For someone with so relatively limited a professional resume, WBA/IBO middleweight champion Gennady “GGG” Golovkin finds himself in a curious position.
The 32-year-old Golovkin (29-0, 26 KOs), who defends his alphabet titles against former IBF/WBA 160-pound champ Daniel Geale (30-2, 16 KOs) in the HBO-televised main event Saturday night in Madison Square Garden’s big arena, just might be, as a growing number of his devotees are claiming, the most pulverizing knockout artist in boxing today. His KO rate (a tick below 90 percent) is the highest ever for any middleweight champion. Pretty impressive stuff, right? But probably the most notable entry on “Triple G’s” list of victims is Curtis Stevens, whom the Kazakhstan-born, Germany-based fighter pounded so thoroughly that Stevens’ corner did not let their guy come out for the ninth round of a Nov. 2, 2013, title bout in Madison Square Garden Theater.
Stevens is a good fighter and a pretty tough customer, but is there anyone who would dare to compare him to, say, Sugar Ray Robinson? Bernard Hopkins? How about Marvelous Marvin Hagler and Sugar Ray Leonard?
The career of any fighter is gauged in large part by the quality of opponents he has faced and defeated. But some of the legendary names listed above already have been floated by Golovkin’s trainer, Abel Sanchez, as measuring sticks against whom Golovkin eventually will be compared, if he hasn’t reached that rarified level of accomplishment already. It is a giant leap of faith, but then again, there was a high school junior from Akron, Ohio – I believe his name is LeBron James – who was on the cover of Sports Illustrated – years ago. That kid – “The Chosen One,” SI proclaimed -- was said to have the potential to become the best basketball player of all time. It seemed preposterous to lay that kind of burden on a 17–year-old, but, well, look at where King James is now.
Sanchez, in an interview with RingTV.com’s Lem Satterfield, had the temerity to suggest that Golovkin was currently behind Robinson and Hopkins in the highly exclusive pantheon of middleweight greats, but was moving up fast on the outside. Then, in a teleconference with the international media last Thursday, he added Hagler and Leonard to the star-studded items from Column A. Who knows? If Golovkin blows away Geale swiftly and emphatically, Sanchez might be inclined to expand Column A – that would be a lineup of historically revered middleweights that Golovkin could be paired against only in the realm of imagination – to include Harry Greb, Carlos Monzon and Jake LaMotta. Hey, it doesn’t cost anything to speculate.
“Ranking them behind those two people (Robinson and Hopkins), I was hoping that we could get the kind of fights that would showcase (Golovkin) in a way that would prove that statement that I made,” Sanchez explained of the more significant purpose of the matchup with Geale. “He definitely needs to fight Daniel in the manner that he’s fought some of his past opponents. Daniel has the ability to go 12 rounds. That is going to be the big issue for Gennady – to see if he can control and dominate a man who’s used to going 12 rounds and who throws as many punches as Daniel.”
No disrespect to Geale, whose only previous ring appearance in the United States saw him relinquish his IBF title to England’s Darren Barker on a mildly controversial split decision on Aug. 17, 2013, at the Revel Resort in Atlantic City, but the Aussie veteran doesn’t provide so stern a test that his conquest would serve to zoom Golovkin much further up the ladder to middleweight nirvana that Sanchez sees as his destiny. But there is a very real, and very intriguing, alternative for Golovkin to the dreamy mindscape of Column A. Let’s call it Column B, the names listed therein all belonging to active fighters who could offer “Triple G” the sort of matchups that actually would further advance his claim to indisputable greatness.
Tom Loeffler of K2 Promotions, notes that Golovkin is already well on the way to becoming a household name among even fringe fight fans. He will be appearing in his third bout at Madison Square Garden, but his first in the lower bowl of the big room, which is scaled for 11,000 seats or so with a near-capacity turnout expected. Should Golovkin extend his knockout streak to 17 against so credible an opponent as Geale, it could vault him to the fringes of real superstardom, a status which is partly based in boxing talent and partly in marketability. He’s not that far removed from such a designation already, having been a finalist for 2013 Fighter of the Year from the Boxing Writers Association of America (the winner was Floyd Mayweather Jr.) and being voted last year’s top fighter by readers of The Ring magazine.
Loeffler’s future wish list for Golovkin, whose power-punching has elevated his visibility in much the same way that heavyweight contender Deontay Wilder’s has (Wilder has won all 31 of his pro bouts inside the distance) and Mike Tyson’s did a generation earlier, is topped by newly crowned WBC middleweight titlist Miguel Cotto (39-4, 32 KOs), the future Hall of Famer who became the first Puerto Rican to win world championships in four weight classes when he forced Argentina’s Sergio Martinez to quit on his stool after 10 rounds on June 7 in Madison Square Garden. A unification showdown with Cotto, who has fought 11 times in all in New York City with nine of those bouts coming in the Garden, would be one of the most eagerly anticipated bouts that conceivably could be made at this time.
“My job as Gennady’s promoter is to look forward and to plan ahead,” Loeffler said. “Nobody on our team is underestimating what Daniel Geale brings to the table. He’s clearly the biggest challenge (to this point) for Gennady. With that being said, if everything goes the right way on July 26, it’s my job to strategize ahead for him. Certainly with Cotto and his big win against Sergio Martinez to win the WBC middleweight championship, he moves to the top of our list.
“But Gennady’s up for fighting anybody. If it’s a compelling fight, a pay-per-view fight, he would move up (to super middleweight) or he would move down (to junior middleweight). Right now he’s focused on Daniel Geale. The priority, if he beats Daniel, would be to start unifying the middleweight titles.”
At 32, Golovkin, a silver medalist at the 2004 Athens Olympics, does not have the luxury that higher schooler LeBron James had of a sun-kissed future that stretched to some far-off horizon. Golovkin is one of the fight game’s more delectable flavors of the moment, a solid foundation upon which to build, and he is in a deep weight class that offers lucrative options as well as those at 154 and 168 pounds. In addition to Cotto, mix ’n’ match possibilities include IBF middleweight champ Sam Solimon (44-11, 18 KOs), WBO champ Peter “Kid Chocolate” Quillin (31-0, 22 KOs), WBA super middleweight champ Andre Ward (27-0, 14 KOs), IBF super middle champ Carl Froch (33-2, 24 KOs), WBA junior middle champ Canelo Alvarez (44-1-1, 31 KOs) and maybe even WBC/WBA welterweight ruler Mayweather (46-0, 26 KOs), should he come up to meet Golovkin at some mutually acceptable catchweight. Even super middle contender Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. (48-1, 32 KOs), who was in negotiations to fight Golovin until the deal fell apart, could work his way back into the mix.
Big fights, however, aren’t always that easy to put together, especially in today’s landscape of dueling promoters and pay-cable entities, which could have the effect of pushing some of the possibilities for Golovkin in Column B as far off to the side as those in Column A.
Still, it’s fun to daydream. Is Golovkin really as devastating a puncher as he appears to be? Or is this son of a Russian father and Korean mother mostly a product of manufactured hype, as is the case with doubting-Thomas types who are hesitant to climb aboard the Deontay Wilder bandwagon? Golovkin stands at a crossroads of sorts, where one path leads to certification as a fighter for the ages and another to possible exposure as something far less.
Asked about the source of his formidable power, Golovkin answered, “It is natural. My strength, my speed, my timing. It’s all that together.”
So we will all check in on Saturday, for any additional hints as to what makes Gennady Golovkin tick. If Geale’s trainer, Graham Shaw, is correct – he said that “if Daniel fights his absolute best, believe it beats Gennady’s best” – the legend of “Triple G” could be quashed in its relative infancy. Anything less than an exclamation-point victory also could have a deleterious effect, and maybe more so if the lead-in HBO bout, a WBC heavyweight eliminator between Bryant Jennings (18-0, 10 KOs) and Mike Perez (20-0-1, 12 KOs), proves to be a tough act to follow.
Sanchez thinks he knows how it all turns out.
“All those little attributes, all those pluses that Gennady has in my comparing him to Hagler and to Leonard and to Sugar Ray Robinson, those things will all be seen in time as he fights great fighters like he’s fighting on July 26,” he predicted with the confidence of someone who has looked into the future and been pleased by what he saw.