You know the story. Gennady Golovkin, a deeply feared, avoided, and unknown champion comes to America to train under Abel Sanchez, who turns him into a war machine that eats the middleweight division alive. Golovkin is as well-known now as a modern-day boxer can hope to be among the casual fans, and he is facing more scrutiny than ever.
The short answer to the latter is no, Golovkin is very much for real. He always has been. Boxing writers, prone to hyperbole and romantic notions, could not exaggerate the force that was Golovkin. As for the former, also no. Golovkin is finally in the ring with talent that approaches his level. That means they will be able to devise plans that don’t involve getting their orbital bones broken. He has not slipped, he has simply come up against better competition.
Let’s start with the power. Some have suggested that Golovkin’s mythic power is ebbing ever so slightly. They point to his failure to stop Daniel Jacobs, and his draw with Canelo Alvarez. The thinking goes that Golovkin can no longer wipe away his opponents with the carefully described shots that once ended fights for him.
The truth is a little more complicated. Yes, Golovkin has found himself unable to simply pull the plug on Jacobs and Canelo, but it has more to do with the opponents than it does Golovkin. Daniel Jacobs, according to the HBO broadcast, came into the fight in excess of 180 pounds. This is backed up by Jacobs’ not participating in the same-day weigh in the IBF mandates for fighters challenging for their belt. The IBF requires that fighters weigh no more than 10 pounds more than the division limit on fight night, and the 182 pound Jacobs needed the extra weight. Why? Because Golovkin still hits really fucking hard. Extra weight helps a fighter absorb those shots, but even that couldn’t stop Golovkin from knocking down Jacobs.
The other thing the weight didn’t solve was a problem so many Golovkin opponents face; being backed up. If you’re an idiot, or some kind of martyr, you walk right in to let the monster snatch your soul. If you’re smart, or you have faith that the monster cannot hurt you, you back up. The predator must be enticed to come forward, so you can score as he comes in. Jacobs managed to make the fight unthinkably close by switching between southpaw and orthodox, keeping Golovkin from wading in without fear. The knockdown was the difference. Golovkin’s power was the difference. Jacobs said after the fight that Golovkin’s famed power wasn’t that bad. Jacobs is tough man, and a cancer survivor from Brownsville. I’m sure it wasn’t so bad compared to cancer.
In the much-debated Canelo fight, Golovkin looked more human than ever. Was this because Canelo is a no-neck, fire hydrant of a man who has an uncanny knack for upper body movement, or was it because Golovkin had slipped?
Again, the answer is that Canelo was simply a good boxer. He did well to keep Golovkin from attacking in the body as is his wont. The threat of Canelo’s shotgun-like counters kept Golovkin from diving in and attacking. It also led to Golovkin taking his time before stepping on the gas in the middle rounds. I scored the fight 115-113 for Golovkin, but a draw was just as possible if you squint a little. The fight did not make me think that Golovkin had lost a step, because that same problem reared its head. Canelo went backwards, all night.
He did this tactically, as did Jacobs, but he had to do it. Golovkin’s chin is certified, and whenever Canelo did try to come forward, he found that he could not make GGG go backwards. You cannot win a war of attrition with a man who has cricket bats for hands. It is even more damning when he is not given pause by your power shots.
The other thing that needs to be said is that Golovkin has always been old. Perhaps not old, but cryptic. The power of Golovkin makes for good headlines, but his skillset goes well beyond that. Golovkin has, you may have heard Jim Lampley say at some point over the last 10 years, a telephone pole of a jab. His jab is the best weapon in the middleweight division, as it allows him to control the ring. We always talk about Golovkin as a pressure fighter, cutting the ring off and trapping weary opponents on the ropes. What we never really talk about is how he does that.
The jab is part of that. It ensures Golovkin can hit his opponent from range, with a punch that looks slow but always lands with a thud. The second part of that is his feet. You may notice that Golovkin looks flat-footed in the ring, shuffling forward and sideways with his feet always close to the canvas. What this does is keep Golovkin on balance at all times, meaning he can summon all his power into his shots when he throws them. It also means he can go in any direction he needs to when cutting off avenues of escape, because he is perfectly balanced.
That balance also helps him eat those shots that make you cringe when they land. People may have forgotten that the concerns over Golovkin’s defense and lack of head movement began almost as soon as he showed up on HBO. He’s been getting popped with big shots for years, avoiding the effects with his brilliant balance and unreal chin, which he keeps tucked at all times.
Of course, this all comes with a caveat. We should question why it took Golovkin so long to start applying the pressure on Canelo. Despite his great upper body movement, Canelo has some of the slowest feet in boxing. He plods around like a drunkard, preferring to plant himself and spring one of his bear traps on an overzealous opponent. Against Golovkin, he was able to move around freely for most of the first six rounds. Maybe that was simply Golovkin getting loose and not realizing how the Vegas cards are likely to go (hint: they go where the money is – Vegas knows where its bread is buttered), or maybe it was a sign that he didn’t have the stamina to keep the pressure on for 12 full rounds.
Boxing has a way of bathing fighters in their own blood. There’s a chance Golovkin gets wiped out by Canelo – most fighters don’t have a slow descent from grace. There’s a better chance that Golovkin distrusts the cards, and decides he must go on the attack immediately. The predator cannot afford to let his prey live on May 5, he must set his mind on stopping Canelo. But has he slipped? No, not yet.