Two warriors, one from Kazakhstan and the other from Mexico, are poised to battle before thousands in an arena and millions on television.
It shows the international power of professional boxing.
Many Americans will be watching and millions of other nationalities from around the world will be joining too when WBC, WBA, IBF, IBO middleweight titlist Gennady “GGG” Golovkin (37-0, 33 KOs) clashes with Saul “Canelo” Alvarez (41-1-1, 34 KOs) at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. HBO pay-per-view will televise.
Boxing has that type of captivation.
So how did two prizefighters from different nations get to this mountaintop?
Because of the high altitude Big Bear has been a bastion for professional prizefighters for several decades.
Trainer Abel Sanchez would take his fighters, including junior welterweight champion Miguel Angel Gonzalez of Mexico, to the mountain resort to prepare for wars at a gym that existed near the lake. Soon he began constructing his own gym.
Sanchez for years could be seen piecing the place together brick by brick. My photographer and I would stop by after visiting Shane Mosley’s gym right up the street. He told us about his plans to build a gym for boxers where they could stay and train without ever leaving.
After completion Sanchez invited our group to take a look. We were amazed at the facility that literally boosted boxing into a more technically advanced level.
One day during a small club show in Los Angeles the veteran trainer talked about his newest fighter, a kid from Kazakhstan. Sanchez had trained some pretty good fighters in the past including Terry Norris, Hector Lopez and Lupe Aquino. But when he spoke of Gennady Golovkin it was as if the skies had opened up.
“The kid is special, believe me,” said Sanchez.
Later, another trainer from South El Monte named Ben Lira told me the same thing.
“You gotta see this kid,” said Lira who works alongside Sanchez and has trained world champions too.
That was enough for me.
The drive up to Big Bear takes about 90 minutes from where I now live. It’s a very scenic drive unless you are the person doing the driving. Then it’s turn after turn through the winding two-lane road up the mountains.
Many a passenger has taken sick snaking up the mountains.
Inside the gym Sanchez introduced us to this amiable looking guy in his late 20s. He looked nothing like what I envisioned a monster middleweight looked like. Instead he was smiles and bows and very courteous.
More like a violinist than a prizefighter. John Garfield looked more like a boxer than Golovkin.
But once he put those gloves on and began pounding the heavy bag it woke me up from the high altitude stupor. This middleweight hit like Mike Tyson
Growing up in a boxing family has given me insight most don’t ever realize. One thing that even a non-boxing expert can surmise is the sound of someone hitting a heavy bag with such force that it’s like using an aluminum baseball bat to pound the hanging slab of sand or water
.Golovkin had innate power that was almost inhuman.
But power is useless unless it’s accompanied by some kind of skill. As I watched Golovkin spar it was apparent that he learned a lot in those 350 amateur bouts he compiled.
That was all it took for me to believe this Kazakhstani would go further than most middleweights I had seen. Although he had been at Big Bear since 2010 it would be 2012 when the rest of the world would see him.
One day while visiting a gym down below in Riverside, former super welterweight champion Kassim Ouma was preparing for his next fight. We asked who he was fighting and he said some kid from Russia or somewhere for the WBA middleweight world title.
I remember thinking to myself “uh oh, he doesn’t know what kind of fighter he is meeting.” That fellow was Golovkin.
Ouma was confident it was going to be an easy fight. That June 2011 day in Panama, the former champion from Africa was stopped in the 10th round. It was only the second time in 36 fights he had lost by knockout. Golovkin had delivered.
The rest of the world got their first glimpse of Golovkin on Sept. 2012 when he met Poland’s Grzegorz Proksa, a slick southpaw who had never been down. In the first round he was floored and again and again later in the fight before it was stopped in the fifth round in front of an HBO audience.
Boxing fans are fickle. They want knockouts and when they’re delivered fans begin picking them apart looking for chinks in the armor. It’s hilarious. Many saw Golovkin as a puncher without skill. Some still do.
When Japan’s Nobuhiro Ishida met Golovkin he had never been stopped. The fight lasted only three rounds. But fans shook their head and claimed that wasn’t proof.
The shining moment came against Aussie Daniel Geale, a sturdy fighter who had never been stopped by knockout and whose only losses were debatable.
That July 2014 night at Madison Square Garden the two middleweights exchanged killing blows with both landing. But it was Geale who would go down and out before thousands at the arena and millions watching on HBO.
“Mexican style” was what Golovkin explained was his method of execution and from that day on millions including many diehard Mexican fans believed in “Triple G.”
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