For years I’ve maintained fighters who are perceived as being a certified life-taker because of their overload of punching power, are often overrated. And they often get the benefit of the doubt in hypothetical match ups with future opponents they’ll eventually meet down the road. Their impressive knockouts leave an unforgettable impression on those watching them, and until they’ve been defeated it is nearly impossible for some to envision them losing. And when they finally do lose there’s usually dedicated fans making excuses by rationalizing the loss. Oh, there’s nothing like the unbeatable perception of the undefeated knockout artist.
This Saturday night Gennady Golovkin 37-0 (33), who owns nearly all of the middleweight title hardware, faces Saul “Canelo” Alvarez 49-1-1 (34) who is recognized as the middleweight champ by The Ring Magazine. It’s a fight many boxing fans and insiders have longed to see for nearly two years. Canelo, more well-known to casual fans, is clearly the star attraction, but Golovkin is considered the biggest puncher in boxing due to his long knockout streak — a streak that began with his 14th bout when he stopped Malik Dziarra and ended in his last bout this past March when Daniel Jacobs went the distance with him.
Some insiders rank Golovkin as the top pound-for-pound fighter in boxing, which I completely disagree with. Yet if Canelo were to beat him, I doubt he’d be found among the top-10. It’s imperative for GGG to beat Canelo because his entire legacy hinges on the outcome.
Canelo represents Golovkin’s signature bout, opposed to Alvarez who was pretty dominant as a junior middleweight and suffered his only setback at the hands of Floyd Mayweather in a catch-weight clash back in 2013. Canelo has had a few close calls, but like Mayweather, he has big names on his resume. Also, like Mayweather many of the bigger names, such as Shane Mosley and Miguel Cotto, were on the decline when he fought them. But that’s more than Golovkin.
Golovkin won the WBA regular middleweight title belt in December of 2010 in his 20th bout via a third round knockout over Nilson Julio Tapia. Since then he’s dominated nearly every opponent he’s faced with one version or another of his titles on the line. And that’s what supposed great fighters are supposed to do – dominate inferior and B-level opposition. It’s mind boggling how during the past year I’ve seen countless media and social media polls asking where Golovkin ranks among the all-time great middleweight champs, or how he would have fared against recent greats like Carlos Monzon, Marvin Hagler and Bernard Hopkins in their prime.
I get it that so many are impressed with Golovkin’s power and 89.8 knockout percentage. But I can’t overlook that Golovkin has dominated the most pedestrian middleweight division of the last 50 years. To this point of his career, Golovkin hasn’t scored a career defining win over an A-level fighter, especially if you measure his opposition by those that Monzon, Hagler and even Hopkins beat to solidify their standing among the greats. In Golovkin’s two biggest bouts he defeated Kell Brook, who was the defending IBF welterweight champ, and struggled to win a close decision over Daniel Jacobs who was knocked out by Dmitry Pirog in his only prior defeat. And many of boxing’s most notable observers thought Jacobs had done enough to win.
Greatness in boxing is measured by the level of opposition the fighter in question defeated. Gennady cannot be blamed for his resume being thin because he certainly hasn’t avoided any deserving challengers, but he can be a victim of it. In his defense there weren’t any outstanding middleweights for him to fight until Canelo finally decided he was ready to face him, and if he defeats Canelo, Jermall Charlo has emerged as another worthy challenger. This is the biggest bout of GGG’s career and it’s against an opponent who built his reputation fighting as a junior middleweight and in his only defeat was soundly out-boxed by a welterweight who moved up a few pounds.
Yes, Canelo has improved since he fought Mayweather but it’s not night and day improvement. Canelo, like Golovkin, is pretty one-dimensional and they’re both much less formidable if their opponent can fight on the move and give them lateral movement as we saw when Canelo fought Amir Khan and Miguel Cotto and when Golovkin fought Jacobs. And that’s why their clash should be action-packed and exciting because whoever tries to be cute and goes away from what he does best will most likely lose. Golovkin, because of his age and the talent void in the middleweight division, will not have many opponents to fight with the hope of erasing the setback if he were to lose to Canelo this weekend.
History’s greatest middleweights have defeated other big name fighters who moved up in weight to challenge them, thus cementing their legacy. Monzon defeated Emile Griffith and Jose Napoles who made their mark as welterweight champions. Hagler defeated Roberto Duran, who won his first title as a lightweight, and Thomas Hearns who captured his first title as a welterweight. Hopkins beat Felix Trinidad, who won his first title at welterweight, and Oscar De La Hoya, who won his first belt as a junior lightweight. And they were some of the opponents Monzon, Hagler and Hopkins defeated in signature bouts on their way to achieving greatness.
Ask yourself this – if Monzon circa 1971-73, Hagler 1983-85 and Hopkins 2001-2004, fought Canelo of 2017 and lost, would they still be considered all-time greats? Of course they wouldn’t. Taking it a step further, if Monzon, Hagler and Hopkins of the eras I mentioned were fighting Canelo this Saturday night – who would you pick to win? That’s a question no sophisticated boxing fan would need much time to answer.
What I know for sure about Gennady Golovkin is that he has legitimate two-handed punching power and he also takes a good punch. But I don’t know where he rates among the greats or if he is even worthy of such high praise. I also don’t know who he could or couldn’t defeat among history’s elite middleweight champions. What I do know is that if he can’t beat Canelo, it’s a joke to think of him as a great fighter or ponder how he would’ve done fighting Monzon, Hagler, Hopkins or any of the other past great middleweight champs.
For Golovkin to remain in the conversation to be considered one of history’s all-time great middleweights, he must beat Canelo Alvarez, and it wouldn’t hurt to do so in a memorable fashion!
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Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com