By Thomas Gerbasi
When Max and Oleg Hermann showed up at Abel Sanchez’ gym in Big Bear, California with their rising star Gennady Golovkin in 2010, the renowned coach was impressed by the Kazakhstan native, both as a fighter and a person.
“We spoke a little bit, talked about boxing, he showed me videos of his past fights, and I told him what I thought, what he could do different, and what we could do if we worked together,” recalled Sanchez. “Then we had dinner that night, we said good night, and then had breakfast that next morning. By then I had researched him.”
He was intrigued - by the talent, the mindset, and the power of Golovkin - but when the trio left him with the words that they would see him in a couple months, Sanchez, a boxing guy too long to believe such promises, assumed the only time he would see Golovkin again was on television.
“I thought, sure, we’ll see you in a couple months and the check’s in the mail too.”
Sanchez laughs. He’s in New York City at the moment, preparing Golovkin for the 11th defense of his middleweight title, this one against Australia’s Daniel Geale in Madison Square Garden on Saturday night. The Californian was called back two months later, on a Saturday, with a request to pick Golovkin up the next day.
They’ve been together since. And though you couldn’t find two more opposite people, their bond is tight, and Sanchez knew it would be almost immediately.
“The first thing that struck me with him was his willingness to do whatever you ask him,” he said. “After a kid with 350 amateur fights and nearly 20 professional fights comes into the gym and he’s willing to do whatever you ask him, however different it may be from what he’s used to, it was refreshing.”
Then they did some mitt work.
“Oh boy,” said Sanchez. “What do we have here?”
What he had was a fighter who could not only dominate his division, but those above and below it, all the while being one of those rare international fighters who could cross over and make it big in the United States. Sanchez saw that potential early, and he wasn’t shy about letting his charge in on it.
“About a month after he came to the gym, I wrote the numbers one through 12 on the board,” he said. “At number one I put Muhammad Ali. Number two was vacant, three was Floyd, Pacquiao, all the way down, the fighters of yesteryear and today. I said if you allow me three years, I promise you that in three years I will have you as the best middleweight champion, undefeated, and nobody’s going to want to fight you. But you can’t question me; you’ve got to let me do my job.”
He then sat Golovkin down and showed him the tape of Julio Cesar Chavez’ 1987 stoppage of Edwin Rosario.
“I said ‘this is what I’m going to mold your style to - Chavez. The difference is going to be that you can crack. You’re going to knock people out with your body shots.’ And he’s never questioned anything: technique, movement, how to cut off the ring. Everything that I ask him to do, he does.”
And as Golovkin lived up to his end of the bargain, so has Sanchez. Golovkin is the best middleweight in the world, he’s undefeated at 29-0 with 26 knockouts, and no one wants to fight him. Well, let me clarify that – no big name wants to fight him. Sanchez thinks that will change after this weekend.
“We keep reminding him that it’s only been a year and nine months since he broke onto the scene,” said Sanchez, considering the 32-year-old’s 2012 victory over Gregorz Proska to be his international coming out party. “I think we’re ahead of schedule if you look at how Floyd or Manny got to this point. “Geale really is a Godsend to me because he represents a formidable challenge for him. He’s an accomplished fighter that Gennady takes serious. He has a ton of respect for Geale, and if we’re fortunate enough to get by Geale on Saturday, then I’m sure those bigger names will step up because now we have fought somebody that everybody thought was a test and the people and the writers will demand some of these guys stepping up to the plate.”
Both parties have been demanding it for a while, but to no avail. Regardless, Golovkin is that rarest of rarities – a champion who actually fights, and as he stays sharp and defeats challenger after challenger, his fearsome reputation grows. And in his return to New York City this week, it’s important to look back at his last visit to the Big Apple to fight Curtis Stevens last November, and the revelation of another part of his fistic personality: the mean streak.
Always smiling, Golovkin is one of the more affable folks in the fight game. That didn’t stop Stevens from poking and prodding the champion throughout the promotion, with the low point being when the Brooklynite posted a tombstone on Twitter with Golovkin’s initials on it.
“Are you serious,” asked an incredulous Golovkin at the pre-fight press conference in response to the challenger’s barbs. It was then that Sanchez saw a change in his fighter.
“It upset him terribly,” he said. “I saw that he was motivated to hurt this man. He wasn’t going to knock Curtis out in the first or second round; he was going to punish Curtis for all that. Gennady takes this business very, very serious. When he steps through the ropes, he wants to hurt you. It’s a sport to him, but he wants to hurt you, he wants to win.”
Golovkin stood in front of the heavy-handed Stevens all night and picked him apart, eventually forcing a corner stoppage after the eighth-round. It was a punishing effort from “GGG” and Sanchez believes that mean streak is essential to any fighter’s success.
“It’s extremely important. I think if you don’t have that, you’re not taking this job serious.”
What’s also key is being able to juggle your job and your personal life, and when Golovkin’s father passed away in February at the age of 66, the middleweight champion focused on what was most important – his family. Of course, with this being his first fight since his father’s death, you wonder how Golovkin was in camp and if his mind is right for the Geale bout. Sanchez says there will be no issues.
“I believe the tradition of the 40-day mourning period for the Kazakhs is something maybe that we should all look into because I think that those 40 days where the family all gets together and is able to reflect and enjoy each other and think about the passing of the father, they allow you to completely heal as a family and as a son that is now taking over the father’s place. I think those 40 days were crucial in his recovery. When he came to camp, we went to the Alvarado-Marquez fight at The Forum. That night he was in my camp, and it just took him two, three days to get adjusted.”
And now it’s time to fight. It’s what this unlikely, but inseparable, team does best.