The day of reckoning for Gennady Golovkin
It was the morning of Saturday, June 9, 2012 at Wolfgang Puck’s eatery inside the MGM Grand, where a small breakfast gathering was held for a little known middleweight, who had yet to fight in the United States. It was convenient to host this assembly there because the (inter) national media was in town to cover the first bout between Manny Pacquiao and Tim Bradley at this hotel.
The individual being introduced on this occassion was WBA middleweight titlist Gennady Golovkin, who, after languishing in Germany under the Universum banner, had struck a deal with K2 Promotions to handle his career. Tom Loeffler, a longtime member of the boxing community, best known for his relationship with the Klitschko brothers, had taken on this endeavor of not just turning around his career fortunes but actually making him a star.
“If you can get this guy onto HBO consistently, that’ll be pretty good,” I told Loeffler, after arriving late to the function (hey, it was a long, fun Friday night in Vegas. What can I tell ya?), to which he responded, “Well, we’re going to try to get him to be a pay-per-view star, eventually.”
To say I was skeptical of such goals was a vast understatement. Fighters from Kazakhstan, their ceiling was Vassiliy Jirov in the States.
It would be a daunting task, to say the least. After all, while Golovkin was a highly decorated amateur and certainly a boxer who was highly regarded by those in the know, he was a virtual unknown to the American public to whom he would be appealing.
This wasn’t a Mexican whom Loeffler would be promoting or a heavyweight champion (like both Wladimir and Vitali) but a fighter from an exotic country whose only cultural imprint in the States was a fictional character, “Borat,” which wasn’t exactly a flattering portrayal of the people in the land. Yet Loeffler was convinced that, with the right push, “GGG” could break down barriers.
The only thing left by the time I arrived that morning was small amount of orange juice and a stack of 8″ X 10″ photographs for any media members who wanted to break protocol and get a piece of memorabilia from Golovkin, who was just 23 fights into his career, at that point.
A few months later, on Labor Day weekend, Golovkin made his Stateside and HBO debut against Gregorz Proksa at the Turning Stone Resort & Casino in upstate New York. In an impressive performance, he dominated the Polish southpaw, stopping him in five. From there, he became a staple of the HBO boxing franchise.
With an exciting, fan-friendly style, his fights have become events that have captivated the boxing public. His rise in prominence has been both impressive and improbable. Kazakhstanis fighting in America just aren’t supposed to become this popular but it is a testament to the job well done by both the fighter and promoter.
While he hasn’t become a bona fide pay-per-view franchise, Golovkin is undoubtedly one of the sport’s biggest live attractions, playing to sell-out crowds at the Forum and StubHub Center in Southern California and Madison Square Garden in New York – and even the O2 Arena in London. And he is now an official endorser of everything from Samsung and Hublot to Chivas and Jordan Brand. The vision laid out by Loeffler has come to fruition.
This brings us to this weekend. Just over five years since his introduction to the boxing press, Golovkin now shares the marquee with Saul ‘”Canelo” Alvarez (one of the few boxers who can overshadow him) in the most anticipated pure fight in years at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Interestingly enough, the MGM Grand is the host hotel for this promotion.
Perhaps just getting to this stage – and attaining this career-high payday – is a victory in itself for the 35-year-old but to seal his legacy as a fighter, there is no other option but for him to defeat Canelo emphatically this weekend. Yes, while there is a rematch clause in place, it only exists in case of a Golovkin victory, which means Golovkin will basically get one crack at this.
For him, this is his Bernard Hopkins vs. Felix Trinidad or Marvelous Marvin Hagler vs. Thomas Hearns moment. Both Hopkins and Hagler were long-reigning middleweight champions who were respected but never truly got the universal praise or spotlight till they were involved in those aforementioned contests against boxers who came in with higher profiles. And like Trinidad and Hearns, Canelo moved up in weight to make this bout.
As the fight approaches, Golovkin, who not all that long ago, was thought to be a prohibitive favorite over the Mexican star is now less than a 2-to-1 favorite and more and more pundits and insiders are tabbing Alvarez to win this weekend. Perhaps it’s the continued development of Canelo, who is also nearly a decade younger, or the perceived decline of Golovkin but there is a growing sentiment that one fighter is rapidly improving while the other is on the descent.
A victory will validate his career and historical legacy, along with making him a transcendent star. A loss and he will be derided by his critics and his mystique will be broken forever. In an social media era, in which there is sometimes very little nuance, these will be the two reactions to the result of this highly anticipated match-up. But perhaps this is the way is has to be with a fighter who is as popular as he is polarizing to certain segments of the fan-base.
For Golovkin, one way or the other, it’s the day of reckoning.
Just in case you missed them, here are the “24/7s” produced by HBO Sports for Canelo-Golovkin:
The weigh-in for Canelo-Golovkin will begin at 12:30 p.m. PT, at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. I’m told the reason it’s a bit earlier than usual is because of a concert at the venue later that night…”Mano A Mano: Canelo-Golovkin” will be air across various platforms on ESPN this week. Check your local listings…Banner Promotions will stream the WBO middleweight title bout between Billy Joe Saunders and Willie Monroe Jr. on Saturday on their YouTube page…Prospects Misael Rodriguez, Eimantas Stanios and Money Powell will be part of the “World Boxing Super Series” undercard in San Antonio on September 23…I can be reached at email@example.com and I tweet (a lot) at twitter.com/steveucnlive. I also share photos of stuff at instagram.com/steveucnlive and can also be found at tsu.co/steveucnlive.