Small revelations: On Golovkin-Jacobs and Rungvisai-Gonzalez
It was well past 2 a.m. inside the press room at Madison Square Garden, where a throng of bleary-eyed reporters was anxiously waiting for Daniel Jacobs to appear at the podium. Spotted leaning cozily against a barricade was Tim Smith, the point person for Jacobs (and all Premier Boxing Champions/Al Haymon fighters, for that matter), wearing a sheepish smile and seemingly in no rush to get home. His guy had just shared the ring with boxing’s Manhattan Project and, against the odds, he had come out of a potentially career-ending conflict with his head intact and both feet on the canvas. In pushing knockout bully Gennady Golovkin to the final bell, however, Jacobs did more than just survive. He put up the kind of retaliation virtually unseen from Golovkin’s 36 previous opponents. “They had a media poll of 20 or so experts and all of them – all of them – chose ‘Triple G’ to knock out out Danny in eight rounds,” Smith said, in disbelief, to no one in particular, shaking his head. “Not a single one chose Danny.”
A reporter nearby butted in. “Yeah, but Tim, the guy has like 35 knockouts. Who else were you gonna choose? I mean it’s a game of percentages!”
But Smith wasn’t listening. He kept shaking his head, kept smiling, reveling in the small pleasure – mixed with a tinge of schadenfreude, perhaps – of being on the side that had thwarted critics’ expectations.
No, Jacobs did not come out the victor in the biggest fight of his career. The judges, with scorecards of 114-113 and 115-112 twice voted in favor of Golovkin, who now improves to 37-0 (33). But by preventing Golovkin from notching his 24th straight knockout – a spree that dates back to 2008, during his eight-rounder days – Jacobs, 32-2 (29), and a vast underdog, effectively spoiled the night for many of the 19,939 who showed up hoping to see one of the few guarantees in a volatile sport: a spectacular beating administered by “GGG.” Jacobs essentially rubbed off a good portion of Golovkin’s’ sheen of invincibility and, in doing so, revealed to be a cut above what most people took him for.
To be sure, it was a night of small revelations at “The Mecca of Boxing,” in which there were more than few caveats following both the winners and the losers. At the top of the undercard, consensus pound-for-pound favorite ( and now former WBC junior bantamweight champion) Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez suffered a shocking and disputable decision loss against rugged Srisaket Sor Rungvisai. All three judges gave the final round to the Nicaraguan but it wouldn’t be enough to overturn scores of 113-113 and 115-112 twice for Srisaket.
Gonzalez, who moved up to the 115-pound division for the first time last year and whisked a title belt from Carlos Cuadras, has reached the physical limit of a legendary run. Early on, things looked dire for the Nicaraguan super flyweight when Srisaket, a southpaw, dropped Gonzalez with a right to the body, eliciting a deafening gasp from the crowd. But the knockdown seemed to merely jolt Gonzalez, a hardwired pressure fighter, into attack mode. However Srisaket, whose career began with an inauspicious 1-3-1 record, showed why Cuadras, another fighter on this night, whose win was accompanied by an asterisk, was never interested in a rematch with the Thai fighter. Having campaigned at 115 pounds his entire career, Srisaket, more brutish than artful, simply absorbed the smaller man’s punches, however torrid, and applied the technique of a bull to wade through the onslaught of his pesky adversary.
Such tactics resulted in more than a few strategic headbutts, which left Gonzalez bleeding from a cut alongside his right eye. But Gonzalez, blood oozing down his face like a Brian De Palma heroine, marched on with the chilling efficiency of a buzzsaw, battering Srisaket with a creative medley of overhand rights and timely body punches all the way to a climactic 12th round that saw the bigger man retreating and trying to hold onto the smaller man. The crowd knew what they were seeing and jeered accordingly, jeering louder once Michael Buffer announced Srisaket as the winner. Gonzalez, disgusted, walked out of the ring before HBO’s Max Kellerman could grab him for an interview, the only questionable conduct in an otherwise thrilling match by the sport’s consummate professional.
In closing the show, Gonzalez demonstrated the gulf between him and other recent world-class fighters, whose instincts for self-preservation routinely override any ideas of showmanship. Golovkin has rarely given a reason to be mentioned in the same company as the latter but, on this evening, in which his KO streak came to an end, there was a feeling that Golovkin, despite winning a unanimous decision, could have done more. Certainly, GGG had his moments. There was the barreling right in the fourth round that put Jacobs on his back and a particularly brutal ninth round, the last minute of which saw Golovkin, with two short, head-snapping uppercuts, nearly send Jacobs to Queer Street and probably would’ve done so, were it not for the bell. But that moment, in which Golovkin truly had Jacobs in danger (and vice versa) never came. And that was puzzling because, despite Jacobs’ brief moments in the southpaw stance or his ability to maneuver around the ring, there was little in Jacobs’ arsenal that suggested Golovkin wouldn’t eventually work his way inside. His jab was finding its home on Jacobs’ right eye, sure, but he seemed unable to follow up with the usual assortment of strafing body punches – typically a signature part of his offensive palette – and cockeyed hooks.
Whatever the reason for his reticence, Golovkin, who turns 35 next month, finally looked his age. If this is the version of Golovkin we’ll be seeing from now on, so be it: We should hope Billy Joe Saunders, the holder of the last remaining belt in the middleweight division, and Saul Alvarez, boxing’s biggest cash cow, find this reason enough to face him.
For Jacobs, many questions about his fortitude were answered, chief among them was his chin. After the fourth round knockdown, Jacobs never seemed to buckle thereafter, even when Golovkin landed some of his most bruising punches in the eighth and ninth rounds. What was most surprising, though, in addition to Golovkin’s subdued attack, was Jacobs’ willingness to engage. Instead of waiting for Golovkin to follow up his jab with something more significant, time and time again, Jacobs would fire back, rattling off a quick combination that, despite hitting only Golovkin’s elbows or guard, would temporarily deter boxing’s best stalker from moving forward.
When Jacobs finally arrived to greet the press, it was 3:30 a.m. and half of the members had already hightailed it home. Wearing oversized sunglasses and an olive-grey fedora, Jacobs approached the podium in a mood that befitted that of a winner: light, almost jovial. “It didn’t go my way and I won’t complain,” Jacobs said, accepting the night’s outcome, “but I’m happy, as I said inside the ring, that the fans were ultimately the winners because that definitely wasn’t a dull fight. We traded; we boxed and we entertained everyone.”
A few minutes later, he noted: “I’m happy…I’m really happy with my performance. If we can do it again, I would love to.”
With a loss, Jacobs has done more for his career in one night than he has in 31 previous occasions in the ring. Perhaps now Jacobs can put the ghost of Dmitry Pirog safely behind him.