By Mitch Abramson
The normally business-like Gennady Golovkin wasn’t himself. He was a bit distracted. Somewhat out of it. Preoccupied. Golovkin later admitted to not being entirely focused when he opened training camp on May 17 in Big Bear.
But he had good reason to be that way.
Golovkin’s father, Gennady Ivanovich Golovkin, died of a sudden heart attack on Feb. 18 at the age of 68, causing Golovkin to spend a 40-day ritual mourning period in Germany and his native Kazakhstan, where he was at the time of the death. Golovkin was also forced to cancel an April 26 bout at Madison Square Garden against Andy Lee to make arrangements.
“Yeah, you’re right, maybe for first time, maybe for my first day I’m not focused,” Golovkin said on Saturday to a small group of reporters. “It’s not 100%. In gym, yeah I understand what I’m doing. I understand my job. Maybe for first day, not 100% [focused]. My body it feels good. My mental- [not as much].”
It was a surprising admission given that Golovkin as a virtual knockout machine who’s nearly always in control, rarely breaking from character when the bell rings. Golovkin, 32, has stopped his last 16 opponents and carries a knockout percentage of 89.66, the highest among active champions and highest ever in the history of the middleweight division. He’s been so dominant and rarely seems fazed in the ring it’s easy to forget that Golovkin (29-0, 26 knockouts) is human after all and suffers like the rest of us.
The disclosure gives the match-up between Golovkin and Daniel Geale, a 33-year-old former two-time middleweight champion from Australia who has never been stopped, an extra level of intrigue to see whether Golovkin can keep his focus and be his customary dominant self.
Golvokin and Geale (30-2, 16 knockouts) will face off July 26 at Madison Square Garden on HBO for Golovkin’s WBA/IBO middleweight titles. Down the line, the winner could possibly meet Miguel Cotto at the Garden for the WBC middleweight crown.
Tom Loeffler, managing director of K2 Promotions, which handles Golovkin, believes his fighter is fully focused on Geale and will be at his best on July 26, despite the life-changing event of his dad's passing.
“It was clearly a challenging time for Gennady,” Loeffler said. “There’s really nothing that would have him cancel a fight outside of a situation like that where what he went through with his father. I mean, he had the flu and barely could breathe on Thursday before the [Gabe] Rosado fight. If he fights under those conditions, he would fight under any conditions. There was no way he’d be able to fight in April. He had to take care of a lot of family affairs in Kazakhstan- him and his brother, Max, both are the only surviving brothers of the family so there was a lot of responsibility on Gennady’s shoulders. After he took care of everything. Now he’s focused on continuing his boxing career and continuing to focus on providing for himself and his family.”
Golovkin’s trainer Abel Sanchez said it wasn’t a lack of focus but ring rust that affected the first day back in Big Bear. Golovkin had been off four months, the longest spell he’s been out of the gym since they started training together, he said.
“With us- he hadn’t had a month off,” Sanchez said. “Four months off is kind of hard- not so much focused, just getting back into the groove- but two or three days later he’s back to being [himself]. He’s an animal. He’s a horse. He works harder than anyone I’ve ever seen. He’s back at it.”
Asked if he was emotionally in a good place, Gennady nodded his head. “Yeah, he said, adding, “No, it feels good, I’m happy to be here again, with my team, with my friends. I understand- this is life. This is life. This is my work. This is my business.”
Golovkin suffered another setback on the business side when he nearly got the chance to face Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. on July 19 on HBO Pay-Per-View at the Forum in Inglewood. But those plans were scuttled when Chavez and Top Rank couldn’t settle on the terms. Golovkin had agreed to the fight but Chavez and his reps did not and Golovkin moved on.
Geale had a chance to face Golovkin previously in January of last year, but he gave up a belt in order to face fellow countryman Anthony Mundine in a more lucrative fight. Geale also had a chance to face Golovkin on April 26 but also turned down that chance because of reported issues with the Australian PPV. His promoter, Gary Shaw disputed the perception that Geale may have been avoiding Golovkin.
“Daniel Geale has never ducked Golovkin,” Shaw said. “He’s always asked me to make the fight. Unfortunately, things came up. He wanted to fight Mundine and clear his record and then we couldn’t get the PPV date in Australia because of UFC. So when this came up, it was the fight.”
Loeffler, viewing things from a different perspective, also changed his tune slightly after initially suggesting that Geale was ducking Golovkin.
“Well, before it’s clear it was a business decision,” Loeffler said. “At that point we were saying Gennady would never give up a title for a business opportunity but now with HBO’s backing we’re able to put an offer together for Geale and Gary Shaw that made it possible for this fight.”
Golovkin will fight for the first time in the big room at Madison Square Garden, which will be scaled back to accommodate 9,000 seats in K2’s attempt to gauge his popularity after two fights at the Garden’s smaller Theater.
“We’ve seen the tremendous reaction that Gennady has had,” Loeffler said. “We’re very confident in his popularity in New York City with the support that he’s received and with the highest profile opponent with Daniel Geale, we feel it will be a success at the box office. His goal has always been to fight in the big arena.”
Golovkin has maintained that his dream fight would be to face Floyd Mayweather Jr., though when he says it, it seems sincere, and not simply about the money but about testing himself against the best to see where he stands. Loeffler doubts Mayweather would ever face Golovkin, however, because of the risks involved- both physical and financial since Golovkin isn’t a proven star at the box office yet.
“I think Floyd is everyone’s dream fight,” Loeffler said to laughter. “Even Amir Khan - you can ask him. It goes back to where Gennady is not calling out Floyd. By saying it’s his dream fight that’s actually a complement to Floyd because of everything he’s accomplished in the ring. That’s a fight that when people ask us, would Gennady fight him at 154, we say yes. It would take a longer training camp but he would lose the six pounds and fight him at 154. Now that’s no disrespect to Floyd by saying that Gennady would come down by any means. That’s literally the biggest fight out there for Gennady’s side and he would fight Floyd. Whether or not that fight happens, we have a lot of reservations for that. I just don’t think that Floyd would take the risk to fight Gennady.”
Golovkin smiled when asked if he thinks Mayweather would ever give him a fight. “I hope,” he said. "I hope he would."
Mitch Abramson covers boxing for the New York Daily News and BoxingScene.com.