Gennady Golovkin (27-0, 24 KO's) doesn't look like the scariest man in boxing. He doesn't have Marvin Hagler's fearsome stare and shiny bald head or Mike Tyson's air of menace. Golovkin, in fact, rarely even looks like the scariest man in the room.
"I am a nice guy. I am a good boy,” he told Bleacher Report last week. And, I'll be darned if he doesn't look the part. He has an easy smile, a babyface and ears that stick out from the side of his head in nearly comical fashion. He's a cowlick away from passing as a grown-up Alfalfa.
In short, the man known as "GGG," despite winning a silver medal for Kazakhstan at the 2004 Olympics, looks like a giant dork, the kind of guy who works on his comic book collection, not his left hook.
At least until the bell rings.
It's only then that a startling transformation occurs. Golovkin, easygoing enough outside the ring to take the taunts from his opponent Curtis Stevens in stride, offering only a smile in return, morphs into something else. Someone else.
Since coming to America last year to take on Grzegorz Proksa, Golovkin has quickly gone from an anonymous name in Ring Magazine, seen only by fans in Eastern Europe and the hardest of the hardcores, to boxing's version of must-see TV. He's been built into a legend, almost sight unseen, a product of a boxing buzz machine that Grantland's Rafe Bartholomew says rewards the unknown and the unproven:
Obscurity is a form of currency in boxing fandom, and Golovkin pushes a lot of the right buttons for the true diehards. He is from Kazakhstan, a country hardly anyone who is not from Central Asia or the countries of the former Soviet Union knows much about... His power looks fluid and natural, yet there’s also something mysterious about it. He doesn’t swing wildly or lunge or visibly load up on his shots. He just lets his hands go and opponents get rocked. The knockouts, the power, the “hailing from parts unknown” mystique, the big-name opponents who supposedly won’t face him — it’s all catnip to the “fight freaks.” Because if and when Golovkin ever breaks through against a star opponent and gains renown as one of the sport’s top fighters, they’ll all be able to say, “I told you so.”
There's no question, at this point, that Golovkin is the real deal. He isn't battling for legitimacy. He's earned that much at least in the ring, especially after a three-round drubbing of Matthew Macklin earlier this year. But he is fighting for a place in the hierarchy, to stand at the top of a formidable group of stars that make up the cream of the crop at junior middleweight and middleweight.
He hasn't beaten any of the top names in the sport—yet. To be fair, it's because they refuse to meet him in the ring. Normally a fighter claiming no one dares face him is best met with an eye roll and serious skepticism. With Golovkin, according to boxing insiders, it's absolutely true. He'll fight anyone up to 168 pounds anytime, anywhere. That he hasn't is beyond his control.
This lack of a signature win may mar his resume, but it only adds to his legend and his underground street cred. Golovkin, however, is aiming higher. He wants to be more than a cult sensation. Instead, when he hangs up the gloves he wants to be mentioned among his favorite fighters of all time—Hagler and the Sugar Rays, Robinson and Leonard.
It's a lofty goal and, already 31, one that will require immediate and serious work. Expectations are enormous. When he battered Gabriel Rosada around the ring in January, bloodying the tough journeyman and forcing his corner to stop the fight in the seventh round, critics complained that he didn't manage to put his opponent on the canvas.
The fight was a rout, but the blowout wasn't enough for Golovkin's fans, who have built him up to the point only cartoonish levels of violence will do. That's a tough standard for any fighter to live up to. But it may just be that those unrealistic hopes and dreams make Golovkin the kind of fighter he believes he can be.
An impressive win over Stevens may force the hand of promoters and television producers around the globe. As Golovkin builds his legend, it will be harder and harder to avoid him. Dollars talk in boxing—and a few more knockout wins will make Golovkin the kind of money player even the biggest stars won't be able to duck forever.