By Terence Dooley
Manchester’s Billy Graham is stuck on the horns of a dilemma. It has nothing to do with Saturday’s fight between Floyd Mayweather and Saul Alvarez, he’s already covered that one for BoxingScene and went for Mayweather, but his problem does involve the mercurial American boxer. It also involves Gennady “GGG” Golovkin, the WBA and IBO middleweight titlist who is ripping the division apart. Graham believes that Mayweather, 44-0 (26), and Golovkin, 27-0 (24), are on a collision course and, as a fan of both boxers, it is causing him considerable concern, not least because he believes it would be a fight too far for Mayweather.
“I knew he was the man from the first time I saw him,” said Graham when speaking to BoxingScene about Golovkin. “I’ve got everything you can get on him, but I really knew what he was up to when I saw him knock out Lajuan Simon, who had never been stopped and had been in with Arthur Abraham and Sebastian Sylvester. It wasn’t the knockout. It was the manner in which he did it. Golovkin set him up for a counter punch left hook — not too different from the ones Ensley Bingham used to land — and it really impressed me. After that, I needed to see more of him. Now I’ve seen more than enough, I think he’s the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, without a doubt.
“Golovkin is the man to beat at middleweight, not to take anything away from Sergio Martinez, who a lot of people still recognise as the world champion because of what he’s done. The middleweight division is great, Golovkin’s the one who stands out though.”
It is a big call from Graham, especially as he has waxed lyrical about Mayweather’s ability for years, but Ricky Hatton’s former trainer feels that the 31-year-old from Kazakhstan has both the skills and the mindset to overcome the sport’s consensus number one.
“Golovkin’s a gladiator, you know that from the way he salutes the crowd when he comes in, the look on his face and the pure love he shows for being in there,” he said. “That’s something you don’t get with a lot of fighters. A lot of them will tell you they’re looking forward to the fight, but that’s bollocks — they’re looking forward to getting it over with. Golovkin looks like he actually enjoys himself in there.
“I knew he was the real deal, then the [Matthew] Macklin [a third-round KO win in June] fight verified it. For one, he did that to Macklin. I personally know that Matt’s strong, determined and absolutely lives for boxing, so that convinced a lot of people. But I was convinced a long time ago.
“The commentators said Golovkin let Matt off the hook when Matt got his feet tangled and were saying Golovkin’s a gentleman, I think he did it because he was enjoying himself and wanted the finish to be cleaner. Matt’s a good guy, he told it like it was after the fight — let’s face it there’s no shame in getting beat by Golovkin. There’s a lot of good fighters around now, but he’s the top one.
“I want to see him clean up the middleweights, then I think Alvarez will move up to middle to fight him, which will be unbelievable. I read that Golovkin’s dream is to fight Floyd. Now, the way I look at it, he’s a natural middleweight, but if Golovkin can make 154 comfortably and perform without damaging himself, then I’d advise Floyd not to fight him, even though it’s a mouthwatering fight.
“Floyd’s done more than enough. It is a fight I’d love to see, but it might also be a little bit sad if it went the way I think it would. If Floyd is prepared to do it, then that’s music to my ears. I like Floyd, even though we’ve been adversaries and all that, and he’s always been nice and courteous to me. I’ve warmed to him a lot more since Ricky fought him and would hate to see him go out on a low, so I’d advise him to steer well clear of Golovkin, who is an amazing fighter.”
Golovkin takes on Curtis Stevens in New York on November 2, and will then try to lure Martinez or one of the other title-holders into a showdown. However, and presuming Mayweather beats Alvarez, he could be entered into the Mayweather sweepstakes if “Money” decides to take on yet another pretender to the throne he’s held for over a decade. Should this be the case, Graham believes that it will be Mayweather’s 0 that goes due to Golovkin’s ability to land shots in that no man’s land between the outside and the inside.
“He’s economical, an aggressive counter puncher, which is a simple way of putting it — there’s a lot more to it than that,” argued Graham. “I like his balance, the way he moves in and keeps his shape, and the shots he throws. There’s a lot of talk about throwing big combinations, as I’ve got older, and hopefully wiser, I think that isn’t the be all and end all. It’s about controlling your output, it’s OK throwing five to six punch combinations, but it can take more out of you than it does him if you’re not accurate with all of them. With Golovkin, every shot counts. He is economical while making the other feller work like a dog. What he does is simple, but it’s amazing how well he does it.
“Golovkin’s the antidote to Mayweather. He can cut the ring off, pick his punches well and hit Floyd from medium range — that’s the key. If you just try to take Floyd long then he’ll do you with those ridiculously long arms. Get close to him, and he’ll break your attacks down and counter you before moving away again. The way to beat him is to land shots at medium range, as you’re moving forward.
“Golovkin loves to work at medium range, so that’s the danger for Floyd. Golovkin will have to get it right or else he runs the risk of Floyd getting his own combinations off, sticking the jab in his face and moving away. What Golovkin can do is work off Floyd’s leads then work the openings as he moves in.
“The shots he slips in are hurtful. He moves in on people and works off their leads before hurting them — it’s uncanny anticipation on the move. To make them throw shots, you have to put yourself into position. It’s your presence that makes the other guy throw his punches. Anyone who throws first is committed, and the safest way to fight is to be a counter puncher.
“As soon as the opponents start to throw a shot, Golovkin knows he is in perfect range because of how he works. All he’s thinking of is what’s coming at him as he’s moving in, which is what a forward going counter puncher does. It’s the way to break a skilled technician up. Floyd likes people who come to him, he makes them commit then counters them, so you need to have anticipation to fight him. Golovkin’s got that anticipation wired in, his vision and balance is so good that he knows what’s coming before it comes.”
He added: “Don’t forget, you’re not going to get a lot of targets against a top-class fighter, you won’t get a lot of shots in, so you place singles into vital areas, and they’re vital because you hurt them. You have to break someone up if you’re fighting that way. It is kind of like what Joe Louis and Jose Napoles, amongst others, did and it is deadly.”
Mayweather builds everything from his opponent’s attacks, he is similar to a prime James Toney in this respect, and many fighters have fallen into the trap of trying to apply constant pressure on him in a bid to work away on the inside. Graham believes that this gives Mayweather plenty of opportunities to land his counters.
“We were talking combinations before, I used to throw them myself as a fighter and they do look great, especially if you’re finishing people off, but the best thing, and what Golovkin does, is to plant the correct punches. Ricky used to do that when he was at his best, single shots slipped through to the right areas at the right time by using good, intelligent movement.
“If you’re countering when moving in then you’re safe because the other guy’s already thrown his shot, so Floyd won’t be able to do anything with Golovkin if he can get the range right, work the right shots and not get carried away with trying to pin Floyd down or throw a load of shots, which leaves you open. If Golovkin can do all that, and I believe he can, then he can show the world how you apply the antidote to Floyd’s style.”
Still, Mayweather invariably manages to keep his opponents on the outside for long periods of his fights, and he’s generally the boss there. However, Oscar De La Hoya and Miguel Cotto had some success with their own jabs when fighting Mayweather, so Golovkin’s left could come into it if he did get his dream shot against the biggest name in the sport. Graham, though, believes that Golovkin also has the type and range of jab to trouble Mayweather.
He said: “Let’s not forget that Golovkin’s got a powerful jab as well, which I almost didn’t mention because it’s such a given. He can use it to do damage, counter, create room — a great jab is used in different ways. Floyd wouldn’t get it all his own way on the outside, either, because of the way Golovkin anticipates what is coming then uses his leverage to make openings, even at range.
“Now it’s the nitty-gritty time, what makes this fight special, and all these things I’m talking about are the things Ricky could do from a young age — he always had that ability. Golovkin makes his own room. That’s a big weapon in his arsenal, he wants to take people out, and what he’ll do is avoid smothering his own work by making room once inside.
“It’s also glaringly obvious to anybody that the f***er’s got leverage, he understands the mechanics of what he does. It’ll actually get better as he gets even more out of himself. Without those tools, you can have a million trainers who can tell you how to beat Floyd and still not be able to do it. Golovkin can shift his weight, move into position for uppercuts and does it all effortlessly, so he’s obviously a natural, but he’s worked on it properly as well. Golovkin’s born to be a boxer, but he’s also textbook on things and does it all in a relaxed manner.”
Graham admits that he has a soft spot for Mayweather. Once Hatton tried and failed to beat him, the trainer decided to just sit back and enjoy the American’s work while he is still active. Like many, Graham wants to see Mayweather get out of boxing with his undefeated record intact yet he also wants to see Golovkin crowned the consensus world number one. It’s a Catch-22 situation for “The Preacher”.
“I don’t want to see Floyd lose a fight in a bad way,” he admitted. “That’s just how I feel. On the other hand I want Golovkin to prove he’s the number one in the world, because I called that f***ing ages ago. I’m torn on this one. I think Golovkin will still go on to prove me right and I don’t want him to do Floyd to prove that. On the other hand, I’m a fight fan so want to see that fight. f***ing hell, it’s a tough one.”
One suspects that this is one fight that Graham will be turning over in his mind for the weeks and months ahead. Especially if both men win their next bouts and create the possibility of showdown between the best light-middleweight and the best middleweight in the world, with the pound-for-pound crown on the line.
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