Journal wrote. “He walked the blue carpet for the Knicks’ opener at the Garden on Wednesday.” In short, Golovkin was made to be seen.
The Journal also wrote in that same article that “HBO needs Golovkin to grow beyond boxing to hit the heights of other stars they have groomed, such as Oscar De La Hoya, Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather, Jr.” The fact that Golovkin’s star started to rise around the same time Floyd Mayweather jumped ship to Showtime, may, the article indicated, have been a factor. Sometimes in boxing, as in life, timing is everything.
The powers that be simply weren’t going to be content with a northeastern audience, however. Major stars, after all, are far more than regional attractions. In order to further build its brand, team Golovkin decided to set its sites West – or, more specifically, south.
As the man continued to draw viewers onto HBO cards which featured him, the term “Mexican style” began to be heard. Uttered by Golovkin as a way to describe his style of boxing, it made clear the fact that Golovkin would come to fight each and every time. Courage and aggressiveness, after all, is a hallmark of Mexican boxers and, although there are glaring exceptions to every rule, such attributes are clearly appreciated by the Mexican fan base.
Of course Golovkin isn’t Mexican, he’s Kasakh. What’s more, one could easily imagine a particular demographic rejecting an outsider so openly wishing to ingratiate himself as Golovkin has. Significant numbers of Mexican fans, however, warmly embrace Golovkin, a fact evidenced by the enormous support the man has received in Southern California. Golovkin may not be Mexico’s native son, but he at least seems to be one who’s been adopted by impressive numbers of Mexican and Mexican-American fans.
And that, quite simply, is extraordinary. Golovkin, after all, is from a place far, far removed from the Western Hemisphere. Yet he’s not only made an impact with North American audiences, he’s won notable support among the continent’s largest fan base for boxing. Wladimir Klitschko could only dream of achieving such a feat.
There’s more than smart marketing that goes into the making of a superstar, however. There has to be an appeal. The enigmatic Mike Tyson, for instance, drew people in through sheer fascination. Mayweather transformed himself into a man people wanted to see lose. And Golovkin? Well, Golovkin is drawing people in by being Golovkin.
Unlike, say, Adrien Broner, who has largely based his career emulating Mayweather, Golovkin seems to realize that the most popular fighters are like themselves and no one else. And Golovkin is indeed like no one else. Smiling that goofy smile while mangling the English language, the man has shown the ability to endear himself to fans while simultaneously placing them in awe of his sheer ferociousness. It’s a unique accomplishment, to be sure, one which, at the moment at least, appears to be paying off handsomely.
Will it continue to pay off, however? All the public appearances, television ads and “Mexican Style” t-shirts in the world won’t be able to help the 33-0 middleweight if he ends up the victim of the hard punching and aggressive David Lemiuex (34-2) when the two men meet this weekend at Madison Square Garden.
The fight is a pay per view event, one which team Golovkin can only hope will earn a fraction of last May’s Matweather-Pacquiao extravaganza. Still, word is the bout will only need to earn a fraction of that largely disappointing affair in order to be a success. The whole thing is a kind of test, an experiment if you will, to see if Golovkin really does have the makings of a crossover star. The smart money says he does. The smart money has been wrong before, though.
At least we know who the people at Apple will be pulling for.