How the Friendly but Ferocious Gennady Golovkin Is Becoming a Boxing Superstar

Kelsey McCarsonFeatured ColumnistOctober 17, 2014

AP Images

Boxing isn't for everyone, and with most of the media attention these days going to controversial fighters like Floyd Mayweather, it's no wonder why many in mainstream circles today believe the sport is in its final years of existence.

But throwback middleweight slugger Gennady Golovkin is unlike any other fighter in boxing today, both inside and outside of the boxing ring. The 32-year-old might be just what the boxing world needs at just the right time.

Consider Golovkin the anti-Mayweather. He's considerate, likable and willing to fight anyone in the world. He's an all-action star with a Hollywood smile. Where Mayweather is loud and obnoxious before the bell rings but then goes about throwing just enough punches to win the fight, Golovkin is low-key, quiet and polite.

But that's only until it's time to put somebody on the canvas. When the bell rings before a Golovkin fight, he transforms into a hammer. His opponent, of course, is the nail.

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 02:  Gennady Golovkin knocks down Curtis Stevens in the second round during their WBA Middleweight Title fight at The Theater at Madison Square Garden on November 2, 2013 in New York City.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Al Bello/Getty Images

"He's the perfect person to bring new fans to the sport of boxing," said Golovkin's promoter, Tom Loeffler. "When somebody brings excitement to the sport, and is just a likable guy, it's a great combination."

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His latest challenger is the rugged Marco Antonio Rubio, who will try to take Golovkin's WBA and IBO middleweight title belts Saturday night at the StubHub Center in Carson, California. The bout will be televised live on HBO.

Rubio isn't the fight Golovkin wanted. He's a tough contender but nowhere near elite. And he's not the fight Golovkin needed at this point in his career either. He would be much better served facing A-side middleweights like Miguel Cotto or Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. But Rubio is the fight Golovkin got, and the menacing power puncher is always obliged to let his hands go when the bell rings no matter what type of competition he's up against.

Golovkin is an extraordinary talent, and one way or another, he seems destined for superstardom. He's an easy sell to fight fans, both in how he approaches his craft when the bell sounds, as well as who he wants to fight and where.

Golovkin's style is as much a nightmare for opponents as it is magnificence for fans to behold. He's an aggressive stalker with world-class technical ability. Better yet, Golovkin is the villain in a horror movie. Once the violence starts, there's simply nowhere to hide.

He systematically breaks down his opponents with a come-forward approach that leads to his fights ending early almost every time. Of Golovkin's 30 wins, 27 have come by knockout, including the last 17.

"I like my style," Golovkin said. "Power, speed, timing. Big dramatic show."

HBO sure seems to like him too. And why wouldn't it? Golovkin's style is the most attractive in the sport, and his willingness to fight all comers is a rarity in this day and age.

And despite the rather pedestrian list of opponents on his ledger, Golovkin has become almost universally accepted among fight fans as both the man to beat at middleweight and the one fight fans most desperately want to watch employ his craft.

Golovkin's Last Seven Wins (All via KO)
7/26/14Daniel GealeMadison Square Garden, New YorkTKO 3
2/1/14Osumanu AdamaSalle des etoiles, Monte CarloTKO 7
11/2/13Curtis StevensMadison Square Garden, New YorkRTD 8
6/29/13Matthew MacklinMGM Grand at Foxwoods Resort, ConnecticutKO 3
3/30/13Nobuhiro IshidaSalle des etoiles, Monte CarloKO 3
1/19/13Gabriel RosadoMadison Square Garden, New YorkTKO 7
9/1/12Gregorz ProksaTurning Stone Resort & Casino, New YorkTKO 5

Peter Nelson, vice president of programming at HBO Sports, described Golovkin as one of boxing's "signature talents."

"The big test that everyone is awaiting is in the ring when he lands one of the fights that he's talked about and been trying to pursue," Nelson said. "And fighters who are willing to fight anyone—not say they're willing to fight anyone but have caveats, but actually are just willing to fight anyone because they believe in their own talentthose are the competitors that resonate with fans."

Golovkin made good on HBO's claims about his willingness to engage the very best. Without being asked, Golovkin named the opponents he wants to face in 2015.

"I understand my situation. I want the big fight. This is my life," Golovkin said. "I want a fight with Canelo Alvarez. It's a great fight. Miguel Cotto? Same. Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.? Great fight. I want big fights. I hope so in the future."

Mark Taffet, senior vice president of HBO Sports, has the same hopes for Golovkin.

"We believe Gennady Golovkin will be part of the foundation of HBO's boxing program for years to come," Taffet said. "Gennady is a star who has the potential to not only be a superstar but be one of the anchors that carries the sport into the future. We look at Gennady, along with Canelo Alvarez, as two of the fighters with all of the attributes to be franchise fighters into the future.

"Every superstar fighter has a breakthrough fight which takes him to a different level. Gennady has a number of those fights in front of him."

Jun 29, 2013; Mashantucket, CT, USA; Junior middleweights Gennady Golovkin (blue trunks) and Matthew Macklin (green trunks) box during their WBA/IBO bout at Foxwoods Resort and Casino-MGM Grand Theatre. Golovkin won via third round knockout. Mandatory Cre

Loeffler indicated his team was diligently looking for such a bout in 2015, and Taffet threw out a number of pay-per-view possibilities for Golovkin, which were in line with the fighter's wish list of opponents. Carl Froch and Andre Ward were two more notable names that Taffet provided.

Nelson added that Golovkin's viewership numbers on regular HBO indicate the possibility for further career growth. While ratings for Golovkin-Daniel Geale dipped from his previous outing against Curtis Stevens in 2013, they almost had to. Golovkin-Stevens averaged 1.41 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research (via Yahoo Sports), the best performance for any fighter that year who had not yet appeared on pay-per-view.

Both Loeffler and Golovkin said they believed 2015 would be a big year for Golovkin and would include headlining a pay-per-view card. Taffet stopped short of saying an HBO pay-per-view date was in the works for 2015, but said such an important step in Golovkin's career appeared to be on the horizon. So whether it's Cotto, Chavez, Alvarez or someone else, don't be surprised to see Golovkin launched into the mainstream by the end of next year with a megafight.

Lee Wylie, a boxing writer for TheFightCity.com who specializes in the technical aspects of the sport, said Golovkin is easily the best middleweight fighting today.

"Golovkin is unquestionably the most dangerous middleweight in the world," Wylie said. "And he is more than just a heavy-handed slugger. Golovkin is a calculating ring technician who thoughtfully forces his opponents into committing tactical errors using educated pressure and unerring craft."

Award-winning writer Bart Barry agrees. But Barry cautions fans who might label Golovkin as a sure bet to achieve a lofty historical status.

"He has very few technical flaws that I can detect. But for goodness' sake, he hasn't fought anyone who might reveal them! That he ran directly into a Daniel Geale right hand in the final instants of his last fight proves he is susceptible to counters as anyone when he attacks."

Golovkin's highlight-reel knockout of Geale in January at Madison Square Garden in New York (6:50 in video above) is a microcosm of his style. It's everything fight fans love about him as a fighter in one breathtaking moment. The hard-hitting attacker prefers standing in front of his opponents rather than ducking and dodging out of the way. When the final blow lands on Geale's chin, it does so at the expense of Golovkin catching a punch to the face in return just milliseconds before.

But if that scenario is a gamble, Golovkin goes all in on it. In any given moment, he bets he can land more punches and with greater force than his opponent can land within the same time frame.

So far, he's been right. Golovkin ate Geale's punch with ease and smacked the poor Australian down to the mat as if he were swatting away a bothersome fly.

But Golovkin's success is no accident. Loeffler said his fighter's rise to prominence as one of HBO's signature stars is something he likes to call "the perfect storm."

Loeffler said the fighter, his team and chosen television partner, HBO, have committed themselves to the same goal: They want Golovkin to be an international boxing superstar. Everyone is on the same page, and timing for Golovkin's rise couldn't have been scripted any better. Boxing needs this guy.

But at 32 years old, Golovkin's career is running short of time. The Kazakhstan native came up the hard way. After being tremendously successful in the amateur ranks (he won a silver medal at the 2004 Olympics), Golovkin turned professional in 2005.

But fighting under the banner of German-based promotional company Universum kept the talented slugger behind local fan favorites like Felix Sturm.

NEW YORK, NY - JULY 26:  Gennady Golovkin punches Daniel Geale during the  WBA/IBO middleweight championship bout at Madison Square Garden on July 26, 2014 in New York City.  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Despite wrecking opponents inside the ring, Golovkin's career was stifled. He left Universum in 2010 and signed with K2 Promotions, where Loeffler is the managing director. Since then, Loeffler and team have guided Golovkin's career with a steady hand, honing his talent and ability while introducing him to the American boxing audience. Pinpointing New York and Los Angeles, the sites of his most recent fight and his next one, was no accident.

"We've chosen to go into markets where he gets the most media exposure: New York, the media capital of the world, and Los Angeles, the entertainment capital of the world," Loeffler said. "It would have been much easier going into casinos and getting hotel rooms at less cost, but it certainly wouldn't have translated to the amount of media attention and exposure that he's gotten fighting in the bigger cities and the bigger arenas."

And that exposure has been a catalyst for Golovkin's rise to prominence.

"I've not seen a fighter sell tickets like this on both sides of the coast since Oscar De La Hoya," said Bernie Bahrmasel, Golovkin's public relations representative.

Loeffler indicated fans and media appreciate the same thing in Golovkin: They simply love to see him fight.

"It's got some of what I like to call the Mike Tyson effect," Loeffler said. "Tyson was very compelling because you never knew what would happen in the ring. And even though Gennady has 17 knockouts in a row, and they don't go 12 rounds, fans never leave disappointed because there's a lot more excitement and action in however many rounds the fight goes than a 12-round lengthy or boring fight."

Moreover, Loeffler believes Golovkin's activity level, where he aims to fight as often as four times per year, helps keep the media's focus on him through most of the year while other star fighters gravitate toward fighting just once or twice a year.

"We're bringing back the true definition of a world champion in that if there is a great middleweight from Japan, then we'll go to Tokyo and fight him over there," Loeffler said. "It's similar to what Muhammad Ali did. Ali wouldn't have been such a household name if he hadn't fought in Japan or the Philippines or Africa or Europe. He really embodied the true definition of world champion. That's what we want to bring back with Gennady.

NEW YORK, NY - JULY 26:  Gennady Golovkin celebrates after knocking out Daniel Geale in the third round to win the WBA/IBO middleweight championship at Madison Square Garden on July 26, 2014 in New York City.  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
Mike Stobe/Getty Images

"That's part of his global brand. He likes to fight internationally. That's one of the key factors. When he fights over here in the United States, we're nine or so hours behind the European time zone and even further behind Russia's. When he fights in Europe, his fans can see him fight."

Golovkin has fought twice in Monte Carlo over the last two years, and Loeffler expects a third bout in the same location in 2015.

"That gives his fans in that part of the world the opportunity to see him fight live in prime time," the promoter said. "That's what a lot of fighters and promoters don’t necessarily invest in. They don't realize all that building a global brand involves."

Still, despite all the tangible elements of Golovkin's rise to success, his inside-the-ring prowess and his team's outside-the-ring strategic maneuvering, perhaps the most fundamental element of his continued ascent will simply be the way he connects with people. He's great at it.

Golovkin calls everyone by their first name, and when his colleagues and partners were interviewed, they did likewise, calling him Gennady.

It's not like that with other fighters, at least not across the board. Everyone interviewed about Golovkin seemed genuinely enamored with the fighter. It's no act. These guys don't just believe in Golovkin because he's good at bashing people's brains in. They respect him. They love him.

"Do you know what Gennady Golovkin is? He's grateful," HBO Sports Media Relations spokesman Ray Stallone said. "It's an amazing characteristic. Whenever we invite him to something or see him or engage him, he's grateful. And it's not that other people aren't, but that it's genuine. He's really grateful, and it shines through. You see it in his eyes, his smile. He finds you in the crowd as opposed to putting you at arm's length."

Heck, even his critics find the guy engaging. Barry, who believes most fans are buying into the idea of Golovkin as a future all-time great a little too quickly, was fast to point out his criticisms were nothing personal.

Lionel Cironneau/Associated Press

"I like the guy. I really do," Barry said. "I think he's good for the sport. My criticisms of Golovkin, and I hope I've made this clear, are criticisms of casual fans' hyperbole and media sensationalism, not Golovkin himself. Not every era is created equal. He might have done very well in a strong era. We will never know and should not pretend we do."

No, the 32-year-old Golovkin might not be young enough to achieve everything his fans hope for because of his late start here in the United States.

No, he might not have the rivals he needs to become one of the best middleweights ever.

No, he may never sell himself the way fighters like Mayweather do, by any and all means necessary. But Golovkin might just be a superior product to Mayweather, and any salesperson will tell you word-of-mouth promotion is something money can't buy.

But regardless of whatever his legacy turns out to be, there just seems to be something special about Golovkin as a person. Maybe that's why he seems so destined for greatness. Maybe that's why folks seem to gravitate toward him.

"He is very humble," Taffet said. "He is very aware of who he is and where he came from. He's also keenly aware of where he's going."

Where he's going is to the top of boxing. A Golovkin rise to fame would shed positive light on a sport in desperate need of mainstream attention. Golovkin's ascent to the top appears to be on its way. Golovkin has the talent, the team and the timing to become boxing's next big thing.

Now, he just needs the opportunities to put the right opponents on the canvas.

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand. Follow @KelseyMcCarson


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