No matter what happens on Saturday night at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Gennadiy Golovkin will be a first-ballot hall of famer when he hangs up his gloves.
The numbers confirm it, whether it’s his 42-1-1 record with 37 knockouts, or status as the middleweight champion from 2010 to 2018 and again from 2019 to the present with 22 total title defenses.
He also fought and beat the best available competition over the 12 years, becoming a fan favorite for his no nonsense style in and out of the ring.
At this point, “GGG” doesn’t need a third fight with Saul “Canelo” Alvarez. Yes, there’s unfinished business between the two after a 2017 draw that many believe Golovkin won and a 2018 majority decision taken by the Mexican star, again producing some controversy among fight fans. And how could we forget the money involved fighting boxing’s biggest pay-per-view draw on Mexican Independence Day weekend?
But Golovkin appears to have done the right thing with his money, and even without Alvarez there are titles to be defended and paydays to be had in the middleweight division. So why would the 40-year-old enter the ring at super middleweight against a fighter eight years his junior who he’s gone life and death with twice in his natural weight class?
Maybe it all goes back to something he’s had in his mind as long as he’s been fighting, a little bug in his brain that says nothing matters more than the sport, the fight, and what the fans deserve.
Back in 2013, when he was at his ferocious best and in the middle of what would ultimately be a 23-fight knockout streak made even more impressive by the fact that 18 of those finishes came in world title fights, the fight everyone wanted to see was between Golovkin and Sergio Martinez. GGG wanted to see it, too, and his reasoning was simple.
“You remember history, the fight with Marvin Hagler and Sugar Ray Leonard?” he asked me. “The fight with Sugar Ray Leonard and (Roberto) Duran? They were just great fights to see who is the best. This was great for the sport, great for boxing. This fight is to see who is number one, who is the best in the world. This is not for number three, number five, number seven. The fight with Sergio Martinez is to see who is the best in the world at middleweight, and it’s a great fight.”
There wouldn’t be a fight with Martinez, and while the next few years would see him beat good fighters like Daniel Geale, Martin Murray, Willie Monroe Jr., David Lemieux and Kell Brook, it wasn’t until he fought Daniel Jacobs in Madison Square Garden in March of 2017 that we got to see him tested against an equal at the top of the sport.
Golovkin won that fight against Jacobs, and the next was even bigger as he faced off with Alvarez for the first time. Take away a bizarre 118-110 score for Alvarez, and the remaining tallies of 114-114 and 115-113 for Golovkin were more in line with the reality of the 12 rounds fought.
A year later, they did it again, and while some saw Golovkin as the winner, the majority nod for Alvarez was a fair verdict.
Bitter with the loss, Golovkin faced an uncertain future, not because of marketability or viability as a top tier fighter, but because of motivation. At first, Alvarez didn’t seem too interested in a third fight, something which may have been motivated by bad blood between the two, and he moved on, going 7-1 since the rematch, losing only in his most recent bout against light heavyweight champion Dmitry Bivol in May.
Golovkin made the walk four times in the four years after their second battle, with clearcut knockouts of Steve Rolls and Kamil Szeremeta surrounded by a war with Sergiy Derevyanchenko in 2019 that many believed the Ukrainian won, and a systematic nine-round breakdown of Ryota Murata in April to set up this weekend’s bout.
And it’s in Saitama Super Arena where the Golovkin bandwagon lost some passengers, which was puzzling, because A) Murata is a good, durable fighter who can hang with the best at 160, and B) a day after his 40th birthday, Golovkin isn’t going to walk through everyone like he used to, and as such, he will have to be smarter and more durable than his opponents to get them where he wants them, and that was precisely the case earlier this year, as he withstood a strong effort from his Japanese foe and ultimately picked him apart en route to the win.
But Ryota Murata is not Canelo Alvarez. So as Golovkin makes the walk for the 45th time as a professional, he may be the underdog for the first time in his storied career. He will also be fighting in front of what will likely be a pro-Canelo crowd against an opponent who may have figured him out, given the result of their last fight.
Those are the facts.
What is open to debate is whether this is the night a 40-year-old turns 60 in boxing years, or if eight pounds feels like 80 when facing someone whose last middleweight fight was in 2019. Those debates ending up on the wrong side for the Kazakhstan native is what’s keeping Golovkin fans up at night in the lead-up to Saturday’s bout, but I get the impression it’s not bothering the middleweight champion in the slightest.
He’s kept a low profile, focused on business, as always, and when his name is called, he’ll answer. It’s a Spartan way of approaching the sport – and life - one that has worked for him ever since he first laced on the gloves as a child.
“I believe the secret is in your faith in what you do,” Golovkin told me before the Szeremeta fight. “And speaking about the discipline, I believe that the discipline is essential to achieve what you're trying to achieve.”
What he’s trying to achieve likely has nothing to do with world titles or the money, though they’re all important. I get the feeling that this was the only fight for Gennadiy Golovkin – the lifelong favorite, now an underdog, battling the only man to ever beat him for the championship of each other, just like Jerry Izenberg wrote after the third Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier fight:
“Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier did not fight for the WBC heavyweight title here in Manila last night. Nor did they fight for the championship of the planet. They fought as if they were on a melting ice floe in a phone booth and they were fighting for the championship of each other. And as far as I’m concerned, that wasn’t settled tonight. And it never will be settled.”
Golovkin and Alvarez won’t likely break bread after Saturday’s fight, or ever, and to get a fight like “The Thrilla in Manila” is something only the most optimistic can hope for. But maybe, just maybe, any questions in either fighter’s mind will be answered, and then life – in and out of the ring – can go on for two fighters who have to have plenty of them, even after 24 rounds together.