I try not to watch boxing with my dad. It’s not his fault. I just can’t stand to hear him compare every single fighter ever, regardless of weight class or boxing ability, to Muhammad Ali. It drives me crazy, mostly because I’ve heard the same thing over and over again for over 30 years now. Yes, I realize that one day when my dad is gone that I’ll miss it. But right now, it drives me crazy.
Pops is part of boxing’s most established and celebrated cult: the cult of Ali. We get it, people. He was great. But others have been, too, you know, and more will be as well. I think Ali has been given his fair share of credit. There are a billion books about the man already and I don’t know how many times I can watch the same documentary of him, or any of his fights, get remade over and over again as if it’s something new and interesting.
Here’s the thing about Ali. He’s not somehow being slighted if every single thing isn’t about him. He’s not somehow less noteworthy if other men and women ply his trade, too. If life worked that way, we boxing writers would have all put our pens down the moment Springs Toledo published Gods of War. Or maybe all writing would have ceased to exist the second Herman Melville wrote down the phrase “Call me Ishmael” for his 1851 novel Moby Dick. But no—none of that happened. Time marches on.
Still, it happened on Saturday that my dad and I crowded around a hotel room television set to watch middleweight monster Gennady Golovkin ruthlessly dispose of the game but overmatched challenger Martin Murray. I had told Dad all that day before the fight that Golovkin was a force to be reckoned with in boxing. Pops wouldn’t hear it.
“Yeah,” he’d argue. “But could he whoop Ali?”
At this point in the dialogue, as it is every single time it happens, I have to re-explain to my father the existence of weight divisions in boxing. I’m certain he knows all of this already, but we go through the very same motions every single time nonetheless.
So on to the next thing. Dad asks me how Golovkin, being established a middleweight now, would do against Marvin Hagler, Ray Leonard and Thomas Hearns.
“Yeah, but could he beat Hagler or any of those guys?”
I get this question from him a lot after the Ali lead-in, and it’s a question that’s almost always impossible to answer. Again, we go over the existence and purpose of weight classes. We talk about Leonard and Hearns being more welterweights than middleweights historically and so on. And then we discuss how it’s not really fair to try and compare Golovkin to Hagler just yet as the latter is clearly one of the greatest middleweights of all-time while Golovkin is not yet even lineal champion.
The fight is almost set to begin now though, so Dad asks me which one of the men in the ring is, in fact, Golovkin. We establish that he is the smaller looking one but will ultimately turn out to be the bigger man once the bell rings. Dad asks me where Golovkin is from. I tell him Golovkin is from Kazakhstan, after which we determine that the Middle Eastern sounding place is really closer to Russia in distance, culture and history than it is to Iraq. Not that any of that matters, mind you. But these are the questions my dad asks me, and so I oblige him.
Right before the bell rings, I try to put it as succinctly as possible for him. “Look, Dad,” I said with an air of seriousness. “The best way I can describe Golovkin is to say he’s the dude in the room you shouldn’t —k with. Period.”
Dad understands now, and when Golovkin does his part by annihilating Murray, Pops comes away impressed. He went from questioning the fighter’s ability to joyfully pleading with the referee to stop the magnificent Golovkin from pummeling poor Murray in a one-sided massacre. “That man could stand in against anyone,” Dad admits after.
Maybe the best way I’ve seen Golovkin described was done so by UCN’s Kim Francesca. She called Golovkin “unbothered” on Twitter recently and that’s the best way I’ve heard to describe how he fights. Golovkin is unbothered by punches hurled at him by his opponents, even the ones that land flush. He’s unbothered whether his opponent would rather stand and fight or run away. It’s all the same to him. He’s going to come forward. He’s going to seek and destroy. He’s a wrecking ball and whatever stands in front of him is just an old building scheduled for demolition. The paperwork is all in. There’s no turning back now. Once he starts toward an opponent, he doesn’t stop until he has rendered the destruction complete.
Moreover, Golovkin is unbothered by comparisons. I don’t think he cares how people think he’d do against Hagler, Hearns or Leonard. I’m not even sure he cares how people think he’d do against a heavyweight like Ali. Because Golovkin isn’t the type to get bothered by trivial and meaningless things. He swats away punches as if they were bothersome little flies. And he knows he’s never met an opponent in a prizefighting ring that he hasn’t been able to destroy.
Golovkin isn’t a talker. He’s a doer. He’s the guy that kicks ass and let’s everyone else worry about dumb things. I’m not even sure he’s really listening when people ask him questions.
“I feel great. Why? This is my plan. Thank you very much for my knockout,” Golovkin said in his post-fight interview with HBO’s Max Kellerman. “This is my strategy: first five to six rounds just show my drama, and after six rounds just knock him [out].”
I’m not sure Pops or I heard the question. I am certain it doesn’t matter though, because both of us agree about Golovkin now.
He’s a badass. He wouldn’t beat Ali. Both of those can be true.
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