A week or so ago it was mentioned in this space how much boxing fans love big punchers. Fans not only love watching big punchers fight but they, along with many writers and commentators, are quick to overrate them in the moment and historically. Punchers, on the way up and during their title tenure always look more unbeatable and dangerous than any other style fighters. Fighters who can really hit always get rid of second tier opposition and journeymen much quicker and more impressively than boxers, technicians and counter-punchers do. And in doing that they build up reputations as killers.
During the middleweight and light heavyweight title tenures of Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones, it was often stated that they didn't face any good or noteworthy challengers during their reigns as middleweight and light heavyweight champs. What's interesting is, has anyone of those critics taken a look at the names and fighters that Gennady Golovkin has faced in his first nine or ten middleweight title defenses, or the fighters that Sergey Kovalev has faced in his first three light heavyweight title defenses? Amazingly, I've seen it written and heard it said that Golovkin and Kovalev are destined for greatness?
In his first ten title defenses as middleweight champ, Hopkins successfully defended the title against Steve Frank, Joe Lipsey, William Bo James, John David Jackson, Glen Johnson, Andrew Council, Simon Brown, Robert Allen twice and Antwun Echols. Based on that line up according to many observers, Hopkins was nothing special and just the benefactor of a weak era at the time.
In Golovkin's ten middleweight title defenses he's defeated Nelson Julio Tapia, Kassim Ouma, Lajuan Simon, Gregorz Proksa, Gabriel Rosado, Nobuhiro Ishida, Matthew Macklin, Curtis Stevens, Osumanu Adama and Danile Geale. Golovkin, based on that resume – is consider by more than some as the second coming and perhaps better than Marvin Hagler and Hopkins were. Really?
Sure, Golovkin scored more knockouts than Hopkins in the above bouts and Hopkins wouldn't have scored as many KO's as Golovkin did had he fought the same fighters as Gennady in title defenses, but that is strictly due to styles. Could anyone envision Hopkins being considered one of the greats had he beat the same fighters that Golovkin has to this point in title bouts? Not a chance in the world! But since Golovkin is a “catch n kill” attacker who can really punch, he's presumed great? Yet Hopkins would've been ripped in the press for fighting Daniel Geale. If Hopkins had stopped Geale in three rounds, you know what you'd hear? Geale stunk and was just a bum! On the other hand Golovkin destroys him and all we hear is Gennady is the hardest hitting middleweight ever. Give me a break!
The same thing holds true for Kovalev.
In Roy Jones first three light heavyweight title defenses he beat Virgil Hill, Lou DeValle and Otis Grant. And you know what was being said after those defenses; Roy hadn't fought anyone good. DeValle and Grant were manufactured contenders.
In Sergey Kovalev's first three light heavyweight title defenses he's defeated Ismayl Sillah, Cedric Agnew and Blake Caparello. And based on that line up Kovalev is a certified life-taker and destined for light heavyweight greatness. I wonder how many would've said that about Jones had he made his first three title defenses against Sillah, Agnew and Caparello? How about nobody! And the reason for that is Sergey is a big hitter and looks unbeatable at the moment. Had Jones demolished Capparello the way Kovalev did this past weekend, everybody would be saying this week how terrible he (Caparello) is and how Roy doesn't fight anybody.
I'm not bashing Golovkin or Kovalev at all, just examining their records. Nobody talks about who they've fought, only that they've won by impressive knockouts in all of their title bouts. I think they're both outstanding fighters and two of the more exciting boxers in the sport today. However, neither of them has beaten anybody that is/was a somebody and that's not conjecture. And because they're big punchers – they look unstoppable versus second tier opposition. But that is not a testament to their greatness. Yes, they are skilled and more than just big hitters, but they haven't proven themselves yet against one special fighter, and that's not their fault because they certainly haven't ducked anybody. They both fight in sub-par middleweight and light heavyweight divisions. But at least Kovalev will get his first test in November against Bernard Hopkins and then will know a little better just how good or great he might be. As for Golovkin, his division is so sub-par that he'll have to move up in weight…..or wait for a smaller fighter to move up and challenge him before he's tested by another outstanding fighter.
Look at the names that Golovkin and Kovalev have defeated, especially in title bouts. Then ask yourself if anyone would be proclaiming Hopkins or Jones greatness if they fought and defeated the same fighters? I say no way in the world because fans and writers are blinded by big punchers. That is until they finally run into a truly special and tough opponent who stands up to their power and punches them back. And that happens to every big hitter somewhere along the way before they retire. History is replete with that scenario playing out.
During the 1990s Hopkins and Jones were admonished because of their opposition. Today Golovkin and Kovalev are lauded based on how they've looked beating the fighters they've faced. Yet in reality, Hopkins and Jones actually beat better fighters in title bouts than either Golovkin or Kovalev have to this point. Looking back at the names Hopkins and Jones fought during their prime now looks like a list of killers next to the guys Golovkin and Kovalev have faced. A lot of the fighters Bernard defended his title against could be a title holder today.
I'm not saying Golovkin and Kovalev aren't on a path to the hall of fame or greatness, but they first have to beat a few somebodies and earn a few notches on their belts. Hopkins and Jones both had to before they were accepted as all-time greats. The rules don't change for Golovkin and Kovalev because they've built up a great knockout percentage fighting lesser fighters than Hopkins and Jones fought at the same time in their careers and were mutilated by the media and fans for fighting.
Hopefully, for the sake of professional boxing, both Gennady and Sergey will go onto achieve half as much as Hopkins and Jones did. Because if they do, boxing advocates are in for a nice ride for the next few years. But until then, let us stop with how they're both the greatest punchers ever at their weight or how greatness is theirs for the taking. Only time will prove that one way or the other. The truth is, Golovkin and Kovalev have yet to face an one outstanding opponent, where beating them signifies you just may be the next coming. What they've done is gotten rid of their limited opposition quickly, and that's caused boxing guys to over react.
Frank Lotierzo can be reached at GlovedFist@Gmail.com