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Is Sergey Kovalev the next GGG?

BY Kelsey McCarson ON August 01, 2014
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The boxing world was all aglow this week in the aftermath of WBA middleweight titleholder Gennady Golovkin’s three-round demolition of Daniel Geale. The undefeated crowd-pleaser received some of his biggest props from some of boxing’s biggest names. Calling the action from ringside, HBO’s Max Kellerman compared Golovkin to Joe Louis on Saturday night. Sportscaster and president of the Las Vegas Boxing Hall of Fame Rich Marotta said via Twitter he thought Golovkin was the “hardest punching” middleweight ever. Thomas Hauser opined that Golovkin was the “true middleweight champion” of the world. ESPN.com’s Brian Campbell said Golovkin was “the class of the middleweight division” and said the win “stamped his spot among the sport’s pound-for-pound best.” Frank Lotierzo said Golovkin was the “alpha fighter”’ at middleweight. Even Geale’s promoter, Gary Shaw, said Golovkin was the best 160-pound fighter he had ever seen.

GGG is a rare breed: a solid puncher who is superbly skilled at all facets of the game. He moves forward with precision and throws compact combinations with poise and power. If Golovkin isn’t the future of boxing, he most certainly is the most macabre mirage of it HBO has ever been able to produce.

Light heavyweight Sergey Kovalev might be the very same kind of fighter.

Golovkin, a 32-year-old, is a native of Khazakstan who now lives in Germany. Kovalev, a 31-year-old, is a native Russian who now lives in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Both men posses seemingly absurd power in both hands and fight in the aggressive style of a stalker. Golovkin has knocked out 27 of 30 opponents while Kovalev has done the same to 22 of 25. Each man has an impressive knockout streak going. Golovkin’s sits at 17 while Kovalev’s run is up to eight (though it might be up to 13 had a 2011 bout against Grover Young not been called a Technical Draw after Round 2 due to a foul).

Kovalev might very well be following in Golovkin’s footsteps. In fact, Main Events CEO Kathy Duva told me she believes Golovkin helped pave the way for Kovalev.

“Once Golovkin proved that an Eastern European can, in fact, be embraced by the whole world, then that prejudice, and that’s what it was, the wall came down. Thank heavens for that.”

Like Golovkin, Kovalev is the type of fighter who dares you to stand in front of him and trade punches. He is a sound boxer with expert technical ability. He’s forceful and aggressive, but doesn’t cross the line into being careless about his defense. Both fighters can knock their opponents into next week and usually do. In fact, both men seem to go into every minute of every round intent on exactly that.

Neither man is the lineal champion in his division but just might be the best there anyway. Miguel Cotto holds the lineal middleweight crown after knocking out Sergio Martinez in June at Madison Square Garden. Adonis Stevenson is the same at light heavyweight after a one-punch knockout win over Chad Dawson last year at Bell Centre in Quebec.

It’s a shame, but Golovkin and Kovalev don’t seem to be on their ways to shots at the lineal titles they lack anytime soon. Cotto appears to be content on taking the same road his predecessor did before him at middleweight, one that keeps him as far away from Golovkin as possible. Meanwhile, Stevenson had agreed to meet Kovalev earlier this year but thought better of it and headed over to Showtime for the likes of aging light heavyweight Bernard Hopkins instead.

Despite it, both Golovkin and Kovalev hold alphabet titles and have the power and money of HBO behind them. Golovkin has held some version of the WBA strap since 2010. Kovalev has worn his WBO belt since last year’s four-round destruction of Nathan Cleverly in Wales.

Yet, there comes a point in boxing when things like who is the true champion in the division doesn’t really matter. I mean, sure, it matters to historians and the like, but prizefighting is ultimately about who the fans want to see fight. In an age when fans seem to flat-out revolt against the likes of Cuban stylist Guillermo Rigondeaux, who is lineal champion of the junior featherweight division, Golovkin and Kovalev represent a stark contrast from the status quo.

Unlike Rigo, as well as boxing’s biggest superstar, Floyd Mayweather, Golovkin and Kovalev do not, as Frank Lotierzo borrows from Muhammad Ali, “only punch hard enough to win.” Instead, both Golovkin and Kovalev are the type of fighters who want to stand in the pocket and test their opponents’ wills. Where Rigo and Mayweather are content to duck and dive out of harm’s way, mitigating risk and only throwing punches when they feel safe enough to do so, Golovkin and Kovalev seem downright offended when an opponent would rather step away from them than come forward and fight.

Boxing needs all types of fighters. For every Rigo and Mayweather, guys who want to box and move, there has to be fighters like Golovkin and Kovalev to balance things out. More importantly, boxing needs a mixture of styles at the top of the sport. There are plenty of pugs who fight in the style of Golovkin and Kovalev, but few are able to do it at the highest level of the sport.

Fight fans crave action perhaps more than any other thing boxing has to offer. Both Golovkin and Kovalev are well positioned to bring exactly that for a long time to come. If Golovkin is the future of the sport, perhaps Kovalev is the very same, too.

Time will tell.

McCarson’s Blogtastic Notes

-- Hard to imagine, but not so long ago, Kovalev was a free agent who couldn’t find a promoter in either the United States or Canada willing to give him a chance. Kovalev’s manager, Egis Klimas, met with Main Events’s CEO Kathy Duva and matchmaker Jolene Mizzone at a Manhattan restaurant in January 2012. Main Events matched Kovalev with Darnell Boone, a fighter who gave Kovalev trouble two years prior. This time, though, the improved Kovalev thrashed Boone in just two rounds. Duva remembers that moment fondly: “Then just after the fight was over… We ran over to Egis and I said, ‘we’ll have a contract over to you on Monday!’”

-- Kovalev was in a rare mood last week when I talked to him on the phone for Bleacher Report. His first words to me were how hungry he was (not for titles but food) and his answers where short. Still, the experience only added to Kovalev’s mystique for me and provided readers, in my estimation, a fun read. The best moment of the interview was when I asked him about Bernard Hopkins, to which Kovalev replied: “…who is this ‘Bernard Hopkins’? I know that my next opponent is Blake Caparello.”

-- Kovalev’s opponent, Caparello, is a 27-year-old from Australia with only has six knockouts in 20 professional fights. While Caparello believes he’ll be able to frustrate Kovalev early and take him into the later rounds, it’s difficult to imagine a fighter with as little pop as Caparello being able to keep Kovalev off for very long.

-- Speaking of Australia, Golovkin’s opponent last weekend, Geale, also hails from Down Under. This will likely end up a rough week for Aussie boxing fans.

-- Kovalev and Golovkin were gym mates for a short while and sparred each other on occasion. Can you imagine what that must have looked like? Kovalev said: “Golovkin hits like a sledgehammer.”

-- I asked Kovalev if he had a prediction for Saturday’s fight with Caparello and he responded with a righteously awesome Michael Buffer impersonation: “Let’s get ready to rummmmmbbbbbblllllleeee!”

-- Kovalev possesses serious power, but award-winning writer Bart Barry told me it wasn’t just that Kovalev was strong, but that he was able to run his opponents into his punches. Against Caparello, watch closely to see how Kovalev uses smart combinations to set his opponent up for the power shot.

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Comment on this article

Radam G says:

NO for skill! But maybe yes for exaggeration. Holla!

amayseng says:

Come on RG I implore you, take a look, Kovalev has very good timing.

Radam G says:

Come on RG I implore you, take a look, Kovalev has very good timing.


I agree that he has great timing against scary cats. They try to survive, not thrive. When Kovalev get a pitbull, a fox or a mongoose, the world will see that he is too tight, not loose. Holla!

oubobcat says:

I think right now Golovkin is a bit ahead of Kovalev. But I also think Kovalev will soon surpass Golovkin.

This is absolutely not a knock on Golovkin. I think he is the real deal. But I think Kovalev is something really special.

We all know Kovalev can punch. He has legitimate one punch KO power. But he is also very skilled. He knows how to cut the ring off effectively (we will see this on display Saturday). He knows how to set up his punches. He uses his jab and excellent footwork to set up the best angles to land his shots. And as amayseng pointed out, his timing is brilliant.

Also, what Kovalev does in the ring to me seems to come very natural. He is very fluid and is not thinking too much but just naturally reacting. Watch him carefully on Saturday and see this...I think he is much more fluid than Golovkin.

Golovkin has fought better fighters but given time Kovalev will face his share of capable fighters. When Kovalev does, I believe he will shine. And that is when I believe he will move past Golovkin.

Carmine Cas says:

I like Kovalev's attitude but I want to see him against someone whose a challenge and not meant be a showcase.

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