by David P. Greisman
There is no storyline more compelling than a champion emerging from a pool of contenders, and no conclusion more captivating than seeing that champion take the throne by force.
Power is an interesting thing. Gennady Golovkin might not be a middleweight titleholder were it not for his power. But as much as he relies on his own power, he must also depend on someone else’s.
The network executives at HBO are enamored with Golovkin in large part because of his power, because 24 of the 27 men he has faced have failed to see the final bell, because he has knocked out 14 straight opponents over the past five years, and because he continued that tear by tearing through Matthew Macklin in just two and a half rounds on Saturday night.
They love him as a character. And they want to place him within a tried and true storyline.
The separation from the pack. The final stretch. The finish line. These chapters are why we love horse races, pennant races and NASCAR races. They are why political coverage often spends as much time on explaining the polls as it does on exploring the issues. And they are why NCAA basketball has brought madness to the month of March.
HBO no longer dedicates much in the way of airtime or dollar signs to documenting the rise of the next heavyweight champion. The network has remained involved, without interruption, with chronicling the potential and eventual passing of the middleweight torch.
The last time this much marketing muscle went behind a middleweight was with Jermain Taylor, whom the network named heir apparent and pushed toward a shot at the champion, Bernard Hopkins.
Taylor’s promoter was Lou DiBella. All these years later, and HBO is aiming for a match between Golovkin and middleweight champion Sergio Martinez — who is promoted by DiBella.
The differences between Hopkins and Taylor eight years ago were vast.
Hopkins was the undisputed champion, the holder of all four major sanctioning bodies’ world titles. He had defended one of those titles 20 times, was brilliantly skilled, and had recently seen his biggest payday and brightest spotlight ever with a body-shot knockout of Oscar De La Hoya.
Taylor, meanwhile, was only in his first year as a pro fighter at the time Hopkins defeated Felix Trinidad in 2001 to become the middleweight division’s true champion. By mid-2005, he had fought and won 23 times, barely longer than Hopkins’ string of defenses. He was young and fast but otherwise inexperienced, brought along carefully against aged and/or undersized opposition.
HBO wanted them to fight. The bout made sense and meant money. Taylor got his shot at Hopkins, won a pair of debated decisions, and became the new champion.
Taylor would ultimately fall to Kelly Pavlik in 2007. Pavlik lost to Martinez in 2010. Martinez has already defeated one majorly marketed middleweight, out-boxing Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. last September, and overcoming a dramatic last-round knockdown to win an otherwise-lopsided decision.
The network’s next contender to challenge Martinez has emerged.
A year ago, Golovkin’s only fights in the United States had been sparring matches in training camps. A Kazakh by birth, he had fought mostly in Germany, with appearances in Denmark, Panama, Ukraine and his home country.
His American debut came last September, on HBO’s “Boxing After Dark.” Golovkin blasted through Grzegorz Proksa. This past January, again on HBO, Golovkin brutalized Gabriel Rosado. In March, on an independent pay-per-view that allowed Golovkin to stay busy, he scored a one-punch knockout of Nobuhiro Ishida that has received more views through online replays than it likely had live.
That brought him into Saturday’s fight with Macklin, and Golovkin’s third appearance on HBO.
Golovkin has held a world title since 2010, but this was the bout that would sell HBO, and the public, on whether he should be on the fast track to a fight with Martinez.
Martinez has met and defeated various other challengers; his reign since seizing the throne from Pavlik has seen him take out Paul Williams, Sergiy Dzinziruk, Darren Barker and Macklin, and outpoint Chavez Jr. and Martin Murray.
Golovkin presented another chance for HBO to have another star should Martinez’s time at the top come to an end. Power is universal. He could be sold to the network’s American audience. He could be marketed as a true threat.
He needed to beat Macklin first.
Just as Jermain Taylor was seen as untested prior to his fight with Bernard Hopkins, there were some questions that Golovkin needed to answer. His doubters questioned his level of opposition, and they wondered what would happen when he would hit and get hit by a true middleweight. Macklin had posed a good challenge to Martinez in March 2012 before losing late. Before that, in June 2011, he had also lost a split decision to Felix Sturm that many observers felt was an outright robbery.
Macklin would be a good test for Golovkin.
Golovkin never was tested on Saturday.
Power is an interesting thing. A fighter must not be too confident that he can take it. But he must also not be too paralyzed by its presence.
Macklin appeared to be all too aware, the intimidation expediting his defeat much as had happened to Mike Tyson’s opponents in the 1980s. The loss was inevitable. Golovkin was unstoppable. He cut Macklin’s face, clubbed him with heavy hands, and left him thinking about the damage done with those blows to the head. Then Golovkin threw a right uppercut, followed by a left uppercut, and finished with the shot he had been setting up — a vicious left hook to the liver.
Macklin collapsed to the canvas, remaining there well past the count of 10.
Power is an important thing. Without it, Lucas Matthysse — an Argentine fighter with 32 knockouts in his 34 wins (and whose only blemishes are a pair of controversial losses) — might not have gotten the push he has received on American airwaves from Showtime. His power brought him into a big fight with Lamont Peterson, who like Macklin went down with surprising ease in less than three rounds. And his power has put him on track for a bout with Danny Garcia that would establish a true champion.
At least Matthysse already belonged to the same Golden Boy Promotions stable as Garcia. Golovkin has disadvantages and advantages in being with the Klitschko brothers’ K2 Promotions.
It’s really not about who he’s with, though, so much as who he isn’t with. Golovkin is not with Golden Boy Promotions, whose fighters appear on Showtime but not on HBO. That likely precludes a fight with fellow beltholder Peter Quillin.
Nor is Golovkin with the same promoters as Martinez. But as with Taylor and Hopkins, the network can use the power of the paycheck and the selling of the storyline to make Martinez-Golovkin happen.
It likely won’t be Golovkin’s next fight. Martinez is recovering from leg and hand injuries suffered in the Murray bout. His team will not let his comeback fight be against someone with such formidable power, not when Martinez’s mobility might still be compromised.
Martinez got injured, got hurt and got dropped by Chavez Jr., only to rise and pull out the win. He got injured, got hurt and got dropped by Murray, only to come out with a decision that some felt was even closer than what the scorecards said.
He could be ripe to be picked off. Or he could return healthy and give Golovkin difficulty.
Power is an interesting thing. It’s not necessarily everything, not when speed and skill can offset it.
Power is an equalizer, though, and Martinez has shown himself to be susceptible. We don’t know how Martinez will handle Golovkin, and that’s why we want to see that fight happen.
All Golovkin needs is a shot.
The 10 Count
1. It’s not necessarily merely the performances that make a star — it can also be a combination of the personality and the publicity.
Gennady Golovkin won’t be rapping during his ring walk or getting his hair brushed in the middle of a post-fight interview. He is capitalizing, however, on the opportunities being extended to him.
Within the past 10 months, he’s debuted on HBO with a technical knockout of Grzegorz Proksa in a “Boxing After Dark” main event, battered Gabriel Rosado on HBO on the undercard of a “Boxing After Dark” broadcast, knocked Nobuhiro Ishida senseless with a single shot on an independent pay-per-view bout that quickly made its way onto YouTube, and made surprisingly easy work of Matthew Macklin this past weekend, once again on HBO’s “Boxing After Dark.”
Publicity should still come via a multipronged approach. Golovkin’s team should be reaching beyond us boxing websites and appealing to television stations, talk shows, magazines and mainstream publications. And HBO should consider re-airing its “2 Days” broadcast featuring the fighter over and over until he fights again.
The network, which is clearly seeking to build Golovkin up, proudly sent out a note last week saying that “2 Days: Gennady Golovkin” has pulled in more than 2.5 million viewers combined since its June 8 debut. That number is “well above last year’s installments of the series, which averaged 2.1 million viewers.”
We’ll see how that translates to ratings for his fights. But one thing is for certain: We’ll keep seeing Golovkin on HBO as it maneuvers him toward a fight with Sergio Martinez or another major opponent.
2. It’s no surprise that this September’s fight between Canelo Alvarez and Floyd Mayweather sold out in less than 24 hours — some fans said on Twitter that the lowest-priced seats were gone nearly immediately.
It’s also no surprise that while this is great for the fighters, the promoter, the casinos and the city, it comes at the expense of fans, who are being gouged, but who willingly oblige for the opportunity to be in Las Vegas for the biggest fight of the year and one of the biggest events ever.
As of early Sunday evening — five days after tickets went on sale, and four days after they supposedly sold out — Ticketmaster’s resale website, TicketsNow, had 378 seats available that ranged from $995 for the farthest row up in the MGM Grand Garden Arena to $26,156 for a seat three rows back at ringside. Of course, if you wanted to settle for the row behind that one, that’s just $18,310.
StubHub had 915 tickets available as of early Sunday evening, ranging from $1,098 for the final row of the arena to $29,999 for six rows back at ringside (and $29,781 to sit three rows in front of that person).
The original prices for tickets were $2,000, $1,500, $1,000, $600 and $350. It’s no secret that tickets for nearly any and every major event, be it a concert or a big fight, are picked up by speculators and sponsors. There’s no telling how much the market is being controlled — whether more tickets will become available on these resale websites after other seats are purchased.
Even without taking the price of tickets being sold on the secondary market into consideration, the live gate is expected to break records, according to what Richard Schaefer of Golden Boy Promotions told Dan Rafael of ESPN.com. Schaefer predicted the gate would be at least $18,647,000 and could even top $19 million. The current record belongs to Oscar De La Hoya vs. Floyd Mayweather, which had a gate of $18,419,200.
3. And if you’re out of luck for arena tickets, the cost of seeing a closed circuit broadcast in Las Vegas is a mere $100.
One regular reader who will be watching via closed circuit said that the Alvarez-Mayweather fight is the first time he couldn’t get seats in the arena via Ticketmaster, but that he still wants the Las Vegas experience on a big fight weekend.
I’d actually feel better about spending $100 to watch on a big screen while surrounded by passionate fight fans than I would feel had I dropped $350 (or even $1,000) to sit way up high in the arena — where I’d be so far back that the screens there would be my best option for following the action.
4. I’ll be watching this one from home. There’s no line at the bathroom, and the beer’s much better and much cheaper.
5. I do love what Alvarez, Mayweather, Golden Boy Promotions and Showtime have been doing to publicize a bout that was already expected to be the highest-grossing pay-per-view of the year.
It’s fair to question whether the 9-day, 11-city press tour is overcompensation for what happened (or rather, didn’t happen) with Mayweather’s fight against Robert Guerrero. That May 4 pay-per-view is on track to get a buy rate of slightly more than 1 million, according to Golden Boy executives. A couple of notable boxing reporters have questioned whether that claim is too optimistic. Either way, the final figure was lower than had been hoped for.
Mayweather-Guerrero, which was officially announced less than two months before the fight was to take place, didn’t have a press tour. The tour for Alvarez-Mayweather has already been in New York City; Washington, D.C.; Grand Rapids, Mich.; Chicago; Atlanta; Miami; and Mexico City. Today (July 1) it will be in Houston and San Antonio, and then it will wrap up Tuesday with stops in Phoenix and Los Angeles.
I wouldn’t describe this as overcompensation, though. This is a pretty smart way to bring excitement outside of the normal boxing audiences.
That’s because these press tours aren’t so much for the boxing media as they are for the mainstream media — and for the public, which has been drawn in to, and energetic at, these free events.
Boxing is so often something that is at a distance from the regular public. It is on premium cable channels or on pay-per-view, and the biggest fights are often held at a limited number of locations in this country.
This tour has been a smart tactic. I don’t know if the pay-per-view buy rate will surpass that of De La Hoya vs. Mayweather, but everyone involved certainly is trying to sell a broad audience on the idea of forking over their money come Sept. 14.
6. Johnathon Banks’ camp claims the heavyweight injured his left hand in the opening round of his June 22 rematch with Seth Mitchell and then injured his right hand in the second round, according to an article by Lem Satterfield of RingTV.com.
If this is true, then Banks deserves credit for still throwing and being able to hurt Mitchell in the fight despite the injuries — which much explains the desultory affair that the bout became.
7. Boxers Behaving Badly: A Filipino welterweight has run afoul of the law in his home country.
No, not that one.
Mark Melligen — a prospect whose last appearance on American television was a July 2011 loss to Sebastian Lujan — has been arrested after allegedly being caught using shabu, or methamphetamine, according to the Cebu Daily News.
Police found the 27-year-old on June 20 while they were arresting two other men for allegedly selling the drug. Melligen was seen sniffing the drug, police said, and officers found in his possession “aluminum foil strips with traces of suspected shabu, a disposable lighter and an improvised tooter,” according to the article.
He said “he has been struggling financially and has been homeless since losing” the Lujan bout, the article said. Melligan fought twice after suffering that defeat, winning a pair of bouts in 2012 in the Philippines. His last appearance was in September, a second-round technical knockout that brought his record to 23-3 with 16 knockouts.
8. Boxers Behaving Badly update: Keely Thompson ¬— a retired boxer who once lost to Sharmba Mitchell — has pleaded guilty to taking money that had been granted to his nonprofit boxing/youth center and using it instead for himself, with much of it gambled away in Atlantic City and on a cruise, according to The Washington Post.
Thompson admitted to taking more than $200,000. He could be sentenced to nearly three years behind bars.
The 47–year-old was 17-9-2 (12 knockouts) as a pro fighter.
9. Sept. 12, 2008: Joan Guzman is supposed to weigh in for his fight with Nate Campbell at 135 pounds. Guzman weighs in at 138.5.
March 26, 2010: Guzman is supposed to weigh in for his rematch with Ali Funeka at 135 pounds. Guzman weighs in at a staggering 144 pounds.
Dec. 10, 2010: Guzman is supposed to weigh in at 141 pounds for his fight with Jason Davis. Guzman weighs in at 144.5 pounds, then tests positive for a banned diuretic.
June 27, 2013: Guzman’s camp announces that he won’t be able to make 140 pounds for his fight with Vicente Mosquera. Apparently he stopped trying and resumed eating, because when he did step on the scale later, he weighed 148.2 pounds.
10. In the past five years, Guzman has made weight six times and failed to make weight four times.
At this point he should just embrace it, just like Ricky Hatton did by donning a padded costume to mock himself for the pounds he packed on between fights. If Guzman doesn’t walk out to Weird Al Yankovic’s “Fat” for his next bout, I’ll be tremendously disappointed.
“Fighting Words” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com. David P. Greisman is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Follow David on Twitter @fightingwords2 or send questions/comments via email at [email protected]