The Square Jungle: Golovkin-Canelo, Danny Jacobs, Linares, the Haymon Outsourcing Program
In boxing, you can go from penthouse to pup tent in a nanosecond. After struggling toward a narrow points win over Danny Jacobs at Madison Square Garden on March 18, IBF/WBA/WBC middleweight titlist Gennady Golovkin has learned that the hard way. But where Golovkin truly bungled, however, was in giving Oscar De La Hoya, blemished figurehead of Golden Boy Promotions and a pioneer of alternative facts, an opportunity to shy away from risking the cornerstone of his promotional stable, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez against “GGG” in September. Not only did Golovkin look ordinary against Jacobs but the pay-per-view numbers from the fight have become Exhibit A for De La Hoya to cite as serendipitous gridlock to a potential clash between Alvarez, formerly boxing get-up-and-go personified, and Golovkin, until recently unable to get an R.S.V.P. from an entire division gone AWOL in his presence.
(Golovkin-Jacobs reportedly drew sales of 173,000, a number which lacks the imprimatur of HBO, the event producer and a subsidiary of a publicly traded company. In other words, pay-per-view numbers without the corresponding verification of HBO should be filed in the SKEPTICAL dossier.)
Of course, Golovkin, technically, is not a money man and conflating his talent and accomplishments with mass appeal is a mistake – the same way it is for IBF/WBA/WBO light heavyweight beltholder Andre Ward, whose mythical pound-for-pound status culminated in a financial stink-bomb against Sergey Kovalev last November. But De La Hoya has known that for over a year now and his throwing the shadow of doubt on a Golovkin-Alvarez matchup, yet again, suggests he has a roll of two-headed nickels in his pocket.
In another possible sign that De La Hoya is looking past Golovkin, who has been little more than a transparent hologram for Golden Boy over the last year or so, David Lemieux, who recently played “Sandman” with Curtis Stevens, was added to the Alvarez-Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. pay-per-view undercard in a move that appears to follow the well-established methodology for building fights by showcasing future opponents side-by-side, as it were, for contrast. Unfortunately, the fight apparently being built does not include Golovkin.
In addition, De La Hoya publicly objects to Golovkin facing heretofore wallflower/WBO titleholder Billy Joe Saunders to unify the middleweight division on June 10 in Kazakhstan. For De La Hoya, a Saunders fight so close to a potential Alvarez showdown is risky business and if there is one thing Oscar hates, it may very well be risk…at least when it comes to Saul Alvarez. Without Alvarez, who was revealed as the true Golden Boy in Golden Boy Promotions during the discovery process of its ill-fated antitrust lawsuit against Al Haymon, GBP ought to apply for a 501(c) designation as a nonprofit organization like UNICEF or Human Rights Watch.
Like some Nurse Ratched of boxing, De La Hoya will not be satisfied with anything Golovkin does or does not do – short of receiving a lobotomy, that is. What Golovkin chooses, in regard to Saunders, will ultimately reveal where De La Hoya really stands.
As for the fight itself, which was replayed on HBO last Saturday and, thus, generated a new round of Tweet-storms, Jacobs seemed to fall just short of edging Golovkin, with the knockdown he suffered in the fourth round possibly being the deciding factor (although the final scorecards did not indicate as much). By switching to southpaw repeatedly throughout the fight, Jacobs stonewalled Golovkin, at times, but he also neutralized his best weapon: a stinging straight right followed by a cleanup left hook.
What was most surprising about Jacobs’ performance, on the surface, at least, was his durability, given the fact that he had barely been in anything more than a sparring session, since returning from battling osteosarcoma in 2012. But that fact only underscores just how ineffective Golovkin was: plodding, unimaginative and dispassionate, Golovkin simply did not press enough to put Jacobs away when he had an opportunity and now joins a slew of recent headliners who have turned The Big Moment into The Small Time. A step here, a step there, a sudden switch to portside – that was all it took for Jacobs to keep Golovkin on the outside and out of range. After 12 tense but not particularly distinguished rounds, Golovkin eked out a unanimous decision that Jacobs will parlay into a new possibly more remunerative phase of his career, similar, in prizefighting terms, of course, to how Charles and Robert Ford toured the country and reenacted the murder of Jesse James. A certain amount of notoriety is what Jacobs earned from his performance against Golovkin and notoriety in boxing has been legal tender for over a hundred years.
Personable, photogenic and with a backstory whose pathos is undeniable, Jacobs has been mystified by his lack of popular success. Indeed, in New York City, he is probably best known for appearing in a commercial for Presbyterian-Methodist Hospital, where he received successful treatment for cancer a few years ago. After scoring the biggest win of his career – a first-round TKO of then-undefeated Peter Quillin in December 2015 – Jacobs vanished into the ether for 10 months before returning for a second fandango against the ungainly Sergio Mora in Reading, Pennsylvania. Now, with the possibility of being billed by Premier Boxing Champions as “The Uncrowned Champion,” across a range of networks, Jacobs may finally get the recognition he feels he deserves. As an amateur, Jacobs earned a slew of titles and, if his professional career remained nondescript after, nearly a decade, it was only because Jacobs had tip-toed on the same well-worn path as most of his contemporaries. In the end, it may very well boil down to a matter of the zeitgeist: Trail-blazing is out; pussyfooting is in. But Jacobs took giant steps against Golovkin, the only kind worth tracking.
Jacobs may not have earned a victory over the most accomplished middleweight of the moment but he did reach a milestone of sorts. In going 12 close rounds with Golovkin, whose 23-bout KO streak came to an end, Jacobs became the first Haymon Outsourcing Program fighter to avoid annihilation in the ring. Considering the results of this program (initiated last year to offset expenditures and undermine antitrust allegations), fighting to a mildly contentious points loss is no small feat. HOP (Haymon Outsourcing Program) fighters have not only lost every bout for which they have been shipped out; they have been demolished: Kevin Bizier, Dominic Wade, Roman Martinez, Amir Khan, Charles Martin, Dominic Breazeale and John Molina Jr. have all failed to hear the final bell in performances ranging from gallant to ghastly. This is the PBC version of “American Carnage.” From the moment Jacobs signed to face Golovkin, however, he became an instant upgrade from previous HOP clients. Imagine the possibilities if Haymon is now willing to move valuable PBC fighters into the danger zone represented by Top Rank Promotions and Golden Boy. And imagine if Top Rank and Golden Boy would actually reciprocate.
Elegiac homages to Paulie Malignaggi, stopped by Sam Eggington three weeks ago on the Tony Bellew-David Haye undercard in London, via predictably strained broadband. Malignaggi, rude, nasty, misogynistic and a poor loser, who, in recent years, saw PED phantasms wherever he went (once the cartoon stars stopped circling his head after a KO loss), played pasty-patsy for most of the top-notch fighters he faced in a career dominated by bad taste.
“Malignaggi has received plaudits for his work as a motor-mouth commentator (he is the behind-the-mic equivalent of Karl Ove Knausgård) but he is nothing more than an obnoxious bully, whose suit-and-tie veneer vanishes when he steps away from ringside. All fighters deserve respect – even if someone like Malignaggi finds it hard to adhere to such a simple philosophy – and many of them come from deprived backgrounds, in which politically-correct notions are at odds with their gritty upbringings. But Malignaggi has turned so many interviews and press conferences – not to mention Twitter exchanges – into sleazy set-pieces of self-adoration, insults, accusations and poor sportsmanship that he can only be considered an example of what has driven middle-class everyday people away from boxing.”
When Malignaggi lost a non-controversial decision to Adrien Broner, he publicly accused the judges of being under the sway of his future paymaster Al Haymon. Getting steamrolled by Shawn Porter lead to Malignaggi perpetuating InfoWars theories of doping – as if “the Magic Man” had not been stopped before. Like nearly everyone else in boxing – from second-rate bloggers to managers to promoters to VPs of Communication – Malignaggi views analytical criticism or indifference as a personal affront. If you are not willing to wallow, worship and wheedle, watch out for the social media needle, which invariably injects a concoction of obnoxious/noxious poison comprised of equal parts ego, arrogance and ignorance to anyone who eschews lockstep.
Between fulminating against the media and running a Twitter account that would get him suspended or fired from any other sport (alas, Showtime specializes in trolling), Malignaggi worked hard to ensure boos came cascading from ringside and rafter alike for most of his fights. A more charitable assessment might note that Malignaggi entered the ring repeatedly as an underdog, never ducked a fight and scored an occasional upset but Malignaggi himself never cared about being charitable to his opponents – not until after one ringside doctor after another finished shining a penlight in his eyes. Still, he showed pride in the ring under duress, beat his share of B-fighters and parlayed his flap-jaw into one undeserved headline fight after another, long after he was anything more than a minor celebrity who would never fail to taunt you with his mastery of meatspace. At times, his very existence seemed like a lifehack for the rest of us. For that, he gets the kid gloves from most, something he rarely received in the ring.
Stylish WBC lightweight titlist Jorge Linares, now 31, repeated over Anthony Crolla last week at the Manchester Arena in Lancashire, England, scoring a lopsided 12-round decision that highlighted his array of nifty moves – almost exclusively reserved for opponents a cut or two below him in class. Although Linares won his first world title nearly 10 years ago, his ledger is devoid of significant fights. Recent wins over Crolla – a solid U.K. pro, whose alphabet title should not confer merit where it does not exist – and woebegone Kevin Mitchell in the U.K. have gotten the creaky Linares bandwagon (short an axle and a chin over the last few years) rolling once again. Perhaps his newfound momentum will include a little ambition in the future.
Carlos Acevedo is the editor of The Cruelest Sport and a full member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. His work has appeared in Boxing Digest Magazine, Maxboxing, Boxing World Magazine and Esquina Boxeo. He is also a contributor to Remezcla and a member of the International Boxing Research Organization.