THE CURIOUS CASE OF GENNADY GOLOVKIN
By Ben Dean
Gennady Golovkin, who holds the WBA middleweight title, is one of the most intriguing newcomers to the world boxing scene. Yes, he has been on the radar of hardcore fans for years, thanks to his significant amateur credentials and promising professional start in Europe. But his 2012 arrival on HBO has officially announced his presence to the American side of the boxing world. The Kazakh nicknamed "GGG" brings a come-forward style to the ring with punching power in both hands.
Golovkin is a throwback of sorts, in the sense that he operates in an era where top fighters now fight only twice per year, three times at the most. Golovkin, on the other hand, seems to thrive on activity. He aims to fight up to five times in 2013. Not only does he want to fight as often as possible, he truly seems to want to face the best fighters in the division. He has called to meet all of the title-holders in his division, and not many of those champions seem all too eager to face him. Credit must be given to ex-WBO titlist Dmitry Pirog, who at least was willing to sign a contract for a unification fight vs. Golovkin (although the bout was later derailed due to a back injury suffered by Pirog in training).
Many have referred to Golovkin as the new boogeyman of the middleweight division, the same way many view Lucas Matthysse as the boogeyman at junior welterweight. Is boogeyman a term we overuse in boxing? Many subscribed to the theory that Antonio Margarito was the boogeyman of the welterweight division from 2006-2008. People were convinced that Floyd Mayweather was afraid to face Margarito. This theory persisted until Paul “The Punisher” Williams spanked Margarito and his (likley) concrete hand wraps (his use of plaster at that time cannot be proven, but many reasonably suspect Margarito's guilt for several fights). After Margarito beat Miguel Cotto so bad that blood was oozing from both ears, Margarito was caught trying to cheat in his very next fight, as he was in the dressing room getting ready to face Shane Mosley.
Having been caught and forced to enter the ring without a hardened plaster substance in his handwraps, Margarito was beaten down and knocked out by Mosley. Suddenly, the image of Margarito as a boogeyman was dissolved.
Unlike Margarito, Golovkin and Matthysse seem to be the real boogeymen of their respective divisions. Are there questions about each of them? Yes. However, we won’t really know the answer as to whether they are special, until other special fighters are willing to step up and face them. Golovkin is undefeated. Having lost two debatable decisions, many argue Matthysse should be undefeated. Both men are avoided by champions and contenders alike based solely on the risk vs. reward factor. They are fighters whose talent and threat level land them in what I refer to as no man’s land. They are too good for those with better options to risk fighting because they are legitimate threats to hand anyone a loss. Golovkin in particular is not enough of a financial draw to be financially lucrative for a more famous fighter to risk his record against. You get the impression that Golovkin would step into the ring with world middleweight champion Sergio Martinez tomorrow. You get the impression the injured Martinez is in no hurry to face Golovkin.
“I’ll fight anyone from 154-168.” While I applaud Golovkin’s fighting spirit, this sounds like a case of déjŕ vu. It rings eerily reminiscent of a fighter in recent memory, who posed a legitimate threat to everyone in his weight class. He was the first fighter willing to step up and face Margarito when he was the welterweight boogeyman. Williams, was a rangy southpaw fighter listed at 6”1 (who seemed closer to 6”3). In 2007, after defeating the man known as the most avoided fighter in boxing (Margarito), Williams was eager to face all of the other title-holders in his division. He called out Cotto, Mosely, Floyd Mayweather and Andre Berto. After becoming increasingly frustrated by his inability to land a marquee fight in his weight class, he then went on record as saying that he would fight anyone from 147-168 lbs, and he actually campaigned simultaneously in as many as three weight divisions. Golovkin has that same old-school mentality and ambition. While Williams won a title in another weight class, he would later be knocked out in a middleweight fight, against Sergio Martinez, a man much stronger than anyone he would have faced had he stayed at welterweight.
All of this brings us back to GGG. I think it would be a shame to watch a talent become avoided to the point that he’s forced out of his weight class to face arguably the best pound-for-pound boxer in the world, Andre Ward at super middleweight. Many would love to see that fight, and given Golovkin’s self-belief and eagerness to face the best, it will probably at some point land him in the ring with Ward. He may have such difficulty in getting fights at 160 against the likes of Martinez, Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr., Peter Quillin and Daniel Geale to the point that he feels 168 is the only place he can go to make money. The sad irony is that Golovkin very well may have the ability to beat any other fighter not named Ward at 168. From 154-160, he would not be an underdog against anyone.
Ward is bigger and in my opinion a bad style matchup for Golovkin. He’s too seasoned, and would likely maul Golovkin. Of course, GGG would have a puncher’s chance.
So will Golovkin's near future be a repeat of the dilemma Paul Williams faced in his prime? Or will the public become so enamored with GGG's exciting brand of fighting combined with his willingness to take on all comers that the networks begin to demand that the other top fighters get in the ring with him?
Right now, Golovkin has boxing fans curious. Is he as good as we think, or merely untested? It’s hard to gauge due to the opposition he’s faced, but he's hard to criticize considering he is legitimately seeking out the best opposition. Golovkin is scheduled to face Matthew Macklin in June. After that bout, we will revisit Golovkin's status as the middleweight boogeyman.
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