Lethal power-puncher Gennady Golovkin, the world’s best middleweight, 33-0 and thirty-three years of age out of Karaganda, Kazakhstan, meets Canadian David Lemieux, 26 years old and 34-2 in Madison Square Garden on the seventeenth of this month.
It’s a good fight, and, should he win, Golovkin is on his way to becoming a great fighter. But it’s not the main event.
It is receiving top billing because the main protagonist is a middleweight power-puncher and because there are people in powerful positions that believe him a possible long-haul golden-goose but the real main event is in fact the chief support, the meeting between three weight strapholder #1 pound-for-pound, 43-0 lineal flyweight champion Roman Gonzalez, a man who has more knockouts to his name than Golovkin has fights, and Brian Viloria, a former strapholder at two different weights, 36-4 and a former TBRB top-ten pound-for-pounder. Viloria exited the pound-for-pound line-up only after a loss to the monstrous Juan Francisco Estrada, currently ranked #7 on the same list.
While Gonzalez and Golovkin are the main attractions and while Gonzalez dominates Golovkin in terms of prestige and titles, of the respective opponents, Viloria is also the more prestigious then. In 2011, when Lemieux was losing to the likes of Marco Antonio Rubio and Joachim Alcine, Viloria was knocking out beasts like Giovani Segura and Omar Romero. Being frank: Golovkin is in Gonzalez’s class as a fighter but clearly to be ranked below him pound-for-pound while, as opposition, Viloria is by far the more accomplished of the two opponents.
That said, arguments that Lemieux has more momentum than Viloria going in are sound. “The Hawaiian Punch”, continues to rebuild in the wake of his hurtful 2012 loss to Estrada, after which the first thing he did was take a whole year off before returning against granite-chinned Puerto Rican journeyman Juan Carlos Herrera. The fight was not a satisfying one with Viloria boxing and moving and potshotting his way to a wide unanimous decision. My initial thoughts were that Viloria had become gun-shy, but he looked more alive if not quite himself against Jose Zuniga in the summer of 2015, stopping the Mexican with a body attack after five. Bodyshots, too, were the formula for his fourth round stoppage of Armando Vazquez, but it was clear that Viloria was now treading water; that perhaps the seemingly overstated criticism of him from earlier in his career, namely that he was not always necessarily a natural fighter or one that could be relied upon to be switched on to his boxing in the manner of most top fighters, seemed worth recalling.
Then came his most recent fight, his June meeting with Omar Soto.
This fight was significant not just because, despite losing a two round blow-out to Roman Gonzalez in 2011 that sent him into a tailspin of form so bad he was no longer ranked, Soto was a step up from the very limited competition he had been meeting, but also because it was a rematch. Soto had pushed Viloria to a split decision back in 2010 in a fight I thought the Mexican had won with steady pressure and a dogged persistence in taking any and all punching opportunities. It was clear his style troubled Viloria and certainly, despite Soto’s drop in form, this was an interesting test for the American.
Viloria looked almost frightening against a clearly compromised Soto. He looked fast, angry, balanced and heavy-handed. Soto was forced to take a knee three times in 119 seconds, twice by right hands, once with a scything left-hook to the liver. Soto failed to make it out of the first round for the very first time.
First round knockouts appear often as mirages. One thinks one knows things that one does not, sometimes, behind a first round knockout. It was a first round knockout of Floyd Patterson by Sonny Liston that told us that Liston could not be beaten, least of all by a lightweight mimic like Cassius X, soon to be Muhammad Ali. In fact, Liston was already a past-prime alcoholic who was ready to be taken. Mike Tyson was only twenty months short of his destruction at the hands of James “Buster” Douglas when he flattened Michael Spinks, his private life already spinning dangerously out of control. This knockout, brutal and succinct though it was, has not answered key questions about Viloria – does he have the stamina for twelve hard rounds, does he have the stomach for another hard fight, but I don’t think these are the questions at hand for his fight against Roman Gonzalez.
Returning to 2013 and Viloria’s Waterloo against Estrada for a moment, the factors that made Estrada so much the master may not be present when Viloria meets Gonzalez.
Viloria landed two hard left hooks in the opening minutes but a distant warning note was already sounding. Viloria looked slow of foot. This enabled Estrada to repeatedly forage and even to audition punches until he settled on a right uppercut, no less, perhaps the hardest punch to land in such guerrilla fashion but the one that repeatedly found the target.
This is not an ability that Gonzalez has. He doesn’t pounce, but rather brings the most adept pressure of any fighter currently active, with all due respect to Golovkin, who may be the second. Catching fleet-footed flyweights is perhaps the most difficult job in all of boxing and it is one at which Roman Gonzalez absolutely excels, as I wrote in my detailed accounting of the new pound-for-pound king. But he is not recreating the jack-rabbit attack executed so faultlessly by Estrada.
Once Estrada had softened Viloria up, he came inside and dominated here also, really hurting his man in the ninth round in the process. Viloria, who has an iron jaw and is as hard as nails, barely made it out of the twelfth.
Estrada couldn’t get Viloria out of there, but Gonzalez is a better puncher. However, while Estrada enjoyed a huge (and generally overlooked) stylistic advantage over Viloria, Gonzalez does not. In fact, I suspect that Viloria is in the stylistic box-seat here, if he finds the right fight plan.
Viloria likes come forward fighters who wait for their turn. Gonzalez may be the best technician in the world and he is certainly capable of the unexpected but while he can counter-punch, you won’t generally see him pre-counter or try to pull the trigger on an opponent who has shaped a punch. He is too excellent for this. What this means is that a fighter with the guts to attack him might get to spend a few rounds on the same plane as him.
When fighters break, Gonzalez has already beaten them. It is only a matter of time before he catches them and fillets them. When they run from the off, Gonzalez builds terrifying momentum hunting them down and wins, at worst, a lop-sided decision. What Estrada did was fight him, and fought him for every minute of every round with a wonderful mix of movement and aggression. He prevented Gonzalez getting set with his superior speed and stalled his momentum with aggression and fluidity.
In a sense, Estrada has “lain down the blueprint” in the vocabulary of the Mayweather obsessive, but I suspect it is not one that Viloria can follow. He doesn’t have Estrada’s speed – in fact I think Gonzalez will be the faster fighter as well as the volume puncher – and he’s always struggled with that type of fighting retreat. He becomes disorganised. If he elects to box-punch for as long as he can hold the heat I think Gonzalez will stalk him down for the knockout. That’s a bold prediction – dig up the Estrada fight for an example of what Viloria can swallow without effect – but it’s one I stand by. If, on the other hand, Viloria strikes out to attack Gonzalez, to knock him out, and to do so early, I think he introduces enough variance, enough chaos, that such a result be possible. Viloria has excellent power when he lands right, and although he can sometimes seem strangely staid in fights of a certain nature, when he is aggressive and direct he can be devastating.
Like he was against Giovani Segura; like he was against Soto.
Of course, Gonzalez is a different matter altogether but trying to box-punch with the best box-puncher in the world and trying to move off against the best pressure fighter in the business, seems to me the greater of the evils, should Viloria be determined to win.
But if he can tap into that vein of power that surges in both his right and his left glove, if he can hurt Gonzalez early, and if he is fit, well and mentally adjusted so that he be able to maintain an attack in such circumstances, anything can happen. Whether or not Viloria and his team strike upon such a solution is another matter of course, in my experience most fighters want to believe that fighters can win boxing “their way.”
Against Gonzalez, boxing his way is going to get Brian Viloria hurt, badly, in an entertaining fight. But if he can find the heart and the nerve to set sail into the storm, we might just see a shock on this weekend. At 112lbs or below, Gonzalez is always going to be the right pick, regardless of the opposition, but Viloria is not chanceless.
So, by all means enjoy Golovkin-Leminuex on Saturday – just don’t be late, you might miss the main event.