Aftermath: On Golovkin-Wade, Gonzalez-Arroyo and Sergey Kovalev
Today, we welcome writer Jimmy Tobin of The Cruelest Sport with his thoughts on the aftermath of last weekend’s HBO doubleheader, featuring Gennady Golovkin and Roman Gonzalez.
At the Saturday press conference to announce his July fight with Isaac Chilemba, light heavyweight reaper Sergey Kovalev described his profession as follows: “Boxing, for me, is a street fight with rules.” That qualifier “for me” is no trifle: Between the ropes, IBF/WBA/WBO titlist Kovalev conducts himself with the malice of a man fighting beyond them, one only restrained by the conventions of sportsmanship for the purpose of victory and compensation. For Kovalev, it seems boxing is a sport, second, and something more primal, first.
Or is this misunderstanding him? For how many people frequently in or exposed to street fights imbue them with the same meaning the uninitiated do? In which fighting is common currency, neither the act nor its consequences carry the same weight as they do among the peaceful. Perhaps Kovalev is saying that boxing is just another type of fight and that fighting is hardly something worth wasting words to understand.
Whatever his meaning, that “for me” serves to distinguish Kovalev from fighters who treat the sanctioned violence of the prizefight as a game – however deadly – that can be won without recourse to the ill will that precipitates so many street fights. Street fights are almost always personal, at least for a minute or two; that prizefights are not usually so is evident by what conjuring is required to promote them that way.
Few fighters are constituted like Kovalev – who mocks opponents’ suffering and gestures of sportsmanship alike – nor need they be to make a proper fight of a sporting contest. There is no better example of this less belligerent type than Nicaraguan flyweight Roman Gonzalez, a veritable knockout machine with a record of 45-0 (38). Hardly a round ends without some gesture of sportsmanship from Gonzalez, the WBC champion, a nod to an opponent still standing, a touched glove in respect of those that landed. Gonzalez conducts his business with precision, has brought a halt to all but seven of his professional bouts and, yet, unmakes his opponents with an almost pedagogical air. His is a polite, even considerate brand of abuse, one that is no less concussive, no less magnificent as a result. Because Gonzalez is definitely fighting, the combinations and pressure he employs are not designed to delay matters.
His opponent last Saturday night, McWilliams Arroyo, also came to fight. That he succeeded, in this regard, is evident by becoming the first fighter since Juan Francisco Estrada to extend Gonzalez – four years and 10 consecutive knockouts ago – and by the asymmetry of Gonzalez’s features after the fight. Gonzalez threw over 1,000 punches against Arroyo, searching for the sequence that would pry open and then spill his determined opponent. That combination never came, so Gonzalez had to fight Arroyo for 12 hard, albeit one-sided, rounds in winning a lopsided decision.
Hard rounds await Gonzalez too, if not in the form of potential nemesis Estrada, then in the bigger challenges at junior bantamweight.
Abandoning a futile pursuit for greater prospects in a higher division has long been a suggested course of action for Kazakh middleweight Gennady Golovkin, who ragdolled someone named Dominic Wade in the main event of an HBO card aired from The Forum in Inglewood, California. Golovkin is a destroyer primarily because his physical attributes complement perfectly a destructive style: He is more Gonzalez than Kovalev in this respect. Unlike Gonzalez, however, there was no fight in the cards for Golovkin, Saturday night, nor will there be in the future, so long as Golovkin has to further establish his middleweight supremacy.
Golovkin, the IBF/WBA titleholder, has been courting the best fighters in his division and a select few above and below it since he used the corpse of Grzegorz Proksa to break down the door to HBO’s inner sanctum. His goal is to unify the division, a goal made difficult by the rival factions in boxing and a policy of avoidance from the WBC’s last three champions. While waiting for the WBC middle-catchweight champion Canelo Alvarez to face him, while waiting for Al Haymon to hemorrhage enough money to play loose with his own middleweight beltholder Daniel Jacobs, Golovkin has to honor his mandatory defenses. This and an injury to Tureano Johnson are why Wade was in the ring opposite “GGG.” There will be others like Wade too, given the number of titles Golovkin holds and the shallowness of the division (and if you think Johnson does not number among the similarly hopeless, you have proven the power of Twitter).
What this means, of course, is there are no real fights in Golovkin’s future, not even a middleweight McWilliams Arroyo on the horizon. This is an especially disappointing thought to have while watching Golovkin, one of boxing’s premier punishers, wreck an opponent who showed up for his one shot at glory with a roll of fat circling his waist, so outclassed that a blow to the shoulder destabilized him, one who threw not one punch, not even those Golovkin invited, with conviction. It is not entirely his fault but there is a sense, especially when he shares a card with Gonzalez, that Golovkin the fighter, if not Golovkin the brand, is being wasted.
Golovkin is one of the best-promoted fighters on the planet. How else do you explain Apple, Samsung and Jordan endorsement deals for a fighter from Kazakhstan who barely speaks English and has yet to beat one name the average sports fan would recognize? He sells out venues on both coasts and an introduction to the Texas market is likely to be a resounding success. Golovkin’s popularity is not dependent on ethnicity or nationality; neither his own nor that of the fighters he has defeated have helped market him. But without a glamorous opponent, how long can it last? Perhaps Golovkin’s challenge lies not in what he finds in the ring but in whether he can remain so adored despite what he finds there.