Roberto Duran is on the list, Joe Frazier* is on the list and so is Mike Tyson. The list in this particular instance is of the fighters who immediately come to mind when thinking of boxers who have to be categorized as swarmers/attackers who could really punch with both hands. And that’s a rarity among that breed of fighter. If you’re a swarmer, your odds really go up when it comes to the regularity that you can land your finishing punches on your opponents. That said, there have not been many middleweight attackers who could really punch, especially with both hands. At least not until Gennady Golovkin 31-0 (28) showed up.
Since 1950, there have been three legitimate swarmers who held the middleweight title, starting with Jake LaMotta 83-19-4 (30) / 1949-51, who was known to play possum sometimes and then explode. Nonetheless, Jake was a pressure fighter who looked to force the fight. Gene Fullmer 55-6-3 (24) /1957 & 1959 and Dick Tiger 60-16-3 (27) 1962-63 & 1965-66 also excelled on the inside while carrying the action. All three are in the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Fighters who force the fight and look to wage their battles on the inside are considered attackers or swarmers. Force any swarmer whose name isn’t Roberto Duran to fight in retreat and you’ll find a fighter who most resembles a fish out of water. In other words, he becomes a totally ineffective fighter. Swarmers tend to be on the shorter side with an average reach. Their calling card is pressure and volume punching. They thrive when they have their opponents pinned against the ropes or in one of the ring corners. And as you can see from the low knockout percentages of LaMotta, Fullmer and Tiger, being a big puncher isn’t a necessity for being an effective attacker, although it sure helps.
There is a commonality among the three Hall of Famers mentioned. And that is all three were unnaturally strong with great durability and owned a cast-iron chin as their last line of defense. In addition to that, all three lost their title to a fellow Hall of Famer.
LaMotta lost it to Sugar Ray Robinson, Fullmer, won it and lost it back to Robinson, while Tiger beat Fullmer for it the first time, lost it to Joey Giardello and then won it back from Giardello. The point here is, when an outstanding attacker comes along and wins the middleweight title, he’s usually a special or great fighter and historically, at least over the last 60 plus years, it’s taken another outstanding or all-time great to dethrone them.
That doesn’t bode well if you’re a contender or a fringe title belt holder in today’s middleweight division. Gennady Golovkin is the true middleweight boxing champion. No, he’s not the lineal title holder; however he’s the best and most dangerous fighter in the division. It’ll take a lot of money to get fighters who have something to lose get in the ring with him; I’m talking about the likes of Miguel Cotto, who is the lineal champ, along with Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and Saul Alvarez. Oh sure, fighters like Daniel Geale and Marco Antonio Rubio, Golovkin’s last two opponents, will step up to fight him because they had nothing to lose. Neither were big money fighters, nor did they come to the ring with a noteworthy title or stellar reputation.
Golovkin being one of those rare swarmers who can really hit with both hands makes him scary. When fighters enter the ring to fight Golovkin, they know he’s not one of those punchers where if you’re on your game, he might not touch you too frequently during the bout. It’s the opposite. Golovkin is going to press you from bell-to-bell and be in your face. He’s not averse to taking a couple of yours for the tradeoff being he can get a few of his in on you. And it’s not like if you take away one hand you don’t have to worry about the other.
In his second to last fight, he stopped Geale with one counter right hand, in which he really didn’t have his feet set and was slightly off balance. This past weekend he stopped Rubio with a high left-hook that was an arm punch without his body behind it. That’s two one-punch knockouts with each hand in his last two bouts. And yes, they were one punch knockouts because once they landed, the fights were over; there was no coming back for either Geale or Rubio once they were tagged clean, nor did they want to continue.
Swarmers like Golovkin are truth detectors when it comes to finding out how tough and willing their opponents are. Because they are on you and trying to end the fight every time they cut loose, they’re dangerous as long as they’re standing. No, I’m not convinced that Golovkin can’t be beaten. He’s not that fast of hand or foot, he’s hittable and the jury is still out regarding just how physically strong he is. Punching power and physicality is not the same thing, by the way. LaMotta, Fullmer and Tiger were off the chart when it came to strength that applies in the ring and had an abundance of that over Gennady. They could control and move their opponents where they needed them to go just with their shoulders. I don’t see that type physical strength in Golovkin, but he has something they didn’t – and that’s natural two-handed power that isn’t forced and is capable of sapping his opponents will almost on call, at least from what we’ve seen up to this point.
Unfortunately, today’s middleweight division is littered with tweeners. By tweeners I mean fighters that do not own one discernible weapon that most great fighters have. This is something that Golovkin would have to address before he goes at them as if they were handcuffed. It’s sort of like the predicament that Wladimir Klitschko is as a heavyweight. Golovkin, like Klitschko, looks more like a man amongst boys than a man amongst men. The difference is, Wladimir won’t come for you like Golovkin does. If you leave him alone, he’s content with winning every round without any close calls. That’s not Golovkin! Because he’s an attacker, he’s only effective and dangerous moving forward. That, and he really wants to deliver a special performance capped off with a memorable ending. Due to their styles, it’s much easier to be a pedestrian heavyweight contender and survive Klitschko than it is being a pedestrian middleweight contender trying to take Golovkin the distance, let alone win by fighting to survive.
When surveying the middleweight landscape, is there one fighter out there with the speed and boxing ability of Roy Jones, who could also punch? Is there a James Toney with a cast iron chin who could’ve gone to the ropes and tattooed Golovkin and stood there and fired back after Gennady planted a couple on him? And there certainly isn’t a Bernard Hopkins fighting at middleweight who would’ve shown Golovkin a different look and tactic every round, along with the chin to fight Gennady back and the guile to make his power a mirage?
In much the same way and for many of the same reasons, Gennady Golovkin could very easily dominate the middleweight division the way Wladimir Klitschko has the heavyweight division. The difference is, there are some star fighters slightly below and above middleweight who can supply Golovkin the challenge we all want him to soon be confronted by.
That said, his uniqueness of being a swarmer with two handed power campaigning in a division of tweeners insures that he’ll be at the top of the middleweight food chain until further notice.
*= Although Joe was known for his left hook, he was a debilitating body puncher with his right hand