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Gennady Golovkin – There are no shackles upon his hands and feet, or tall walls manned by armed guards, or a tiny jail cell with in which he sleeps and dreams of better things.

But, in a figurative sense, Gennady “GGG” Golovkin is no less a prisoner than someone convicted of, say, felonious assault outside the confines of boxing. The best middleweight in the world has knocked out or stopped his most recent 21 opponents, stamping him as perhaps the most dangerous dude in a dangerous sport, and someone who must be isolated lest he wreak even more damage inside the 160-pound weight class whose other presumably elite members cross the street when they see him coming their way.

The Los Angeles-based native of Kazakhstan is still at the top of his game at age 34, the result of excellent skills, superb conditioning and the near-total absence of bouts in which he took anything remotely close to the punishment he routinely dishes out. But the sands of the hourglass eventually run out on every fighter, especially those on the shady side of 30 and who have not benefited as fully from their gifts as nature intended. It might be that the really big fights that Golovkin deserves and seeks won’t happen until the guys capable of truly testing him determine that those gifts, the foremost of which is frightening punching power, have eroded to the point where it’s finally safer to cross back over to “GGG’s” side of the street.

In the interim Golovkin (34-0, 31 KOs) must content himself by accepting stay-busy bouts against marginal challengers with lottery-long chances of pulling an upset, dreamers who see Golovkin more as the means to a decent payday than of actually breaking through to the inner circle. Guys, in other words, like Dominic Wade (18-0, 13 KOs), who various oddsmakers around the world have established as anything from a 41-to-1 to a 200-to-1 underdog.

Barring what almost everyone in boxing would consider a semi-miracle, the Golovkin-Wade matchup, which will be televised Saturday night via HBO World Championship Boxing from the Fabulous Forum in Inglewood, Calif., offers not so much legitimate competition as another opportunity to witness a master of disaster at work against still another obligatory victim. And if that is indeed what occurs, the shame of it is that Gennady Golovkin will regretfully remain incarcerated by others’ confidence-shaking perceptions of his prodigious talent, not to mention the sometimes arbitrary dictates of alphabet sanctioning bodies and the haze of historical speculation.

“I think that eventually, 20 years from now, when people sit down to discuss the (great) middleweights, Golovkin will be one they talk about,” said Abel Sanchez, who trains the IBF, WBA “super” and IBO (pardon me if I decline to include the bogus WBC “interim” title) champion.

But one of the variables in any formula to determine greatness is strength-of-schedule, the kind used to determine which four teams are invited to participate in the College  Football Playoff. It’s no secret that 2015’s eventual champion, Alabama, made it to last season’s party for playing SEC West rivals LSU, Ole Miss (which the Crimson Tide lost to), Arkansas, Texas A&M, Mississippi State, Arkansas and Auburn than by summarily disposing of such non-conference gimmes as Middle Tennessee, Louisiana-Monroe and Charleston Southern. But Alabama has to play its fellow SEC West members; in boxing, the equivalent of those teams don’t have the option of saying no, thanks, I’d rather not mix it up with Golovkin, standing in for the Crimson Tide.

Perhaps Wade, the IBF’s mandatory challenger to Golovkin despite comparatively thin credentials, has what it takes to shock the world or, at least, make the champion believe he’s engaged in something more than a glorified sparring session. That remains to be seen. In the meantime, the 800-pound gorilla in the room is WBC middleweight champ Canelo Alvarez (46-1-1, 32 KOs), who defends his belt against Amir Khan (31-3, 19 KOs) on May 7 in Las Vegas in an HBO Pay-Per-View bout whose outcome at least figures to be somewhat less predetermined than Golovkin-Wade.

If Golovkin and Alvarez win as expected, the WBC has mandated that Alvarez defend its title in a unification showdown with Golovkin. It would be one of two fights that the public most wants to see, the other being the pairing of IBF/WBA/WBO light heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev (29-0-1, 26 KOs) with former WBA and WBC super middleweight ruler Andre Ward (29-0, 15 KOs). But Alvarez has demanded that opponents seeking his title agree to meet him at a catch weight of 155 pounds, which would give the former WBC and WBA super welterweight ruler an advantage to which Golovkin, a full-fledged middleweight, and his team might be disinclined to consent.

“He is after the unification of all the (middleweight) belts,” said Sanchez in explaining why his fighter is obligated to fulfill his IBF mandatory against a relative unknown like Wade. “So if he doesn’t fight this fight, he’s going to lose that belt.”

Wade as a fill-in-the-blank kind of challenger to Golovkin is hardly a new development. This is Golovkin’s 16th title defense, but to date his reign has been devoid of anyone capable of forcing him to dig deep inside himself to find that something extra that elevates a fighter from very good to indisputably great. How’s this for a non-Murderer’s Row of the vanquished? Nilson Julio Tapia, Kassim Ouma, Lajuan Simon, Makota Fuchigami, Grzegorz Proksa, Gabriel Rosado, Nobuhiro Ishida, Matthew Macklin, Curtis Stevens, Osumanu Adama, Daniel Geale, Marco Antonio Rubio, Martin Murray, Willie Monroe Jr. and David Lemieux, good fighters all but hardly candidates for eventual enshrinement in the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

Golovkin might have the right stuff to join the list of immortals to which Sanchez referred, but even if he meets and defeats Alvarez – and any such meeting is hardly a certainty, given the details that figure to be included in the contractual fine print – the potential list of plums to be picked mostly consists of low-hanging fruit. Would a unification fight against the WBO champ, England’s Billy Joe Saunders (23-0, 12 KOs) fire the public’s imagination? What about a date with the WBA’s “regular” titlist, Daniel Jacobs (31-1, 28 KOs)? Or former WBO ruler Andy Lee (34-3, 24 KOs), of Ireland? All would be pronounced underdogs against “GGG,” Alvarez somewhat less so.

It thus falls to fight fans to imagine how Golovkin might fare against the sort of legends who, unfortunately for him, came along at a time when their careers and his did not intersect. It thus is difficult to place Golovkin on the lofty plateau reserved for Harry Greb, Stanley Ketchel, Sugar Ray Robinson, Carlos Monzon, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Roy Jones Jr. and Bernard Hopkins when your career boils down to too many Alabama-vs.-Charleston Southern routs.

The real fight thus takes place outside the ring, in telephone calls and face-to-face meetings with representatives of a higher class of opponents who must weigh the risk of their guys being knocked stiff by Golovkin against the reward of handling the first man to take him down. Until Team Golovkin is able to come up with the capital to make the reward worth the risk, which would involve “GGG” becoming a PPV attraction along the lines of an Alvarez, Floyd Mayweather Jr., Manny Pacquiao or Oscar De La Hoya, the other big names in the division are apt to continue making excuses for not swapping punches with him.

“Guys always say, `I want to fight Golovkin, just not next,’” said Sanchez, who clearly has wearied of entering a prime Secretariat in races at the county fair. “When these guys are saying that, we can’t just sit back and not say anything. We’ve made offers, and Tom (Loeffler, of K2 Promotions) has made offers, to just about everybody, and we’ve been turned down.”

Said Loeffler: “It’s hard to unify when the other champions don’t want to fight Gennady. It’s my job to look forward and try to secure other opportunities. We have to give David Lemieux (then the IBF champ) a lot of credit. He was the only champion so far willing to get in the ring with Gennady.”

Fight fans had to wait five long years for Mayweather-Pacquiao to take place, and the end result was something less than scintillating. Here’s hoping that Golovkin-Alvarez isn’t left on the back burner nearly so long. Frankly, the fans, and Golovkin, deserve something better.

Check out the results “Golovkin Blasts Wade, Gonzalez Outpoints Arroyo” at The Boxing Channel.

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