By Mitch Abramson
For someone who has never fought in the U.S. and on American television and whose grasp of the English language is still a work in progress, the media blitz surrounding Gennady Golovkin was stunning.
The undefeated middleweight from Kazakhstan, who will make his American debut later tonight on HBO. On Wednesday he had a small press gathering at 9 a.m. at Madison Square Garden in New York City, a photo shoot at the Empire State Building a short time later, and a variety of meetings one after the other, making his visit to New York seem more like an appearance by a head of state than a boxer trying to sell himself to the American public.
Late Wednesday morning, Golovkin stepped onto 7th Avenue with his handlers to see his likeness appear on the Madison Square Garden marquee, wishing him good luck in his fight on Saturday against Grzegorz Proksa at the Turning Stone Casino in Verona, NY. The fight will be broadcast on HBO’s “Boxing After Dark” at 9:45 p.m. for Golovkin’s WBA/IBO middleweight titles. That no one on the crowded street seemed to acknowledge Golovkin was beside the point. His unveiling to the American public had just begun. By the time Wednesday would end, he would have (according to his itinerary) already visited the equipment manufacturer Everlast, conducted a video shoot with Sports Illustrated, and addressed the Kazakhstan consulate on fifth avenue, where he was scheduled to meet with Olympic medal winners from his country. The day was capped with a 9 p.m. flight to Syracuse to get him ready for a press conference on Thursday.
“This is probably the biggest media event surrounding a fighter who has never fought in the U.S., remarked Tom Loeffler, managing director of K2 Promotions, which started promoting Golovkin six months ago.
The hectic schedule on Wednesday was enough to worry one observer, HBO’s Harold Lederman who wondered aloud if Golovkin, one of the sport’s top middleweights, was spreading himself too thin just days before the fight, racing from event to event. Lederman, who was at the morning press gathering, even referenced one of the sport’s great upsets, when Lennox Lewis famously interrupted his training to film a scene for “Ocean’s Eleven” before getting knocked out by Hasim Rahman in 2001.
Would Golovkin, 30, fall prey to similar circumstances?
“They have him running around to like eight events just days before the fight,” Lederman said. “I know if he was my fighter, I’d like him resting. But I know his trainer knows best. I’m just a guy who talks on television; what do I know?”
Golovkin’s trainer, Abel Sanchez, smiled at the idea that Golovkin (23-0, 20 knockouts) would be weighed down by the media blitz.
“No, I’m not concerned,” said Sanchez, who has trained a number of champions, including “Terrible” Terry Norris and counts Golovkin as the best fighter he’s ever had. “This has to be done for his ultimate goal to fight on Pay-Per-View and in big fights. It’s part of the business. He’s in great shape. I’m not worried. It’s only Wednesday.”
In just 23 fights, Golovkin has already won the WBA middleweight title and produced a buzz among the hardcore boxing faithful, who refer to him as an elite fighter. As an amateur, Golovkin went 350-5 with wins against Lucian Bute, Andre Dirrell and Andy Lee, all later professional standouts, and a silver medal in the 2004 Olympics in Athens. It’s these achievements, along with his aggressive style, that persuaded his handlers to book so many appearances on Wednesday.
They’re confident Golovkin will be able to back up the enormous hype in the ring against Proksa (28-1, 21 knockouts). Golovkin, who resides in Germany, may fight again this year and then could make an appearance at Madison Square Garden in the spring with the goal of fighting the winner of Sergio Martinez and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., who meet for the WBC middleweight title on Sept. 15, Loeffler said.
“There’s a big buzz on Gennady right now,” Loeffler remarked. “He has such a tremendous amateur career. Unfortunately, in the pros, he hasn’t fought a big name yet, and that’s what we’re looking to do now with Proksa, who’s a European champion with his debut on HBO. The goal is to make him a known commodity over here.”
That Golovkin, with all his impressive accolades, is not more well-known is a mystery best explained by his current promoter.
“He had some promotional issues before with his previous promotional company,” Loeffler said of Universum. “But Gennady’s style is going to be very fan friendly to the American fans. He has a lot of knockouts. He’s a very aggressive fighter. And he’s someone who won’t be in a boring fight. For the American boxing fans, he’s not that exposed. And that’s what we’re looking at in his debut on HBO, to expose him to the American public.”
Sanchez went so far as to predict a “brutal beating” with Golovkin stopping Proksa around the sixth round.
“If Proksa comes out at him to prove that he has power, then it’s going to be a short night,” Sanchez said. “If he does what I expect, it’s going to take Gennady a couple rounds to get his distance. Once Gennady starts touching him, it’s going to take five or sixth rounds for him to get him out of there and it’s going to be a brutal beating for Proksa. This kid is very, very strong and a big puncher and Proksa, right now, I don’t think has the tools to deal with the top middleweights and he’s a top middleweight. I think he stops him somewhere in the middle of the fight.”
Sitting a few feet away on a couch was Golovkin, who’s still learning English and has the boyish, studied appearance of a high school chess champion.
When Sanchez first got Golovkin six fights ago, what stood out to the veteran trainer was Golovkin’s punching power, which was apparent but needed a little polish.
“The punching power wasn’t refined,” Sanchez said. “He had heavy hands and it was everywhere. It wasn’t pin-point. He didn’t have a purpose. He had big power but no direction. And his style was a little stand up, so he didn’t get enough out of his power as he does now. The other thing is his patience. He’s going to sit there and wait for you to make a mistake and punish you for it. And I think that goes back to 350 amateur fights, and so many international tournaments. There’s nothing he hasn’t seen.”
Loeffler said it wasn’t easy getting HBO to bite on putting Golovkin on the air, but that his willingness to face anyone, ultimately won the network suits over.
“It was challenging because he didn’t have the exposure over here,” Loeffler said. “We pretty much made it clear in two meetings we had with HBO that he would fight anyone and that’s what’s going to make it easy to deal with HBO, that he’s willing to fight anyone to prove that he’s really at the top of his class.”
Mitch Abramson covers boxing for the New York Daily News and BoxingScene.com.