By Thomas Gerbasi
Star making in the boxing business is an inexact science at best. Take the case of Gennady Golovkin for example. If you would have opined that one of the sport’s most revered cult heroes in the United States is a 32-year-old Kazakhstan native who doesn’t consider English his first language, odd looks and laughter normally would follow.
But Golovkin, or GGG as he’s known to his legion of fans, breaks the mold, captivating fans from coast to coast, with his next stop being in southern California tonight as he takes on Marco Antonio Rubio at the StubHub Center in Carson. It’s another heavily-hyped performance, another HBO date, and another opportunity for the middleweight champion to put his mark on a boxing world that craves the excitement he brings to the ring.
So how did this happen?
Tom Loeffler, managing director of K2 Promotions, which handles the career of Golovkin, makes it sound simple, but often, it’s the most no nonsense, direct plan that works.
“The strategy session was to get him as much exposure as possible, and we made that clear to HBO and we also had a meeting with Showtime,” Loeffler explains. “We said if you put him on, he’ll fight anybody. He’s the middleweight champion, he doesn’t care who he fights, and HBO told me they had never had that before.”
In September of 2012, Golovkin, already the WBA middleweight champion, fought on HBO for the first time against Gregorz Proksa. He dropped Proksa three times en route to a fifth round TKO win.
Impressive? Yes. As for that anyone at anytime thing, Golovkin stepped through the ropes four times in 2013 and twice already in 2014, a remarkable pace that’s a throwback to when fighters actually fought. And maybe that’s why people love him.
“He just wanted the exposure on TV, and it’s really his directive,” Loeffler said. “He’s the one that wants to stay active, and he told me he wants to fight four times a year and so did his managers, Oleg and Max Hermann. It takes a lot of dedication and a lot of commitment. A lot of fighters can’t balance training for a fight and focusing on a fight and also marketing a fight. It’s very important to not only look good in the ring, but to also be able to market the fight.”
Golovkin and his team have done a remarkable job of getting in front of the public and the media. Despite not being fluent in English, Golovkin’s command of the language is growing, and just the idea that he makes the attempt is admirable. Fluency will come soon enough, since he has done countless interviews over the last couple years, endearing him to a cynical media corps. And when Golovkin isn’t enough for a story, Loeffler and trainer Abel Sanchez can more than fill in the blanks, making the Karaganda product one of the most compelling figures to hit the sport in a while.
That’s the point.
Add in that the accessible young man with the megawatt smile can also knock opponents out with either hand, and that’s a winning combination all around.
“The reason why he’s become so popular in such a short time is because he provides excitement,” Loeffler said. “His fights don’t go the distance, but no matter how many rounds they go, they’re a lot more exciting than a long, drawn out 12-round decision that many times ends controversially. And because of this excitement, coupled with the fact that he’s so humble and likable outside the ring, fans like to support him, and that’s what boxing needs. Gennady is a breath of fresh air for boxing; he’s got devastating power, plus he’s a likable guy, and he’s bringing a lot of new fans to the sport. We haven’t seen this knockout power since (Mike) Tyson, and the difference between Gennady and Tyson is that Gennady knows how to turn off that switch outside the ring. It’s a rare quality.”
So consider the boxing community won over. Loeffler has. Now K2 has bigger plans in place.
“I think he’s pretty universally considered the best middleweight in the world now, and he’s on all the pound-for-pound lists,” he said. “The next mountain to climb is getting him from boxing and sports recognition to mainstream and entertainment. That’s really our goal. We went to the opening (Los Angeles) Kings game to raise the championship banner, we went to the ESPY awards and the Golden Globe and Emmy parties. So we’re really focusing on taking his recognition to a different level in the mainstream and also continuing that along the same lines with his international recognition.”
It’s a similar tact to that taken when the namesakes of K2 – Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko – were HBO darlings and pushed hard in the United States several years back. For a while, the brothers Klitschko were everywhere, but eventually they returned to Europe, where they continued to sell out arenas and pull in huge paydays away from the States. Loeffler admits to the similarities, with the exception of one key point that will likely keep Golovkin on our shores for some time.
“Wladimir, every time he fought in New York, it was full in Madison Square Garden,” he said. “When Vitali fought at STAPLES Center, it was full here in Los Angeles. So there was a lot of success that way. The difference is, Gennady is committed to fighting here in the United States and financially it makes sense because his biggest fights are over here. When you’re talking about a (Julio Cesar) Chavez (Jr.), a Canelo (Alvarez), a (Miguel) Cotto, the biggest fights in his division are over here, whereas with Wladimir and Vitali, unfortunately there were no big American heavyweight names for it to make sense when they’re selling out the soccer stadiums in Europe, coupled with the German television deal that we had.”
The only question is, will Golovkin - a fighter long avoided because “name” opponents saw him as a risky unknown and not a peer – get those megafights in 2015 now that he is a name on par – at least among the boxing faithful - with Chavez, Canelo, and Cotto?
“I think so,” Loeffler said. “First, nobody is overlooking Rubio. We all acknowledge him to be one of the biggest punchers Gennady’s ever faced. He’s very experienced and he’s been in with the biggest names, so nobody’s underestimating him by any stretch. But if Gennady’s successful against Rubio, then I think you’ll see a monster 2015 for him. He’s clearly arrived on the boxing scene, and he’s proven that he can sell tickets, both in New York and in Los Angeles, and his ratings are also some of the highest of any fighter here in the US. So the excuse of too high of a risk but no reward has now worn very thin. I think it was convenient one or two years ago when people didn’t want to fight him, and now it’s just not believable anymore when someone uses that excuse.”