On July 26 at Madison Square Garden, Gennady Golovkin took another step on what he hopes will be a march toward greatness when he knocked out Daniel Geale in the third round.
The 32-year-old Golovkin, a native of Kazakhstan, has risen dramatically in the public consciousness since knocking out Gregorz Proksa in a September 1, 2012, bout on HBO. There were 685,000 “real time” viewers for that fight. In three succeeding fghts, real time viewership rose to 813,000 (for Golovkin vs. Gabriel Rosado), 1.1 million (vs. Matthew Macklin) and 1.4 million (vs. Curtis Stevens).
Prior to entering the ring against Geale, Golovkin’s ring ledger showed 29 wins in 29 fights with 26 knockouts. The last time an opponent went the distance with him was six years and eighteen fights ago. He’s the most impressive of the WBA’s many middleweight champions.
Geale, a 33-year-old Australian and former IBF beltholder, came into the fight with a 30-and-2 record, including 16 knockouts. The two losses were by split decision against Darren Barker and Anthony Mundine. Geale had never been knocked out, but he’d never beaten an elite fighter either. In fact, he’d never fought one.
Golovkin’s life has been shadowed by tragedy. Two of his brothers were killed in military combat (in 1990 and 1994). More recently, on February 18 of this year, his father died of a sudden heart attack. The pain of that experience was very much on Gennady’s face when he answered questions about his father’s death at a June 7 kick-off press conference for Golovkin-Geale in New York.
“This is life,” Gennady said. “I understand. It is hard, but I must go on.”
Golovkin was a 10-to-1 favorite to beat Geale. They had met in the ring as amateurs at the 2001 East Asian Games with Gennady winning a clear-cut decision. But what they’d done as pros was far more relevant.
Geale is a competent fighter. Golovkin looks like a great one.
Abel Sanchez (Golovkin’s trainer) put matters in perspective when he observed, “Prior to the fights, Gennady’s opponents are respectful but they’re not scared. Then the fight starts, they get hit, and things change. They stop thinking about winning and start thinking about surviving. Gennady hurts his opponents. Geale is used to going twelve rounds, but he’s not used to going twelve rounds against Gennady.”
“This is boxing,” Golovkin cautioned. “I am not super-hero. I am good fighter, but the opponent doesn’t just lie down. You have to work to knock him out, and that cannot always happen.”
That said, it was taken for granted by most people in boxing that Golovkin would beat Geale. The issue was, “How decisively and how dramatically would it happen?”
Golovkin-Geale marked the second fight card in seven weeks in the main arena at Madison Square Garden. The attendance was announced as 8,572. But there were ticket discounts and some freebies thrown in to get to that number.
The first three fights of the evening were pathetic mismatches.
Julian Rodriguez knocked out Yankton Southern in 43 seconds. To put that achievement in perspective, Southern had also been knocked out previously in one round by Chris Hill (who has won 4 of 32 fights).
Next, Dusty Hernandez-Harrison ran his record to 23-and-0 by decisioning Wilfredo Acuna (80-72 times three on the judges’ scorecards). Acuna has lost 8 of his last 9 fights (with the win coming against an opponent who has an 0-and-7 record and been knocked out seven times).
Then cruiserweight Ola Afolabi (199 pounds) battered Anthony Caputo Smith, who was knocked out ten months go by Seanie Monaghan at 175 pounds. The bloody slaughter was stopped by the ring doctor after the third round (21 seconds longer than it took Monaghan to do the job last year).
That was followed by Bryant Jennings vs. Mike Perez. Jennings-Perez was an “eliminator” to determine who will be the mandatory challenger for the winner of the still-unscheduled bogus WBC “world championship” bout between Bermane Stiverne and Deontay Wilder (which may or may not actually happen).
At the final pre-fight press conference on July 23, Jennings told the media, “Come Saturday night, you’re definitely going to see the two best heavyweights in the world.”
Today’s heavyweights are bad, but not that bad.
Jennings is a limited fighter, but at least he looks the part. Perez came into the ring looking like he’d spent the early part of the month competing in the Nathan’s 4th of July Hot Dog Eating Contest and, after eating 110 hot dogs in thirty minutes, celebrating by drinking a gallon of beer.
It was a sloppy, inartful fight that lasted for twelve stultifying rounds. Perez tired noticeably from the fourth round on. Late in the final stanza, referee Harvey Dock deducted a point from him for intentionally hitting on the break. The deduction was appropriate given the fact that the foul was blatant and Perez had fought a chippy fight throughout the evening. In the end, that point was determinative of the outcome. Jennings won a split decision by a 115-112, 114-113, 113-114 margin.
Then it was time for Golovkin-Geale.
“Golovkin’s opponents,” Hamilton Nolan has written, “are generally regarded in the same way that visitors to a pet store regard the mice being lowered into a snake’s cage at feeding time.”
There’s an inexorable quality to the way Gennady fights. He’s a pressure fighter, who cuts off the ring well and manages to control the distance between himself and his opponent. Every move is purposeful.
Geale tried to fight aggressively and get off first, but it was to no avail. Twenty seconds into round two, an accumulation of punches punctuated by a glancing right hand high on the head deposited him on the canvas. By the end of the round, his face and body language had the look of a beaten fighter.
In round three, the loss became official. With thirty seconds left in the stanza, Geale landed a straight right hand. Golovkin took it and returned fire instantaneously with a straight right of his own that landed smack in the center of Daniel’s face and put him flat on his back. Geale rose, but his head was spinning and he had a bad case of the wobbles. With Daniel’s wholehearted concurrence, referee Mike Ortega stopped the fight.
Given the idiocy of the world sanctioning bodies, the term “champion” has been sadly devalued in recent years. Golovkin is now the WBA “super world middleweight champion.” But as of this writing, the WBA has the following similarly-titled “world champions”:
WBA super world super-middleweight champion = Andre Ward
WBA unified world super-middleweight champion = Carl Froch
WBA interim world super-middleweight champion = Stanyslav Kashtanov
WBA interim world middleweight champion = Dmitriy Chudinov
In addition, the WBA “world middleweight championship” will be contested between Jarrod Fletcher and Danny Jacobs on August 9.
So forget lineal, super-duper, and all the other ridiculous belts. Miguel Cotto might have a claim on some mythical championship by virtue of his recent victory over Sergio Martinez. But ask ten experts who would win a fight between Golovkin and Cotto, and the likeliood is that all ten would pick Gennady.
Careers in boxing should be advanced by the best fighting the best. But that’s not how things work now in the sweet science. At present, Golovkin is the true middleweight champion. Any middleweight who takes issue with that proposition should fight him.
Gennady is a relatively small middleweight. He comes into training camp at just under 170 pounds. Making weight is easy for him. If the money is right, he’ll fight anyone from 154 to 168 pounds. That would put Floyd Mayweather, Canelo Alvarez, and Cotto at the top of his wish-list. But it’s unlikely that those three will go near him. Andre Ward, Carl Froch, and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr are the big names at 168. But Froch has already said “no” to the idea of a Golovkin fight, and neither Ward nor Chavez seems anxious for the test. Look for the other middleweight beltholders (like Peter Quillin) to also avoid him.
Golovkin isn’t unbeatable. There’s no such thing as a perfect fighter. Every fighter is limited in one way or another. But it will take a great fighter to beat Gennady at the level he’s fighting at now. And as long as the other top fighters from 154 to 168 pounds avoid him, they should rate behind him. Indeed, one can argue that, right now, Golovkin is the #1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world.
If Floyd Mayweather disputes that notion, let him fight Gennady at 154 pounds.
Trust me; Floyd won’t.
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at email@example.com. His most recent book (Reflections: Conversations, Essays, and Other Writings) was published by the University of Arkansas Press.