By Thomas Gerbasi
A couple years back, veteran trainer Abel Sanchez told his newest charge, Kazakhstan’s Gennady Golovkin, that if the middleweight gave him three years, he would make him the kind of fighter everyone dreams of being.
“I explained to him after a couple months that if he gave me three years of complete commitment and let me mold him and do what I thought I needed to do to give him that TV, fan, and boxing-friendly style that would make people come to see him fight and tune in, that he would be the most avoided fighter and the most feared middleweight.”
It’s not exactly three years yet, but Sanchez’ words are coming true.
“It’s happening and we’re not quite there yet,” said Sanchez of the progression of Golovkin, now the WBA and IBO middleweight champion and practically every fight fan’s new favorite fighter. The reason is simple: when he steps into the ring, it’s a fight, and one that normally ends with his hand raised and his opponent asking his cornermen what just happened.
24-0 with 21 knockouts, Golovkin has the “it” factor few possess, and Sanchez – who trained Hall of Famer Terry Norris – puts it even more succinctly, recently telling Lance Pugmire of the Los Angeles Times, “I’ve been saying for awhile boxing is missing the next big fighter. People go to the races to watch a crash. They want the bull to get the fighter in a bullfight. And they go to the fights looking for a knockout.”
When asked about this comment, Sanchez elaborated, “I said that because we all subconsciously would go to the bullfights to see the bullfighter go up in the air and then feel sorry for him. I think we’ve been missing in modern-day boxing, this era anyway, the Tyson-esque kind of performance, where a guy goes in to sit down and watch TV, and you’d better not leave or go get a coke or beer because you’re gonna miss the knockout.”
Case in point was Golovkin’s HBO debut against 28-1 Grzegorz Proksa last September. After a short feeling out process in which he lazily pawed at his opponent, Golovkin suddenly pounced when he saw an opening, hurting and dropping Proksa at the end of the first round. The southpaw jumped back to his feet, but after knockdowns in rounds four and five, the bout was waved off. Suddenly, the diehards who had followed his pre-US career nodded their head knowingly, and newcomers quickly jumped on the bandwagon.
Everybody loved GGG.
“We’re all really excited about it on the team,” said Tom Loeffler, managing director of K2 Promotions, which promotes Golovkin. “We see the potential and the talent that Gennady has; it’s just a matter of exposing that to the public here in America and worldwide. Gennady’s the type of fighter who will get that worldwide attention, being as popular as he is in the former Soviet Union and having lived and fought in Germany for a number of years, and with every fight we just anticipate it reaching a higher level.”
And while Golovkin’s cult hero status has come as a surprise to some in the boxing business, it hasn’t to Loeffler, best known for his work with the Klitschko brothers, but who also worked with Shane Mosley back in his days as lightweight champion.
“We knew, and Abel told me this from the very beginning,” said Loeffler. “People saw the type of style and type of talent that he had and they’d want to see him again. The one thing I was surprised about is how quickly it has gone. Right after his fight with Proksa on HBO, his first fight here in America, we were all at a fight with Nonito Donaire when he was at the Home Depot Center, and all the Hispanic fans came up to him after the fights and wanted his autograph and picture, and that’s what really surprised me – how he transcended the different nationalities of boxing fans. People just appreciate his style, and regardless of whether he’s from Kazakhstan or Germany, they appreciate his style in the ring and they said they can’t wait to see him again on TV.”
They’ll get their chance this Saturday when Golovkin makes his second stateside (and second HBO) appearance against always tough Gabriel Rosado. What makes it even more notable for Golovkin is that he’s doing it in the Theater at the iconic Madison Square Garden in New York City.
“For me, Madison Square Garden is one of the best arenas in the world, like the MGM Grand and Staples Center, and right now it’s number one,” said Golovkin on arriving in the Big Apple earlier this week. “I like New York.”
Expect NYC to like him right back, especially with the city’s huge Russian population always backing their fighters with their presence and their wallets. And for those without purely nationalistic reasons for cheering for Golovkin, the fight with Rosado should certainly provide fireworks, and it’s exactly what Sanchez and Loeffler are counting on.
“I told Tom after the fight that I wanted to see him against a right hander that was gonna be in front of him, a good guy that just wanted to come and fight,” said Sanchez, who got his wish in the Philadelphian, who is sporting a seven fight win streak that includes three straight knockouts. “And yes, if somebody stands in front of him like that, there’s gonna be violence, and I think Rosado is made to order for that. Not so much for the knockout, but to make the fans want to come back and see Gennady or come back and see Rosado also.”
“The plan is to steal the show that night,” adds Loeffler of the HBO tripleheader opened by Rocky Martinez vs. Juan Carlos Burgos and headlined by Orlando Salido vs. Mikey Garcia. “Gennady wants to put on the best fight and performance of the night for the fans in New York that are coming to support him. Rosado is the type of guy that’s not gonna run away, he’s not gonna make a boring fight, and I think there will be a lot of fireworks for as long as it lasts.”
As for “GGG,” he’s on board as well.
“This is great for me, and not just for me, but for the sport and the fans in boxing,” said Golovkin. “I’m happy because boxing in the United States is big and it’s my dream. I thank the fans so much that are watching me, and I think it’s going to be a great fight.”
But to be a star and get big fights, you have to have that something extra. Golovkin appears to have it, with his knockouts in the ring complimented nicely by an ever present smile and engaging personality outside of it. Add in his desire to leave his comfort zone and fight in the states, a willingness to do whatever is asked of him publicity wise, and an increasing command of the English language (one of four that he knows), and K2 has a gem to promote, something they’re well aware of.
“The main component is how he looks in the ring, but there are a lot of great fighters that people aren’t really interested in seeing because they haven’t really marketed themselves the right way,” said Loeffler. “Gennady has made a big effort of improving his English for his second fight in the States, and this is the fourth language that he speaks. He speaks Kazakh, Russian, German, and English. So I think the fans also see that. Not only do they like his style, but they like his character and his personality. Even if he’s not necessarily speaking on camera, the way his personality comes across and their perception of him is clear. He’s just a likeable guy. When he’s not knocking people out he’s always smiling, and that’s what people like. It’s really caught on very quickly.”
The question is, will it catch on enough that the reps of fellow champions Sergio Martinez (WBC), Daniel Geale (IBF), and Peter Quillin (WBO), or former champ Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. will step up to fight the Kazakh KO King? Ask Golovkin who is on his radar should he win Saturday night, and he doesn’t hesitate in his response.
“Sergio,” he said. “And Julio Cesar Chavez. I want to fight the best, and those are the ones I hope are next.”
That’s the ideal situation, but Loeffler knows that it isn’t that simple, so in response, he just wants to keep his fighter busy, on TV, and he has no qualms about going to 154 or 168 pounds in the process.
“He can go down to junior middleweight if there’s a big name down there that will make a compelling fight, or if there’s a big fight at super middleweight, he can do that,” he said. “But right now, it just makes the most sense to focus on the middleweight division, and he wants to fight the biggest names as soon as possible. It’s a big difference between him wanting to fight people and them actually getting in the ring, but from our side, even with the Proksa fight, just to get on HBO the first time we had to accept conditions that no other promoter would have accepted for a world champion. But we understand the value of being on HBO and getting the exposure, and we’ll probably have to do that for a few different fights just to get the opponents in the ring to fight him.”
And eventually, they’ll have to fight him. When that happens, boxing may have its next superstar.