By Corey Erdman
There was a distinct similarity between Gennady Golovkin and Lebron James’ performances on Saturday night.
After the plucky Toronto Raptors evened the game with James’ Cleveland Cavaliers with eight seconds left in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals, there was an aura of inevitability in the Quicken Loans Center. Everyone expects “Playoff Lebron” to show up when it matters most—the one that can win a game whenever and however he feels like it. With eight seconds left, James dribbled up the court, casually strode through the Raptors defense and easily banked a floater in off the glass for the win. A cold, calculated finish to a game that should have never been in doubt.
Golovkin, his fellow Jordan brand stable member, didn’t need 48 minutes to finish his middleweight title bout with Vanes Martirosyan—he didn’t even need six. Martirosyan, like the Raptors, is very good opposition, if just barely sub-elite. He’d given significant problems with Erislandy Lara and Demetrius Andrade, regarded as among the division’s best at the time they fought, and in Lara’s case, among the sport’s best. He landed some snappy jabs on GGG in the opening frame, and even caught him flush with a three-punch combination. But when Golovkin sat on his stool in between rounds, he had the same look Lebron always seems to have before putting the dagger through the heart of his opponent—a look of annoyance. Not long after he got off his stool, he knocked Martirosyan senseless with a series of brutal hooks. A cerebral, violent climax to a fight that should have never been in doubt.
Like James, Golovkin’s only threat to his status as best in the world would appear to be age. If and when someone beats GGG, it’s likely a result of GGG slipping skill-wise, rather than someone surpassing him. At his peak, Golovkin has faced adversity and challenge, but never his match. He was troubled by Danny Jacobs, but ultimately came out on top. He was challenged by Canelo, but nowhere near as much as at least one judge’s scorecard would have you believe. In the court of public opinion, reasonable doubt has never been proven in the case of Golovkin as best middleweight in the world.
Golovkin is the best middleweight in this era. If he were to retire today, his plaque in Canastota would say as much. But is it possible for him to be anything more? What can Canelo possibly prove from here on out?
You can tell it’s a query on Golovkin’s mind, because he’s started making statements pertaining to his place in history. Last week, GGG declared that his run through the middleweight division has been better than Bernard Hopkins’ was.
“I feel like a star, like a star because, just if you check Bernard’s opponents probably you understand that my record is much bigger, is much stronger, bigger,” Golovkin.
His trainer, Abel Sanchez, added “if you look at his record, he hasn’t had any rematches in there, so everybody that he’s fought has been a new opponent. The great Bernard Hopkins fought twice against Antwun Echols and three times against Robert Allen.”
Part of Golovkin and Sanchez’s positioning of his accolades against Hopkins’ is no doubt because The Executioner now helps run Golden Boy Promotions, which promotes their arch nemesis Canelo, and as such, makes for great promotional fodder. It surely won’t be long before Hopkins goes on a 55-minute philosophical diatribe in response that will be reposted by every boxing video aggregator on YouTube.
But it’s also a sign that Golovkin recognizes that he’s in the “legacy” run of his career—likely past the point in which anything he could actually do from here on out would impact his all-time standing, but not past the point in which conversation could aid him in that regard. His very own Lebron vs. Michael Jordan debate, inviting fans old and new to revisit his 20-title defense run, including the portions before he became one of the sport’s biggest stars.
In most fans’ minds, he already defeated Canelo. The prospective rematch might be an even bigger event thanks to the vitriol and controversy created by Canelo’s positive test for clenbuterol. That will make him more money, but in the general public’s eyes the best case scenario is a confirmation of what they already thought: GGG is better than Canelo.
Wins over the remaining crop of contenders—Jermall Charlo, Billy Joe Saunders and Sergiy Derevyanchenko—would be incredibly impressive to the readers of this website, but probably not to the general public. And one of the most endearing things about the hardcore boxing fanbase is also what would prevent Golovkin from surpassing Hopkins (or Carlos Monzon) in the all-time middleweight rankings--its romanticism of the past and reverence of its elders, which insists that older fighters are always better. Just as Jordan fans insist Lebron would crumble against the rugged 90s Knicks squads, there will be people arguing Keith Holmes would be a bad style matchup for Golovkin.
All this is to say that Golovkin may have reached peak appreciation levels in present day. When we’re all old and think of YouTube clips the way we think of fights on projector film, the mythology of GGG will grow the way it has for all of the sport’s greats. His legacy won’t be enhanced until we can’t see him in a ring anymore. Which hopefully doesn’t happen any time soon.