Gennady Golovkin: a sensation desperately in need of a star-making fight after two years of blasting out second-tier opponents.
Andre Ward: a star desperately in need of someone who can re-establish him on the top tier after nearly two years of self-imposed exile.
It would seem that Golovkin and Ward perfectly intersect at the crossroads of boxing, but as often happens in the sport’s seedy underbelly—where fights are made—you shouldn’t expect anything about this to come easy.
And you shouldn’t expect the fight to happen any time soon, if at all.
Like everything else in a sport that seems genetically predisposed to get in its own way, there are just too many obstacles between points A and B, including two things that have derailed many a huge fight—money and egos.
Golovkin’s promoter, Tom Loeffler, who has done a tremendous job of marketing the Kazakh destroyer to the mainstream American boxing public, summed up the situation pretty well in comments to Carlos Boogs of BoxingScene.com:
He's [Ward] been out of the ring for a while and the economics just don't add up now. Gennady has said that he would move out of the middleweight division - if it's a big fight. Andre is certainly a great champion, it's just the chemistry is not there yet for a pay-per-view fight. It's nothing against Andre or Gennady, it's just neither one of them has been on pay-per-view.
Loeffler’s central contention is that since both guys will demand huge paydays for the fight, the only way to make the math add up would be to put it on pay-per-view. That could work, but hitching your wagon to a pair of guys who haven’t ever carried a fight on that level is a big risk.
Ward signed a contract with rap mogul Jay Z’s Roc Nation Sports in January after finally settling legal issues with his late promoter, Dan Goossen, and his company that limited him to just three fights in four years of his prime.
Just days after the ink was dry, he told Scott Christ of Bad Left Hook that facing Golovkin was “no problem” because “fighting the best” is what “champions and contenders are supposed to do.”
But you can’t expect Ward to jump into the deep end of the pool, where GGG is a shark, without so much as getting his feet wet against a tune-up opponent or two.
Ward will face Paul Smith, who lost in back-to-back challenges of Arthur Abraham for a 168-pound title in his last two fights, June 20 at the Oracle Arena in Oakland in a fight HBO declined to televise.
It will be shown on BET.
And then, of course, comes the issue of who gets paid what, who gets treated like the A-side and who really needs who more.
Otherwise known as: Who gets to dictate terms?
Golovkin and Ward’s camps engaged in a notable squabble late last year when issues over money and marketability became front-page headlines in the boxing world.
“If a fight with Gennady [against Ward] could be discussed, the fact is that Andre is on an island with the belief that he can demand terms,” Golovkin’s outspoken trainer, Abel Sanchez, told Lem Satterfield of The Ring. “That makes it un-makeable and un-workable when he wants the major portion of the money.”
You could certainly understand Team Golovkin’s position.
At that point, with their guy 18 knockouts into what has now become a 20-knockout streak, Ward was a year removed from his last ho-hum fight and devoting his time on HBO to wearing suits and microphones rather than trunks and gloves.
But Ward’s team—led by attorney Josh Dubin, who was speaking on behalf of the fighter’s manager, James Prince—didn’t agree with Sanchez’s assessment.
"Time and time again, this man [Sanchez] keeps going on the record and saying things with a complete detachment from reality,” Dubin said, per Satterfield. “For him to say that Andre Ward could not dictate terms in a fight between Andre Ward and Gennady Golovkin and that Gennady Golovkin is a bigger star is pure fantasy.”
But is it pure fantasy?
Ward is a phenomenal talent, one of the top two or three fighters in the sport when he's active, but he’s never proved to be much of a box-office draw. His most recent outing, a dominant decision win over Edwin Rodriguez, drew an announced crowd of 4,158 in Ontario, California.
He’s done well for himself in the Bay Area, but all of his fights have taken place at second-tier venues and without the mainstream attention generally reserved for such an elite talent.
Ward is a great fighter, yes, but an in-demand fighter?
Not at all.
Golovkin still needs an elite opponent to prove his greatness, but the numbers don’t lie. His people have been brilliant in marketing him, endearing him to Southern California’s rabid Mexican fight fans—who have adopted him as one of their own.
His “Mexican style” fight against veteran Mexican challenger Marco Antonio Rubio drew a record 9,323 fans to the StubHub Center in suburban Los Angeles—they weren’t there for Rubio—exceeding that drawn by Mexican warriors Israel Vazquez, Rafael Marquez and Antonio Margarito at the venue.
GGG’s “big drama show” has become a huge part of HBO’s boxing success over the past couple of years, while Ward was off becoming a key fixture on the other side of the ropes in the network’s broadcast team.
That’s not a slight; it’s a fact.
Ward may well be the better fighter, but to argue that he’s a bigger draw or better marketed than GGG is just ridiculous.
Maybe you don’t think that’s fair, and maybe it’s not, but it’s a reality that will need to be reckoned with if this fight is going to be made, and you shouldn’t expect either side to be ready, willing or able to make many concessions.
It's boxing, after all.
Stats courtesy of The Ring.
You can follow Kevin McRae on Twitter @McRaeBoxing.