By Mitch Abramson
The building of middleweight Gennady Golovkin into an exciting, skillful fighter is done. His handlers have accomplished the task of turning the Kazakhstan-born boxer with limited English into must-see television for any hard core fan. Golovkin is a knockout machine, possessing debilitating power in either hand as his knockout percentage (89%) suggests. Most observers expect Golovkin to easily handle his opponent Daniel Geale when they meet Saturday in a WBA/IBO middleweight championship match at Madison Square Garden.
Even Geale’s promoter, Gary Shaw likened Golovkin to a pint-sized Mike Tyson because of his aggressiveness and ability to reduce opponents to petrified shells of themselves- before the fight. The question of whether Golovkin can fight like a superstar has already been answered. He can. Now, the bigger question is whether he can draw like one.
For the first time in his career, Golovkin will fight in the Garden’s big room, in a concerted attempt by his promotional firm, K2 Promotions to determine whether he’s a reliable ticket seller. He’s already fought twice in the Garden’s smaller Theater, nearly selling out the joint when he battered Brooklyn’s Curtis Stevens last November. Now, he’s graduating to the arena on Saturday where the biggest uncertainty may not be if he will win but if he can pull in the casual fan along with his loyal stable of admirers.
“It’s going to be a testament to Gennady’s marketability,” said Tom Loeffler, managing director of K2 Promotions, which handles Golovkin. “This was the right step to take to fight in the big room. It’s a gradual process and he’s ready to take the next step in his career.”
The stakes couldn’t be higher for Golovkin, who is 32 and in the prime of his career.
HBO sports president Ken Hershmam told BoxingScene on Wednesday that he considers Golovkin the type of fighter the network hopes to eventually build its entire boxing programming around, someone who can anchor and be the front man for HBO.
“I think so,” Hershman said. “I think he has all the right attributes. He’s a wonderful person; he’s a tremendously hard puncher, knocks people out, goes for the finish; has unique skills in cutting off the ring and maintaining balance. And he’s willing to fight anybody in upward and downwards in his weight class.”
What’s clear is that HBO considers Golovkin a franchise in the making and an eventual PPV performer.
“I think our objective is to build him as an HBO star,” Hershman went on. “Inevitably fighters of his talent if he continues to perform like he has been will evolve probably to PPV. Right now we’re looking to build him as one of the elite fighters in the world of boxing today. That’s where we’re headed.”
Asked when he could envision Golovkin anchoring his own PPV show, Hershman believes it could be soon.
“I don’t think it’s that far away,” he said. “I just think we’re going to fight hard to keep him on HBO as long as possible and even if he does go to PPV to bring him back to HBO because that’s what we believe is important for building his franchise and continuing his momentum.”
HBO PPV czar Mark Taffett, said on Wednesday that while Golovkin is certainly on the network’s radar to eventually perform on PPV, it isn’t something actively on the minds of executives if he can make the jump.
“We don’t target PPV stars,” Taffet said. “It’s not something we really think about. When a fighter is ready you will know it as easily as we will. When the right fight comes along, then we will be there to support it. But it’s not something we take a lead on because we’re there to defer to his promoter and his team.”
Of course, Golovkin needs a dance partner for a PPV fight to happen. He nearly lured Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. in the ring but Chavez and his promoter Top Rank couldn’t reach an agreement.
“I would say the only thing holding him back in terms of crossing the bridge and being a mainstream [star] is the big fight with a well-recognized opponent,” Loeffler said. “You saw that with Floyd [Mayweather]. Floyd was clearly a top fighter but when he fought Oscar De La Hoya is when he bridged the gap and made that transition and that’s what we’re looking for Gennady.”
Loeffler is targeting his sights on Miguel Cotto, who spanked Sergio Martinez at the Garden last month to win the WBC middleweight title. That fight doesn’t seem viable this year but Loeffler is hopeful it can happen eventually.
“The biggest event at the Garden would be Gennady versus Cotto,” Loeffler said. “It doesn’t get any bigger than that and that would be our ultimate goal is to fight Miguel here at the Garden. We would make a lot of concessions to make that fight. We believe Gennady is the best middleweight champion out there. Miguel made a big statement in his last fight and we think it would be a big great match-up. We don’t care if we’re the ‘B’ side. Gennady would be the ‘C’ side to make that fight.”
Hershman also has a wish-list of opponents he’d like to see Golovkin face but he also said that Golovkin was the kind of fighter who fans will watch- not so much for the match-up- but because of his aggressive style.
“I would love to see him fight Chavez,” Hershman said. “I’d love to see him fight [Andre] Ward. I’d love to see him go down in weight and fight Canelo [Alvarez], fight Cotto, fight anybody. I think Gennady is one of those fighters where it doesn’t matter who’s on the other side of the ring- people are going to tune in. They’ll dissect the quality of the opponent but at the end of the day they’ll tune in to watch this guy, just like they tune in to watch Mike Tyson and other fighters that knock people out. It’s a sight to behold.”
Loeffler is hopeful that Golovkin can come close to what Cotto did the first time he fought in the Garden’s big room when he pulled in just over 10,000 fans to face Muhammad Abdullaev in 2005. Loeffler said that if Golovkin can sell between "7,000 and 7500" tickets the show would be considered a success.
“They are bench-marking for when Miguel Cotto first fought in the big room, so a little over 7,000 tickets is probably where they want to come out just to begin to start establishing his fan base here,” Hershman said. “But again it’s a building process. It’s a different era, a different climate so whatever they think is a success is fine by me. I just want the fans in New York City to see him live because he is a special kind of a fighter.”
Golovkin has made more public appearance for Saturday’s fight than he has for any previous one, knowing the challenges of fighting in the big room. On Wednesday night, Golovkin made a cameo in the Broadway musical, “Rocky,” hitting the heavy bag in the background of a scene before he was introduced to the audience by one of the characters. Smiling and appearing totally at ease, Golovkin finished thumping the bag and then walked across the stage. No big deal. Asked on Wednesday if he was feeling any pressure to sell out the Garden, he said that he wasn’t.
“No,” he said, before admitting, “This is a big test for me, too because my opponent is not from the U.S. He’s from Australia. Every step is bigger. This step is bigger. It’s a new step for me, new situation for me.”
Mitch Abramson covers boxing for the New York Daily News and BoxingScene.com.