By Jake Donovan
Gennady Golovkin has captivated audiences throughout his incredible amateur career, which includes a 350-5 record and a Silver medal in the 2004 Summer Olympics for his native Kazakhstan. Through seven years as a pro, the unbeaten middleweight has quickly developed into a cult favorite while gaining a reputation as the heir apparent to the division’s throne.
Now we get to find out where exactly he belongs in the middleweight division.
It’s not a statement that his team wants to hear, but there is something to the lingering question of how he will fare against the world’s best middleweights. The first piece of that puzzle comes this weekend, when he faces perennial Top 10 contender Matthew Macklin in an HBO-televised headliner at Foxwoods Casino in Mashantucket, Connecticut.
The bout serves as the final leg of a televised tripleheader, but make no mistake – all eyes are on Golovkin, for a variety of reasons.
“[T]his is the type of the test that Gennady needs for his career,” says Tom Loeffler, Managing Director of K2 Promotions, Golovkin’s promoter. “Gennady right now… is one of the highest touted boxes around. His (career) has really taken on a life of its own after the “2Days” special that HBO did on the last fight. It's really - you know his life has kind of grown. And you know this type of fight will definitely provide fireworks. And it will show you know if Gennady is the real deal.”
Golovkin has looked the part every time out, including in each of his two previous HBO appearances. His network debut came with an explosive performance, tearing through Grzegorz Proksa in five rounds last September. The win was followed up by a savage beatdown of Gabriel Rosado earlier this year, with both fights serving as his first two in the United States.
A stay busy highlight reel 3rd round knockout of Nobuhiro Ishida this past March marked 14 straight wins inside the distance for Golovkin, who is credited with the highest knockout percentage of any middleweight champ in boxing history. When exactly his title reign began is a blurred line, given the belt he carries and the number of champions simultaneously crowned by its organization.
What is apparently clear is his desire to entertain. Golovkin has developed as one of the sport’s most thrilling fighters at the championship level – a five-year string of knockouts will do that. The big question on Saturday is whether or not he can do the same against a top middleweight.
“[W]e have a lot of respect for Matthew,” Loeffler admits. “He's probably in the top five, maybe the best non-title holder in the division.”
Macklin came as close as you possibly can to winning a title without actually leaving the ring with the belt around your waist. His June ’11 points loss to Felix Sturm was widely viewed as a disgraceful verdict, leaving many to claim the England-raised Irishman as an uncrowned champion.
A more definitive outcome was produced in Macklin’s valiant effort versus lineal champion Sergio Martinez last March. Macklin scored a mid-rounds knockdown and was in the hunt until falling apart late and eventually suffering an 11th round stoppage.
Martinez has only fought twice since then – climbing off the canvas to outpoint Julio Cesar Chavez, followed by barely escaping by the skin of his teeth in an Argentina homecoming-nearly-gone-disastrous against Martin Murray earlier this year.
The latter win aggravated past injuries and produced new ones, leaving Martinez on the sidelines for the remainder of 2013 and into 2014. That leaves the door wide open for another fighter to step up and become the face of the middleweight division.
Enter Golovkin, who – unlike most in the business these days – places a considerable amount of emphasis on the “professional” part of his job title of professional boxer.
“Gennady showed up for camp at 167 (pounds) at the end of May,” informs head trainer Abel Sanchez, who revealed his fighter’s weight a week out from camp within three pounds of the 160 lb. divisional limit. “His weight is never a problem; he is always in outstanding shape.”
At a shade under 5’10” and always right around the 160 lb. limit, Golovkin is a physical throwback, the prototypical middleweight back when fighters were required to way in the day of the fight. A familiar tale with one of the greatest middleweights of all time – Marvelous Marvin Hagler – was the southpaw’s inability to land fights against the top guys until he basically cleaned out the contender level of the division.
Golovkin has been pining for the same opportunity, but has instead settled for the first person to say ‘yes’ to such a challenge. The result thus far has been a lot of great performances, albeit against a lot of fighters who have either seen their best day, are not quite top tier, or were rising up in weight.
“There has been some criticism as far as him only fighting junior middleweights or not the top level competition. But that's certainly not from his standpoint,” Loeffler explains. “We've told HBO - anyone - in fact there's no name that we've turned down yet for Gennady.
“And as Matt said, you know he should have been a World Champion when he fought Felix Sturm,” Loeffler continues, pointing to the fact that Macklin should technically be an ex-middleweight champion gracing Golovkin’s resume. “He should have gotten the decision there. And if you can knock down Sergio Martinez, that's quite an accomplishment.
“So I think that if he beats Matthew Macklin, then I think he'll be - he'll legitimately be recognized as you know the number two guy right behind Sergio Martinez.”
A win on Saturday will go a long way towards establishing Golovkin’s greatness, a major feat to match the growing support he continues to receive.
Golovkin knows not to look past this weekend, but the opportunist in him also sees it as a door that – once opened - leads to one day cleaning out the division.
"I know that (Julio Cesar) Chavez Jr., (Daniel) Geale and (Felix) Sturm have fights coming up,” Golovkin acknowledges of his middleweight peers. “I will fight any of them. I want to fight the best and challenge myself always."
Thanks to the willingness of a true middleweight contender like Macklin willing to accept the challenge, Golovkin finally has the first opportunity to prove that action speaks louder than words.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as the Records Keeper for the Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and a member of Boxing Writers Association of America.