By Cliff Rold
It was the sort of performance that gets a million Twitters aflutter.
Faced with what was the most accomplished opponent of his career, 2004 Olympic Silver Medalist Gennady Golovkin (27-0, 24 KO) did what he does. He won.
If it had been reported that Matthew Macklin was rendered spleen-less by the body shot that ended his night, few would have disputed. Golovkin, so far, has the sort of power boxing lovers have been able to create myth from for years.
Remember the one about Roberto Duran knocking out a horse? Maybe it was true; maybe it wasn’t. It was Duran so it didn’t sound too far-fetched. Golovkin may be headed that way.
In the aftermath of his latest win, speculation about who Golovkin could beat, and who he couldn’t, is aflame. Already fantasy matchmaking pits him against leading Super Middleweight titlist Carl Froch and World Super Middleweight Champion Andre Ward. The latter makes sense given HBO’s not-so-subtle attempts at a long game ending with a megabucks Ward-Golovkin fight.
Fans who recall the build to Roy Jones-James Toney in the early 90s will recognize the template being used here. As early as his win over Glen Wolfe in 1993, Jones was being asked about Toney in HBO post-fight interviews. Jones hadn’t even won a title yet at Middleweight and Toney was already off to the Super Middleweight class after a wildly (minus the Dave Tiberi robbery) successful run as Middleweight king.
Jones waited, beating a then largely unheralded Bernard Hopkins for the belt Toney left vacant and defending it once along with some non-title fare to build to the big one. The intended destination, Ward-Golovkin, is obvious.
It is tantalizing enough to almost forget something important.
Gennady Golovkin might look like the best Middleweight in the world, but for now it’s still just a look.
Prior to last weekend, it was hard to find many legitimate Middleweight contenders on the Golovkin dossier. Sure, he has a WBA belt, but the WBA belt gives out more belts than brothels give out smiles. Opponents matter. Now that Macklin has been made one with the floor, a critical objection to the Golovkin hype bubble is removed.
There still remains a major hurdle to clear.
If Golovkin wants to prove the king of the Middleweights, he has to beat the king of the Middleweights.
Until he loses or retires, that remains lineal champion Sergio Martinez.
Before we can dream about Golovkin-Ward or Golovkin-Froch or Golovkin-Gamera, Martinez-Golovkin is the must. Jones didn’t have an obvious Martinez to get by before he moved to Toney. He still proved to most to be the best at Middleweight before he moved up.
It helped add to the luster of the Toney showdown.
Golovkin has the advantage of an established king to topple before going to look for another.
Golovkin said he wants it. The team of Martinez has made clear they would too…with a caveat. Martinez, who was injured against Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and again against Martin Murray, is going to want one payda…err, fight, before taking on a challenge his promoter Lou Dibella referred to as an ‘animal’ in the aftermath of Golovkin-Macklin.
By the time Martinez is ready to return, he may not have the luxury of a safety fight first. Golovkin’s ratings are growing on HBO and his concussive power is the type that builds a following. With possibly two more HBO appearances on tap for Golovkin before 2013 is over, the pressure and public demand could very well have built a market for a showdown that can’t be ignored.
One imagines Martinez’s financial advisors aren’t ignorant of this potential. Let the names of bigger men be bandied; let the fantasy of a Mayweather fight at Jr. Middleweight be floated…for now, the most realistic scenario to embrace is that we are on the road to Martinez-Golovkin first.
In the meantime, Golovkin should and likely will pursue the best of everyone else at Middleweight. In an almost old-school fashion, Golovkin can render himself the only contender that matters. IBF titlist Daniel Geale will defend against Darren Barker later this summer; a unification fight with Golovkin would make sense for both on HBO.
WBO titlist Peter Quillin (29-0, 21 KO), promoted by Golden Boy, belongs right in the conversation with Golovkin as a leading threat to Martinez. Both men have mentioned each other in the last few days. While the Golden Boy/Showtime/HBO feud might make Golovkin-Quillin look like a long shot, Golden Boy doesn’t have the sort of depth at Middleweight they do in the classes below it.
In the ring, regardless of the lineal crown Martinez wears, Golovkin-Quillin might already be the showdown of the two very best in-ring Middleweights in the world right now. Geale and Quillin are the only other two Middleweights Martinez hasn’t already defeated who can claim to deserve a shot. If Golovkin could beat one or both, his mandate for Martinez only gets stronger.
And if either of them could upset the apple cart, well, then Martinez could worry about them instead upon his return.
Boxing has few fighters who really do stand out as the genuine World Champions of their class. Martinez can trace his title straight to its last unification, to the moment when Papa Trinidad stepped in to save his son and make clear the coronation of Bernard Hopkins in 2001.
Middleweight isn’t just any title. When one holds its historical crown, they join a special fraternity that includes names like Greb, Walker, Robinson, Monzon, and Hagler. If Golovkin has the chance to add his name to their lot, he owes it to himself to chase it like mad. He seems to know that.
Similarly, Martinez has to respect his obligation and fight the man who most deserves a shot at history’s crown. So far, he’s saying the right things.
While the world waits for Martinez to heal, Golovkin can only do everything he can to eliminate every means of escape. The hype is building. So is the body count. Now let’s see if Golovkin can add the final piece to his Middleweight puzzle before whatever comes after that.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org