Almost Happened – A funny thing happened on the way to the dreadful mismatch that was unified middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin vs. Dominic Wade: Fight fans might have gotten a pairing of “GGG” and ageless wonder Bernard “The Alien” Hopkins, at 168 or perhaps 170 pounds. Think that would have been preferable to watching Golovkin, the most avoided fighter in boxing, beat up still another “challenger” foolish or desperate enough to offer himself up as a human sacrifice to the hardest-punching 160-pounder since Gerald McClellan?
But now that Dominic Wade, ruthlessly dispatched in less than two rounds, is in Golovkin’s rear-view mirror, probably never to be heard from again, the boxing world can return to the longest-running bit of pugilistic foreplay since, well, Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao stared at each other across a chasm of disagreement for five-plus years before they finally got around to sharing the ring.
To hear Hopkins, an executive with Golden Boy, which handles WBC and lineal middleweight titlist Canelo Alvarez (46-1-1, 32 KOs), and Tom Loeffler, managing director of K2 Promotions, which takes care of the business arrangements for Golovkin (35-0, 32 KOs), the WBA “super” and IBF champ who, perhaps most significantly in this instance, also holds the WBC “interim” belt, any negotiations to make the megafight everyone wants to see should be smooth sailing. The Golovkin side is willing to grant almost every concession to Alvarez, the presumptive “A” side of the promotion, including choice of venues and a larger slice of what is sure to be a XXXL-sized financial pie. If Canelo, who is to Mexico’s large and raucous contingent of boxing buffs what Steph Curry is to the Golden State Warriors, wants home-field advantage in Las Vegas or Texas, Loeffler said Golovkin is more than willing to accede to his wishes. But that doesn’t mean a squall won’t blow through to trouble otherwise placid waters.
“Each side knows this is a big fight – a huge fight,” said Hopkins, whose penchant for telling the truth as he sees it sometimes runs counter to the company line publicly floated by Golden Boy founder and CEO Oscar De La Hoya. “It’s the kind of fight boxing needs. But to make fights like that sometimes, everybody has to realize that sometimes you got to give a little to get a lot. I can’t say it any better than that.
“The only possible obstacle is weight. The money will take care of itself. There ought to be enough to satisfy both sides. It won’t do the numbers that Mayweather-Pacquiao did, obviously, but it’ll break some records. If `Triple G’ is willing to come down five pounds, I can almost guarantee he and Canelo will fight before the end of this year, the beginning of next year at the latest. But would he be willing to do that? I don’t know. Would Canelo be willing to come up to, say, 158? I don’t know that either. I do know I wouldn’t want to fight `Triple G’ at 158. I’ve seen the man fight and he can crack.”
To the average fight fan that might be willing to jump naked into a pond filled with piranhas to earn the kind of scratch a Alvarez-Golovkin fight would generate, the matter of a few lousy pounds, which Marie Osmond probably shed the first week she was on NutriSystem, might not seem like such a big deal. But this is boxing, where every division except heavyweight must observe (well, usually) strict weight limits. Title fights can and have been canceled because one of the principals has weighed in just a few tenths of a pound over the contracted weight and was unable or unwilling to take it off in the allotted one-hour time frame.
Hopkins believes that if Golovkin truly wants to mix it up with Alvarez as much as has been suggested, he’d monitor his diet and training regimen in such a way that he could and would get down to the 155-pound catch weight that Canelo demanded, and is getting, for his May 9 defense against Amir Khan (31-3, 19 KOs) at the new T-Mobile Center in Vegas. Alvarez has said that all future challengers will have to consent to a similar arrangement if they want to be given a spot on his dance card. But Loeffler believes a middleweight championship fight should be fought at the middleweight limit of 160 pounds, and he and Golovkin consider that point to be non-negotiable.
“When you have two middleweight champions fighting for the unified title, it’s hard to imagine their not fighting at the middleweight limit, especially because it’s mandated under WBC rules, which stipulates 160 pounds,” Loeffler stressed.
“There is no problem on our side regarding splits or locations. We’ve always said we were flexible concerning those matters. If Canelo wants to fight in Texas or wherever, we have no issue with that. Canelo is the WBC champion. If he wants all the champion’s perks, so be it. Gennady just wants to make the fight. He is anxious to unify all the titles, and we definitely would prefer to fight Canelo for the WBC title than for it to be taken away from him (for not complying with the WBC mandate to fight Golovkin). That is a situation that benefits no one.”
The worst-case scenario – and it might yet play out – is for Alvarez to vacate the WBC middleweight title or be stripped of it, enabling him to return to the super welterweight division he once ruled and still considers to be more of a natural fit, should his oft-stated preference for the 155-pound catch weight represent a line in the sand neither he nor Golovkin is willing to cross to accommodate the other. Were that to happen, Golovkin could, of course, still bid for the WBC championship against whomever emerged as Canelo’s replacement, but winning it under those circumstances would be hollow satisfaction. Remember, when the IBF stripped Tyson Fury of its version of the heavyweight champion for not fulfilling his mandatory, that slot was filled by Charles Martin, a larger version of Dominic Wade. When last we saw Martin, his shaky grip on the IBF title was being ripped away by Anthony Joshua in much the same manner that Golovkin blew away Wade.
To his credit, or perhaps detriment, Golovkin places great stock in the concept of being the one and only king of the middleweights, and the first to hold the belts from all four major sanctioning bodies since Jermain Taylor scored a 12-round split decision over Hopkins on Dec. 3, 2005, laying claim to B-Hop’s WBA, WBC, IBF and WBO hardware in the process. Not since Hopkins and four-time former heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield has any champion been so intent on rounding up as many world titles as possible in the same weight class and protecting them with the ferocity of a she-wolf guarding her cubs. The only problem with that philosophy is that sometimes one of the world sanctioning bodies orders a mandatory defense against someone with thin credentials and an artificially inflated record – someone, for instance, like Dominic Wade.
At 34, Golovkin still appears to be at the top of his game, but the Los Angeles-based native of Kazakhstan has been grudgingly picking through the flotsam in search of the kind of career-defining megafight that would legitimize his claim to being one of the finest middleweights of all time, in addition to substantially fattening his bank account. There are only two potential matchups that have across-the-board appeal for hardcore, fringe and even non-boxing fans, one being Sergey Kovalev vs. Andre Ward. The other is, of course, Alvarez-Golovkin.
In his own way, Golovkin has been waiting for a shot at the WBC title seemingly as long as Pacquiao waited on Mayweather. “GGG” won the interim WBC belt on a two-round wipeout of Marco Antonio Rubio on Oct. 18, 2014, setting into motion a chain of events whose final link has yet to be determined.
“Gennady’s probably been the most patient mandatory challenger that I’ve seen,” Loeffler said. “At the WBC convention in Las Vegas at the end of 2014, before Canelo even came into the picture – (Miguel) Cotto had just beaten (then-WBC middleweight champion Sergio) Martinez – it was ruled that Cotto would be allowed one voluntary defense, which was supposed to be against Canelo, with the winner mandated to fight Gennady. But Cotto then chose to fight (Daniel) Geale, and that pushed everything off-course. Now he’s used his voluntary against Geale, so we were asked to agree to allow Cotto to make another voluntary defense, against Canelo in November of last year.
“When Canelo beat Cotto, he asked to make a voluntary defense (against Khan) before he fought Gennady. Because there is such a history now of Gennady’s mandatory being pushed back, at some point it stops making sense to even have the WBC interim championship if he never gets a title shot. I mean, Gennady’s already made three defenses of the interim title.”
You would think that all the starts, stops and detours on the road to Alvarez-Golovkin would have stirred up some resentment on both sides, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. There is frustration, yes, particularly from Team Golovkin, but there is also more than a fair amount of mutual respect. These are two of the finest pound-for-pound fighters on the planet, and no one is inclined to dispute that or get into a nasty war of words.
“We have a lot of respect for Canelo,” Loeffler said. “In fact, Canelo’s one of my favorite champions. I love watching him fight. He was great against (James) Kirkland, great against Cotto. He’s taken fights, difficult fights, he didn’t have to take against Austin Trout and Erislandy Lara.”
Hopkins is no less complimentary toward Golovkin, who, with 16 successful middleweight defenses, has closed within four of tying the division-record held by B-Hop.
“You can’t take nothing away from `Triple G,’” said Hopkins, who has not yet closed the book on his Hall of Fame-quality career at the ridiculously advanced age of 51. “He’s talking about breaking my record. What’s he need now, five more wins? If it happens, I hope to be there so I can personally salute him.
“I know people say he hasn’t been tested, but you never know who’s going to show up on a given night and give him that test. The so-called experts can’t always predict who’s going to win. Sometimes they’re wrong. All I know is that he keeps mauling the guys they put in front of him.”
But Hopkins knows a thing or two about leverage, and as a key figure in the Golden Boy hierarchy he doesn’t want Golovkin’s inexorable march toward his record to include a conquest of Alvarez, 25, who is the linchpin to the company’s long-term success. If the big fight happens, and Hopkins hopes it will, all well and good. Still, the fight before the fight takes place behind closed doors where contractual matters are finalized. If there is a possible parallel between Alvarez-Golovkin, Hopkins sees it as the April 6, 1987, pairing of Sugar Ray Leonard and Marvelous Marvin Hagler, with Canelo cast in the role of the terms-dictating Leonard.
“If Steph Curry don’t play in the playoffs, his team is probably not going to repeat as the champion,” Hopkins said. “Canelo is like Steph Curry to Golden Boy. Of course we’re going to position him in such a way to maximize all his assets. But in saying that, you got to remember one thing: We don’t need `Triple G.’ He needs Canelo. At the end of the day, the fighter that holds all the cards would be a fool not to use that.
“Look, Oscar has or might make some decisions he might be criticized for – no, he will be criticized for – but so what? He is in the business of being a promoter. As a fighter, he dared to be great. As a promoter, he can’t dare to be stupid. He has to make the right business move for his fighter, and the fact is that `Triple G’ stands to gain more from winning that fight. Of course, if Canelo wins, he becomes even more of a megastar than he already is. But he’s a megastar already.
“There will be a dialogue, a negotiation, and when it happens `Triple G’ won’t be operating from a position of strength. Look, I can remember when I couldn’t get the fights I wanted for a lot of reasons. Some of it was political. Some of it was personal. When push comes to shove, though, you do what you have to do.
“When I was the (light heavyweight) champion, I had to take off five pounds to make the Winky Wright fight, the Kelly Pavlik fight. I had a catch weight fight with Oscar when I had three middleweight championship belts and Bob Arum (then De La Hoya’s promoter) said the only way that fight would ever happen is if I agreed to come in at no more than 158 pounds. I could have bitched and hollered about sweating off the extra weight, but I wanted the fight to happen. Was the money great? Yes. But I wanted to fight the best, and if I beat Oscar, God only knows what could happen after that. And, well, we know now what happened next.”
The concept that Golovkin is not yet an attraction on the same level as Alvarez is valid, but not nearly so much as was once the case. In his two most recent ring appearances, the smiling assassin packed Madison Square Garden with an attendance of over 20,000 for his unification bout with then-IBF champ David Lemieux and the Fabulous Forum in Inglewood, Calif., with 16,000-plus for the quickie demolition of Wade. The coin of the realm in boxing is power, the rare kind that Golovkin is packing, and more and more people are coming around to the realization that when he fights, it might be a good thing to buy a ticket to be in the arena or tune in on TV.
But that power – which has scared off a lot of the potential opponents who want to be paid a king’s ransom to swap punches with him – has severely limited his options. When Tureano Johnson, a more than competent fighter who was to have been Golovkin’s IBF mandatory, fell out with an injury, the organization slid Wade, who went off as a 70-to-1 no-hoper, into his slot. Perhaps because of what the IBF had done in stripping Fury and foisting Martin upon unsuspecting fans, Golovkin probably felt he had no choice but to go through with the mandatory defense from hell. When your goal is to win all the belts, you don’t surrender any of the ones you have without just cause.
So Canelo is Golovkin’s immediate target, and after that WBO middleweight champ Billy Joe Saunders (23-0, 12 KOs) of England, who probably is a cut below Alvarez but definitely a cut or two above Wade. Full unification of a world boxing championship is a tricky affair in these uncertain times, but nothing of value ever is gained without enduring the tedium of putting the jigsaw puzzle together.
To their credit, Hopkins and Golovkin were prepared to risk much to spare HBO viewers and on-site spectators at the Forum a fight that was the equivalent of killing a spider with a sledgehammer. Hopkins, who has not fought since he went the distance in a unanimous-decision loss to Kovalev, the light heavyweight version of Golovkin, on Nov. 8, 2014, has been pining for a farewell fight before officially ending his 28-year pro career, and he wanted it to be something of consequence. Turned down for shots at the super middleweight championships held by James DeGale (IBF) and the since-dethroned Arthur Abraham (WBO), he lobbied for an intriguing go at Golovkin.
“I thought it was,” Hopkins said of the possibility that the fight might take place. “But, you know, the sand runs out of the hourglass sometimes. I was serious about wanting to do it. Golden Boy was involved in some conversations with (Loeffler), but nothing came of it. There’s a lot of posturing that goes on in this business before anything actually happens.”
Loeffer said K2 Promotions was serious about making Golovkin-Hopkins. No, it wouldn’t have been for another slice of the middleweight championship pie, but it would have been against a former undisputed middleweight titlist, a future Hall of Famer and a guy who had snapped Kovalev’s nine-bout knockout streak, albeit in a losing cause, and has never been stopped himself. Oh, and it would have been a helluva lot more interesting that Golovkin-Wade.
“There was interest on our side,” Loeffler acknowledged. “We have a lot of respect for Bernard, who we got to know pretty well for the fight with Lemieux (who is part of the Golden Boy stable). It’s a fight we could have made happen at 168 pounds, and it would have been a good story. Going into the Kovalev fight, there were a lot of people who picked Bernard to win, and he did go the distance. I think it would have been interesting to find out if Gennady could become the first man to knock out a legendary fighter who has never been knocked out. And regardless of what happened, Gennady would then go right back down to 160.
“But the IBF ruled that Gennady had to fight his mandatory (against Wade) or risk being stripped of its title, which would have been crazy since we had gone through so much to even get the fight with Lemieux.”
Presuming that Alvarez defeats Khan – and that is not nearly the gimme that Golovkin over Wade was – he has 15 days to agree to a fight with “GGG” or be stripped of the WBC middleweight title, which in and of itself would be major news given the Mexico City-based sanctioning body’s longstanding tradition of bending to the will of that country’s superstar boxers. If both sides consent to stage the fight, contractual terms would have to be arranged within a specified time frame and, failing that, it would go to a purse bid under WBC rules.
There is a school of thought that Alvarez is “afraid” to square off against Golovkin, but that is a preposterous assumption given the toughness and grit demonstrated by nearly all Mexican fighters, of which Canelo is not standard issue. He is one of his homeland’s most accomplished and popular standard-bearers in boxing, proud and confident in his own abilities, and it stands to reason that those qualities almost ensure that he seek out Golovkin to find out for himself who really is the best of the best.
But the devil is always in the details, isn’t it? It just might be that the most-anticipated middleweight unification clash since Hopkins-Felix Trinidad in 2001 hinges on the loss or addition of a few precious pounds of flesh by whichever champion comes to the conclusion that making the bout at a less-than-optimal weight is far better than not making it at all.