By: Sean Crose
Gennady Golovkin found himself in a war this past weekend when he battled Sergiy Derevyanchenko at Madison Square Garden for the vacant IBF middleweight title. Golovkin, the man who not so long ago possessed a well earned a reputation for steamrolling over all comers looked at times this past Saturday like he himself might be about to be bested before the final bell. Although after the fight Golovkin walked out of the ring with the IBF belt and his 40th win, word around the proverbial campfire is that this was not the Golovkin of old. Sure enough, word is that the man, at 37, has aged considerably, at least in the context of professional boxing.
It’s hard to deny that Golovkin no longer appears to be his prime self in the ring. Derevyanchenko peppered his man with shots throughout Saturday’s bout. Perhaps even more telling, Golovkin’s vaunted patience almost didn’t pay off for him this weekend against his determined foe. Whereas before Golockin could get through numerous bad rounds sure of the fact that he would eventually get his man, Golovkin couldn’t finish the deed when he landed on Derevyanchenko on Saturday. And while much of this was due to the stellar performance of Derevyanchenko himself, the Golovkin of lore never found himself in such hairy situations.
That is, until he had met Daniel Jacobs in March of 2017. Some might argue that Golovkin’s hard earned, less than impressive, victory over Jacobs that long ago winter night was the first indication the Kazakh warrior was showing signs of the slippage that appeared all too evident this past weekend against Derevyanchenko. The Jacob’s fight was an extremely close affair, after all. A considerable number of ringside observers (this writer included) actually felt Jacobs had done enough to earn the upset win. Still, it was worth noting that Jacobs was the kind of high level opponent Golovkin had long craved to meet in the ring. As impressive as his resume was, Golovkin had never met a full blown middleweight of Jacobs’ caliber before that evening.
Since that time, Golovkin has fought the brilliant Canelo Alvarez twice. He’s yet to beat the Mexican star (though most observers feel Golovkin won at least one of the two fights), but the battles between he and Canelo have been thoroughly brutal affairs. Then came Saturday night against Derevyanchenko. Throw in his hard earned 2016 title defense against Kell Brook in England, and it’s clear that Golovkin has been facing a line of high end challenges since turning thirty. Since September of 2016, Golovkin has fought a total of seven times. Only two of those fights were against clearly beatable opponents, a May 2018 battle against Vanes Martirosyan and a fight this past June against Steve Rolls. Long story short – Golovkin has taken the hard road. The Kazakh fighter is most distinctly not of the low risk, high reward vein.
All of which leads to the matter of Golovkin’s now advancing age. Although Father Time wins time and aging, inevitably taking his toll as the years pass by, a fighter of Golokvin’s mindset can speed up the again process by doing, well, what a high level fighter is supposed to do – and that’s regularly face high level competition. Fans want their fighters to be ambitious, but then they’re quick to point it out when those fighters shows signs of slowing down. This is only natural, but when it comes to the case of someone like Golovkin, the caliber of competition has to be taken into consideration. Simply put, it’s hard to fight well into one’s late thirties and early forties when one has essentially spent a number of years facing the likes of Jacobs, Derevyanchenko, Brook, and a prime Canelo.
There are exceptions to the rule, of course, but those are exceptions. Bernard Hopkins, a ring wizard, was able to keep going and going. Manny Pacquiao, who has somehow been able to remain both great and aggressive as he’s turned the corner at forty, is nothing if not an anomaly. Golovkin is highly skilled, but he also fights in a grinding fashion. He wears his opponents down. He takes shots, sometimes very solid ones. He’s willing to engage in wars of attrition. None of this bodes well for any potential longevity. On the other hand, Golovkin has never, not once, bored boxing’s fan base. Nor has he looked anything other than excellent in the ring. His disappointments are only disappointments in the most relevant sense. They’re disappointments for Golovkin. For most other fighters, they’d be very impressive performances.
It’s being said that Canelo, who clearly dislikes Golovkin, will be more likely to face his rival a third time after seeing Golovkin’s performance on Saturday night. This may be true, but it’s worth noting that Canelo himself isn’t keen on creating a career full of soft touches, either. Names like Golovkin, Mayweather, and Lara pop up on his resume. His next opponent is the aging, but still very dangerous light heavyweight Sergey Kovalev. He may still be under thirty, but Canelo’s chosen a path similar to Golovkin’s. Things may well play out in similar fashion for boxing’s current top star.