By Mark Whicker
Gennady Golovkin ranks third all-time, regardless of weight class, in knockout percentage. It is not a distinction that has brought good fortune to everyone on that list.
Edwin Valero knocked out all 27 professional opponents, 19 of them in the first round. The Venezuelan hung himself in his prison cell at age 29, after being charged for the murder of his wife.
Rocky Marciano, the undefeated heavyweight champion, knocked out 43 of his 49 victims. He got out of the boxing game unscathed, then died when his inexperienced pilot crashed a plan in Iowa. Marciano was 45.
Aaron Pryor and Wilfredo Gomez, tied for fifth on the percentage list with Keith Thurman, had to overcome addiction problems. Naseem Hamed (seventh) retired at 28 to a chorus of might-have-beens.
Golovkin seems to have the temperament and the management to dodge the minefields outside the ring. Whether he can take his concussive power to true boxing stardom is a question that will begin to be answered Saturday night.
At 29-0 with 26 knockouts, most of them jaw-dropping, Golovkin faces Daniel Geale of Australia in Madison Square Garden. If one of his liver shots brings Geale the same agony that Matthew Macklin and others have experienced, then we’ll know we’re onto something.
Geale is a 31-year-old Tasmanian devil of a puncher who has beaten four champions and had the IBF middleweight belt until losing a close one to Darren Barker last year. He has as much to gain as Golovkin does, without any of the pressure.
Only the most studious boxing fans know how dangerous he can be. Golovkin certainly does. “I don’t think this will be a knockout,” he said at a recent workout in Santa Monica. “I think it will go the distance. He’s a very good fighter.”
If so, Geale will remove Amar Amari’s major distinction. The Algerian is the last boxer to go the distance with Golovkin, losing an 8-round decision. That was in 2008. Golovkin has laid out 16 opponents since.
Golovkin remembers edging Geale in an Asian Games amateur fight. He and trainer Abel Sanchez also have noticed Geale’s high-volume punching, which piles up points. Golovkin has been tagged in the past, but not by anyone in Geale’s class. His best defense might have to be his offense again.
This is also a measuring stick for Golovkin’s marketability and for the sophistication of the boxing fan. Golovkin is fighting in the real Madison Square Garden, the big arena, the one that Miguel Cotto sells out. The card also includes an interesting heavyweight match between Mike Perez and Bryant Jennings.
If it draws somewhere south of 8,000 fans, as is feared, does it mean Golovkin is not ready for pay-per-view? Or does it mean fans are not ready to embrace a sports star from Kazakhstan, no matter how telegenic he might be or how much pain he distributes?
All Golovkin can control is his ability to be consistently breathtaking. Remember, boxing is largely ignored by ESPN and most newspapers. It still generates much of its appeal through word-of-mouth, through the neighborhood gatherings on Saturday night to watch HBO or Showtime.
It is still early in the process for Golovkin. He can build himself into a crossover commodity, one left hook at a time. Daniel Geale is standing in the way of that, especially if he remains standing.
Mark Whicker has covered sports in Southern California for 27 years.