By Lyle Fitzsimmons
Gennady Golovkin has three middleweight title belts he’d like to keep.
And he’s grown fond of the pound-for-pound love that comes with them.
But when his combatively negotiated, suspension-stalled rematch with Canelo Alvarez rolls around later this summer, his closest boxing confidant suggests he’ll have another pressing objective in mind.
“What Golovkin needs is that signature win against an elite fighter, in a manner that is great. In other words, that the people consider it great,” Abel Sanchez, his trainer since 2010, told Boxing Scene.
“Not just this win that is tainted by the draw, but a win that’s decisive. Hagler unfortunately lost against Leonard but a lot of people thought he won. Leonard beat Hagler, though a lot of people thought he lost. But those are the kinds of fights that make a legacy and make somebody remember you in that manner.
“The Hagler-Leonard fight sure wasn’t the Golovkin-Canelo fight because Leonard wanted to fight Hagler. He wanted to beat Hagler instead of running like Canelo did against Golovkin.”
Of course, while people’s perceptions of that super-fight may differ, the current kingpin hopes a definitive defeat of the Mexican challenger will elevate his body of 160-pound work to a level few have approached since the shaven-skulled southpaw walked away 31 years ago.
Hagler ruled the division with an undisputed two-belt fist from a 1980 bludgeoning of Alan Minter through the disputed loss to Sugar Ray in 1987. And though Golovkin lost a share of the modern five-title pie thanks to a strip-happy IBF, and hasn’t yet captured a WBO slice that’s passed through multiple sets of gloves, he’s racked up 17 defenses since copping his first legit jewelry in December 2011.
Hagler had 11 stoppages in 12 title defenses across his seven years – including defeats of fellow legends Thomas Hearns (TKO 3) and Roberto Duran (UD 15) – compared to Golovkin’s run of 15 stoppages, a unanimous decision (Danny Jacobs) and the three-way split draw with Alvarez in his own seven years.
Still, Sanchez claims the time for direct appraisals isn’t here quite yet.
“Twenty years from now it’ll be easier to compare what his accomplishments were, just like we compare now what Hagler’s accomplishments were,” he said. “To compare him now would be unfair to him and unfair to Hagler because Hagler was a great champion. But we didn’t give that credit to Hagler after he got beat by Leonard. We didn’t give it to him. We give it to him now 20 years later or 30 years later and I think the same thing will happen to Golovkin.
“Legacy matters. But what changes a legacy is there are so many opinions today on social media and on the internet. As long as he’s comfortable with what he’s accomplished, I think that’s the only thing that’s important. As long as he’s comfortable with how his people view him and how his family views him I think that’s the only thing that matters. If in the future we start considering him as one of the best middleweights that’s ever fought, well obviously that’s going to be something that he’s going to relish. But it’s not something that’s going to guide his life or make it better or worse for him.”
Golovkin occupies the top spot in the latest pound-for-pound list produced by Ring Magazine and is No. 3 in the world according to Boxrec.com, perceptions that are light years from feedback he’d generated early in his IBO title reign when doomed opponents were largely unknown and untested.
In fact, after an erasure of Makoto Fuchigami in May 2012, one post-fight recap was less than ebullient:
“Golovkin, 30, is a quality fighter, but has really not proven a whole lot as a pro. He gets great marks for gym work, sparring sessions, his amateur record, and what appears to be a legitimate offensive game. But he's not learned anything, and one gets the feeling – if one is me, anyway – that a lot of eyes might be opened if Golovkin did get that fight with Felix Sturm he says he wants, because Sturm is a lot better than Fuchigami, Kassim Ouma, Lajuan Simon, Milton Nunez, and Nilson Tapia. It would be a legitimately huge step up in class for Golovkin if he got there.”
Sanchez takes the opinion changes in stride and insists it was all part of the long-term plan.
The average placement of Golovkin’s first nine title-fight opponents was 13.3 – according to the Independent World Boxing Rankings – while the average of the subsequent eight was 7.8.
The average of the second nine swells to 10.6 when the No. 33 slot of recent victim Vanes Martirosyan is included, but the champ ought to be given a conditional pass because the Armenian was a late sub after a soon-to-be suspended Alvarez pulled out and snuffed an initially scheduled May 5 rematch.
“The progression of fights that you have are designed to better you, to improve you, to make you a better fighter. So that when you get to those elite guys, as we’re fighting the last three or four fights, I think that you’re a better fighter,” Sanchez said. “There’s a reason why you become a better fighter. You’re not going to become a better fighter just by sitting around and waiting. You fight the fight that you need to fight. You’re in the training camps. You do the sparring that you need to do. You do the changes that you need to do to become a better fighter.
“He still holds the knockout record in middleweight history at this point. The 23-KO streak was something that’s never been done. All those things people don’t look at. They only look at, ‘Well, he’s not knocking out these guys anymore.’ Well, these guys are better. These guys have got to be willing to fight him in order for somebody to knock somebody out.”
That wasn’t the Canelo approach last summer, much to the trainer’s surprise.
“He fought 40-some fights in a manner of an attacker, the typical Mexican fighter that comes forward and knocks people out and is in great fights,” Sanchez said, “and all of a sudden for this fight he becomes a Mayweather, a Mayweather type of fighter, or let’s say a Lara kind of fighter that’s just moving and running and fighting out of desperation instead of trying to do the things that he said he was going to do. He was going to try to knock Golovkin out, and in order to do that you’re going to have to be at range. You’re going to have to be there to knock somebody out.
“You can’t just punch in desperation and run and expect to win a fight. He had very good feet. He moved well, or ran well, however you want to say it. The onus is on him to at least give the fans the kind of fight that they expect from him. Like I said, he fought 40-some fights in a manner completely different from how he fought our fight. If he does come to fight we’re gonna get treated to one of the classics.”
It’ll take a classic to help the legacy talk, because other big moves are unlikely.
Sanchez said it’d take a significant name or a potential rivalry to prompt Golovkin to climb the ladder to 168 pounds, a landscape that’s been fractured since universally recognized champ Andre Ward himself moved up to 175 in 2015. Three of the four reigning champions – James DeGale (IBF), George Groves (WBA) and David Benavidez (WBC) – have won their belts within the last 13 months, while the longest-reigning incumbent, WBO claimant Gilberto Ramirez, has defended just three times in a 26-month reign.
Ramirez defends for the fourth time this weekend in Oklahoma City.
“Marvin Hagler fought most of his fights at 160. That was his weight. And nobody ever asked him to move up,” Sanchez said. “I think that it’s important for Golovkin, and for fighters at their stage, elite fighters, to have a reason to fight. To have an incentive, a guy that brings their dander up. If there’s no motivation for a fight, then it doesn’t matter how many fighters are out there. There’s got to be that guy that just gets under your skin and you just want to fight. If that is available for Golovkin at 168, then he’ll move up. If not, then no. It’s got to be somebody that makes you want to go to the gym.
“At his stage, and at the stage of most fighters at that age, the gym is the last place they want to be. That’s probably the most difficult part of the regimen. The fight is the easy part. If he can get motivated to fight somebody like that then he can get back in the gym. But I don’t know if there will be somebody at 168 for him to fight.”
Meanwhile, the best post-Canelo source for fuel at 160 could be Jermall Charlo.
The 28-year-old Texan has fought just six rounds in two wins at middleweight since ending a title-holding run at 154 pounds. And, in addition to being eight years younger, he stands six feet tall and has a 73½-inch reach, dimensions that’d give him edges of 1½ and 3½ inches, respectively, over Golovkin.
He’s been discussed as a possible opponent for Golovkin’s March 2017 foe, Danny Jacobs, which could stir the pot for a championship showdown.
“Let’s just say if Charlo goes out and beats Danny Jacobs in a decisive manner, now you’re talking about a guy that would motivate him,” Sanchez said. “Why? Because we fought Danny Jacobs. But if Charlo is just sitting around talking then it doesn’t do nothing for these guys. There’s no reason to fight. They’ve got to do something to make, not only the fans, but the other side excited about fighting.”
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This week’s title-fight schedule:
WBO super middleweight title – Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Gilberto Ramirez (champion/No. 2 IWBR) vs. Roamer Angulo (No. 8 WBO/No. 28 IWBR)
Ramirez (37-0, 25 KO): Fourth title defense; Four stoppage wins in 11 United States fights
Angulo (23-0, 20 KO): First title fight; Has never fought beyond eight rounds
Fitzbitz says: Ramirez has the skills and the back story to become a star-level fighter, but he’s not been matched with other talents at 168. This’ll pad the record, but not boost the image. Ramirez in 9
Last week's picks: 2-0 (WIN: Mbenge, Berchelt)
2018 picks record: 44-20 (68.7 percent)
Overall picks record: 965-324 (74.8 percent)
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.