by Cliff Rold
There may be a semantic argument for a certain prominent red headed battler as history’s middleweight champion, but for most of the sport’s followers the man at middleweight will be decided Saturday night at Madison Square Garden.
That’s where unified titlist Gennady Golovkin will face the man many believe might be his most difficult opponent to date. Daniel Jacobs is still a prohibitive underdog. However, in a fight between men with 62 knockouts over a combined 66 wins, anything feels possible.
Each is the most dangerous puncher the other has faced. Golovkin desperately wants a fight with Canelo Alvarez, the sort of clash that can finally pull his star into orbit with the hardcore frenzy he generates. An impressive win Saturday will only fuel that building fire. Is there any chance that Jacobs could catch Golovkin looking past him?
Let’s go to the report cards.
Title: WBA “super” middleweight (2010-Present, 17 Defenses); WBC middleweight (2014-Present, 5 Defenses); IBF middleweight (2015-Present, 2 Defenses); IBO middleweight (2010-Present, 17 Defenses);
Previous Titles: None
Height: 5’10 ½
Weight: 159 lbs.
Hails from: Los Angeles, California (Hails from Kazakhstan)?
Record: 36-0, 33 KO
Rankings: #1 (BoxingScene, TBRB, Ring, ESPN, Boxing Monthly, BoxRec)
Record in Major Title Fights: 17-0, 17 KO (18-0, 18 KO including interim title fights)
Current/Former World Champions Faced: 4 (Kasim Ouma TKO10; Daniel Geale TKO3; David Lemieux TKO8; Kell Brook TKO5)
Title: WBA ‘regular’ middleweight (2014-Present, 4 Defenses)
Previous Titles: None
Weight: 159 ¾ lbs.
Hails from: Brooklyn, New York
Record: 32-1, 29 KO, 1 KOBY
Rankings: #2 (BoxingScene, TBRB, Ring, ESPN, Boxing Monthly, BoxRec)
Record in Major Title Fights: 5-1, 5 KO, 1 KOBY
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: 2 (Ishe Smith UD10; Dmitry Pirog TKO by 5; Sergio Mora TKO2, TKO7; Peter Quillin TKO1)
Pre-Fight: Speed – Golovkin B; Jacobs A-
Pre-Fight: Power – Golovkin A+; Jacobs A
Pre-Fight: Defense – Golovkin B; Jacobs B
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Golovkin A; Jacobs B+
Much has been made of the way Jacobs has rebuilt his career from two big setbacks, one in the ring and one outside. In 2010, the heavily hyped younger version of Jacobs was knocked senseless by a Pirog whose own promising career was cut short by injuries. A battle with cancer cost Jacobs more than a year of his career but he’s bounced back from both to arrive here.
The win that stamped Jacobs in the division was his knockout of Quillin in late 2015. In what was expected to be a tough fight, he blitzed the undefeated Quillin in one. The win displayed why some give him an upset chance Saturday.
Jacobs has fast hands and, when they find the mark, they are hurting hands. While he hasn’t faced a remarkable depth of opposition, he’s faced enough to let us know the speed and power are legitimate. Is his chin?
Putting aside the Pirog loss, Jacobs was also dropped hard by a Sergio Mora who has rarely scored knockouts or knockdowns in his career. Since the Pirog fight, Jacobs has won twelve straight but Quillin is the only consensus contender in the division on that list. He’s been pretty carefully matched.
One of the criticisms of Golovkin has been his level of opposition. That argument is much stronger for Jacobs and speaks to the lack of depth at middleweight. One big Quillin win is enough to be seen as next best in class. Billy Joe Saunders has more wins against consensus rated middleweight contenders than Jacobs, but has been less impressive to the eye.
Golovkin has answered his opposition question two ways. The most obvious is through volume; he just keeps winning and in doing so is putting together a Wilfredo Gomez-like knockout streak. It currently stands at 23 in a row. The other is a steadily increased level of foe since he made his US debut. Beginning with Matthew Macklin in 2013, Golovkin has defeated five men rated in the TBRB or Ring top ten at middleweight along with top rated welterweight Kell Brook.
It’s not legendary stuff on paper but he can’t resurrect Harry Greb to walk down the aisle. This is the middleweight era available.
While this isn’t a unification fight in the formal sense, he will also erase the championship duopoly of the WBA with a win Saturday. He’s one belt short of a rare quad-fecta in his division. If we judge Golovkin purely as a middleweight, and that’s all he’s opted to be as a pro, then he’s doing everything he can to rule his field.
If he can get past Jacobs, the only titlist left is Saunders. The only piece of history missing is Alvarez. Golovkin doesn’t show up unprepared and given Jacobs power, he’s unlikely to look past the challenger. Golovkin might not be as quick as Jacobs but he is more technically sound. Golovkin is a skilled destroyer with a hard jab and terrific attack to the body. So far, his chin has been as asset and Jacobs will have to be nearly perfect to keep him at bay. Of the two, Golovkin is the one with the tighter defense and his offense is more precise. He makes fewer mistakes.
Will Golovkin’s age be a factor? He’s not a young middleweight anymore and he wouldn’t be the first fighter to show decline in their mid-30s. Nothing in his recent form would suggest it. However, the way Brook was able to land on him could give Jacobs hope. Brook hung around for a couple rounds by getting to the target first. Jacobs, taller and longer than Golovkin, could do some of the same. Would it be enough?
Barring a sharp, out of nowhere stoppage, it’s hard to see where Jacobs can win here. He might have the edge in speed but Golovkin is the more skilled fighter, has more experience against a wider range of quality in the division, and has shown more durability. Jacobs might have some early moments but if he lands big and Golovkin is still there, what does he do when return fire starts coming? The answer for Jacobs will probably be what it was for Golovkin’s last 23 foes. Eventually Golovkin will find his way closer to Jacobs and his short offense will start beating speed. Jacobs hasn’t shown the whiskers to handle it. The pick is Golovkin by knockout inside eight rounds.
Report Card and Staff Picks 2017: 4-4
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]