Earlier this month, The Sweet Science posted the results of a poll that asked the question, “What would happen if the best thirteen middleweights in the world fought a round-robin tournament against one another? Ten matchmakers and three expert analysts participated in the deliberations. When the polling was done, 1,014 fight predictions were entered into the data base.
As expected, Sergio Martinez finished first. Two other middleweights separated themselves from the rest of the field. One of them (the second-place finisher) was Gennady Golovkin.
Golovkin had more than three hundred amateur fights in his native Kazakhstan and lost only a handful. He says that he has never been knocked down as an amateur or pro and is willing to fight at any weight from 154 to 168 pounds. He won a silver medal at the 2004 Olympics and a World Amateur Boxing Championship the year before. His victims in the amateur ranks included Andre Dirrell, Lucian Bute, Andy Lee, Daniel Geale, and Matt Korobov.
Gennady now lives in Germany and has compiled a professional record of 22-and-0 with 19 knockouts. In the convoluted world of professional boxing, he is one of several WBA middleweight champions.
It’s unclear how good Golovkin is, or might become, because his record is devoid of world-class opponents. But the manner in which he has performed to date has given rise to great expectations.
Abel Sanchez (Golovkin’s trainer) says, “Gennady is very patient. He’s like a sniper. He waits for the right moment to go for the kill; and when it comes, he’s deadly. I’ve been around a lot of fighters who were motivated by anger. Gennady is motivated by the pursuit of excellence. He’s the whole package. Power, patience, conditioning, a cerebral approach. Fighters call out other fighters all the time. But you don’t hear anyone saying ‘I want Golovkin.’”
Gennady has a soft voice, easy-going manner, and warm welcoming smile. He looks younger than his thirty years and speaks with a rapid cadence. Among the thoughts he offered in a recent interview were:
* “My father was a coal miner. My mother worked as an assistant in a chemical laboratory. I have a twin brother named Max. We started boxing when I was ten. Almost always, we were in the same weight division. Max was technically better than I was. I was more aggressive and the harder puncher. We decided from the beginning that we would never fight each other. Three times, we were in the finals of the same important tournament; and each time, one of us stepped aside. At the 2004 Olympic trials, Max stepped aside so I could go to the Olympics. After that, I took the risk to leave Kazakhstan and turn professional. Max stayed in Kazakhstan to take care of our parents and look after my financial interests.”
* “I was nine years old when the Soviet Union disintegrated and Kazakhstan became an independent country. It was depressing at first. The economic and social condition of the country went into crisis. We lacked things that people take for granted and lived our lives within a limited framework. There was a lot of worry about what would happen next. We didn’t know what the future would hold. Now things are better. There is more for the people to enjoy and life is good.”
* “The best thing about being a fighter is taking everything I’ve learned and applying it to real life. In the ring, that is hard. You can’t always do what you want to do. I know that perfection will never come to me as a boxer, but I keep striving to achieve it.”
* “Courage is the responsibility of every boxer. When a boxer is in the ring, he cannot feel fear. But I don’t think that being a boxer requires cruelty. For me, boxing is a sport. It isn’t about cruelty. Does a soldier have to be cruel to do his job?”
* “Sergio Martinez is a very good boxer. Right now, he deserves to be called the middleweight champion of the world. I think I am better, but I do not know that for sure. I would like to fight him to find out.”
Last week, Golovkin came to New York to attend the championship bout between Martinez and Matthew Macklin. On his first night in the Big Apple, he went to a restaurant, where the doorman looked at him and asked, “Do you remember me?”
“No,” Golovkin answered honestly.
“Well, my chin remembers you very well.”
Gennady looked more closely. Then the two men embraced.
The doorman was Ramadan Nasser, who Golovkin defeated in the second round of the 2004 Olympics.
“He is from Egypt,” Gennady said afterward. “Now he lives in New York. The restaurant is his sponsor. He is part-owner of a gym and is a professional fighter [with a 7-and-0 record]. We never know what life holds for us. But so far, that is not a bad result.”
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at email@example.com. His most recent book (Winks and Daggers: An Inside Look at Another Year in Boxing) was published by the University of Arkansas Press.