What Gennady Golovkin Must Do to Become One of Boxing's Biggest Stars

Kelsey McCarsonFeatured ColumnistJuly 21, 2014

Can the baby-faced Golovkin become boxing's biggest superstar?
Can the baby-faced Golovkin become boxing's biggest superstar?Lionel Cironneau/Associated Press

For Gennady Golovkin, it’s not just about winning anymore.

No. In order to take his career to the next level and become one of boxing’s biggest attractions, Golovkin is going to have to build up a large and hungry pay-per-view following of folks who are willing to part with their hard-earned money on a regular basis in order to see Golovkin tear through the competition at middleweight and beyond.

Golovkin fights fierce in the ring.
Golovkin fights fierce in the ring.Lionel Cironneau/Associated Press

Boxing’s biggest and brightest stars, ones like Golovkin hopes to be soon, earned their stripes by fighting on premium cable networks like HBO just like Golovkin. There, they built larger and larger audiences until they reached their ultimate goal: headlining big-money PPV cards while raking in the cash that comes with it.

Look no further than boxing’s current money man, Floyd Mayweather. The world’s best at bringing home truckloads of currency  for one night’s worth of work has earned the lion share of his many millions by duking it out on the PPV cards he’s headlined since his first big PPV show back in 2005 against the late Arturo Gatti.

Mayweather was considered elite back then, but nowhere near the mainstream sports star he has since become.

Like the pre-2005 version of Mayweather, Golovkin is considered elite by most fight pundits today. He has carried his superb amateur credentials into prizefighting admirably, running his record as a professional to 29-0 with 26 knockouts.

Golovkin is an exciting fighter and a murderous puncher. He currently has the highest knockout ratio among active titleholders, a feat bolstered by his current knockout streak of 16 in a row.

In total, only three men have gone the distance with Golovkin during his career, and no one has lasted the full set with him since 2008, when the hard-hitting middleweight was still fighting eight-rounders.

Golovkin seems to be getting better and better every time out. The brass over at HBO certainly seem to like him. Clips of Golovkin are cycled heavily in montages played during HBO boxing broadcasts, and the fighter has become a regular headliner for the cable giant’s boxing telecasts.

As a matter of fact, Golovkin appeared on three HBO telecasts in 2013 with what a recent HBO press release dubbed “outstanding viewership” numbers.

Yes, HBO loves Golovkin and it’d be happy as larks if you did too.

Golovkin was too skilled for Stevens.
Golovkin was too skilled for Stevens.Al Bello/Getty Images

To HBO's credit at spotting winners, Golovkin certainly appears to be on his way toward superstardom, and his bout this Saturday against former titleholder Daniel Geale will move him even closer to that goal.

But while he’s been steadily active as a fighter, Golovkin and his team appear to have had difficulty in reaching agreements with other top middleweights to serve as opponents.

Golovkin’s wins are nothing to be scoffed at. He’s soundly beaten good fighters with solid credentials. Knockout wins over Gabriel Rosado, Matthew Macklin and Curtis Stevens prove Golovkin is a force to be reckoned with.

Golovkin was too big and too strong for Rosado.
Golovkin was too big and too strong for Rosado.Gregory Payan/Associated Press

Yet none of the aforementioned fighters, who probably represent Golovkin’s three best wins to date, are considered top-tier middleweight contenders.

Rosado’s best work has been at junior middleweight. Macklin has always been nearer the bottom of middleweight contender rankings than the top, and Stevens is a super middleweight who has never really been considered upper-echelon in his own division.

Geale, on the other hand, is legitimately thought of as one of the top five middleweights in the world.

In fact, the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board slots him at exactly that. Geale is ranked the No. 5 contender at 160 pounds to Miguel Cotto’s lineal championship.

Golovkin is ranked No. 1 in the division by the same rankings body.

But Golovkin will still have a long way to climb up the ladder after facing Geale. Should he win the fight as expected, Golovkin will need to keep pressure on the kinds of fighters who would help turn him into a box-office star.

The best way to do that? Staying active and winning big.

So while the Geale fight is a step in the right direction, more meaningful bouts at middleweight should be on order for Golovkin if he hopes to continue his ascent toward the top of the sport.

Golovkin’s top target should be Cotto.

Not only does the popular Puerto Rican hold the middleweight championship of the world, but Cotto is also one of boxing’s biggest PPV stars. A bout with Cotto would give Golovkin a chance to shine against the very best in the division on the biggest stage possible.

Short of Cotto, Golovkin should continue to pursue other big-name stars, even if they reside a little north of his division.

Getting Cotto in the ring should be Team Golovkin's top priority.
Getting Cotto in the ring should be Team Golovkin's top priority.Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

A proposed megafight with Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. fell through over the summer but would still represent one of Golovkin’s prime options.

Moreover, a move northward to super middleweight might net Golovkin lucrative and meaningful bouts against European stars Arthur Abraham and Carl Froch.

Better yet, a superfight against lineal champion Andre Ward would be the toughest test Golovkin could legitimately seek out.

Golovkin taking on Ward would draw huge interest from all across the boxing world, and notching a win over the American would launch Golovkin’s career into the stratosphere.

But fights are easier to make on paper than in real life. There is no indication from either camp that a Golovkin-Ward fight is anything but a pipe dream right now.

Regardless, Golovkin’s pathway to becoming one of boxing’s biggest stars is easy enough to see. He needs to fight often and against the very best competition available until he can nab a lucrative date against a big-name star like Cotto, Chavez or Ward.

Don't be surprised to see Golovkin become boxing's top earner someday.
Don't be surprised to see Golovkin become boxing's top earner someday.Al Bello/Getty Images

But Golovkin’s pathway is treacherous to say the least. A fighter’s journey to the top is fraught with peril.

One misstep could leave Golovkin forever on the outside looking in. One missed opportunity could mean the difference between making thousands and millions. One bad choice could make Golovkin an also-ran in a sport brutally indifferent to who becomes its face.

Golovkin has the potential to go to the very top of the sport. But he’ll need to make the right moves to get there.