Gennady Golovkin and David Lemieux met face to face on a balmy summer afternoon at New York City’s Madison Square Garden on Tuesday, just feet from the digs where the two colossal middleweight punchers will meet to unify titles on October 17 on HBO Pay-Per-View.
The level of respect between the fighters and their teams was evident, but that didn’t stop a big-fight feel from permeating every wisp of air inside the legendary arena that’s played host to its share of huge bouts.
It’s perhaps fitting that Golden Boy Promotions (Lemieux’s promoter) dispatched Bernard Hopkins to oversee its end of the festivities. Hopkins was the last man to unify and capture the undisputed middleweight championship at the Garden, something either Golovkin or Lemieux will accomplish in just less than two months' time.
Let's pause a second here to make sure everyone is on the same page with exactly what was just said.
Miguel Cotto will defend his lineal (man who beat the man), the Ring Magazine and WBC middleweight championships against Saul "Canelo" Alvarez in a megafight just about a month after GGG and Lemieux's fall tussle for a small fortune in middleweight gold.
Cotto vs. Canelo (rightfully) has the boxing world buzzing. It's indisputably the bigger, richer fight in the grand scheme of things, but you'd have a hard time arguing that the winner of that juicy Puerto Rico vs. Mexico rivalry fight stakes a better claim to middleweight supremacy than either the Kazakh or French-Canadian slugger.
Lemieux, among others, didn't mince his words when asked about the state of the middleweight division and who rightfully deserves the accolade as true champion, given all the high-profile fights on the near horizon.
"[Miguel] Cotto shouldn’t be fighting at middleweight. If you want to fight at middleweight make 160 [pounds]," Lemieux said in a matter-of-fact tone on Tuesday. "You're a middleweight; don't be fighting at a catchweight.
"You wanna be 155? 154? You're scared but want to have the status of a middleweight but you don't want to make middleweight. You're not a real middleweight."
Golovkin and Lemieux will unify the IBF, WBA, IBO and interim WBC belts at the full divisional limit of 160 pounds, while Cotto, continuing his trend since moving up in weight last June, will meet Canelo at a contracted catchweight of 155 pounds.
Cotto has been quite clear, as recently as in post-fight comments to HBO's Max Kellerman in the ring after dispatching Daniel Geale at the Barclays Center in June, that he doesn't consider himself a middleweight, so why should we?
The WBC announced at Tuesday's press conference that the winner of Golovkin vs. Lemieux would become the mandatory challenger for whoever emerges from the Mandalay Bay with the big green belt in his suitcase.
That by itself doesn't guarantee that a fight will take place, particularly if it's Cotto, who has been something like reluctant to be nailed down on the possibility of ever facing Golovkin, but it does empower the mandatory challenger to compel the fight or force the champion to vacate.
Even Hopkins, who knows quite a bit about being an undisputed world champion (he's held that distinction at two weights) acknowledged that the winner of this fight will be in a unique position to hold the perch he occupied from 2001 to 005.
"When you have the knockout [ability] that both of these fighters [possess], you don't have time to go get your popcorn," Hopkins said.
"This is really surreal. Unfortunately we don't have these types of events where we can say one guy is going to represent that [middleweight] division. Now we have that."
But who will be that guy?
It's a great question.
Golovkin and Lemieux are the two biggest hitters in the middleweight division, combining for a borderline absurd 61 knockouts among their 67 professional victories. GGG has knocked out his last 20 foes, while the Canadian has powered through seven of his last nine inside the distance since back-to-back upset defeats nearly derailed his career in 2011.
Fan excitement for this fight has already reached a fevered pitch, likely because of the fearsome reputation for howitzer-like punching each man brings to the ring.
HBO announced that the PPV telecast will be priced at a reasonable $49.95 (add $10 for high definition), while Joel Fischer of Madison Square Garden put forth that 15,000 tickets have already been sold on the heels of a record presale that broke Garden boxing records.
Both men were supremely cool and confident, showing a rock-steady faith in their abilities at Tuesday's events.
Golovkin and his promotional team, among the most soft-spoken in the game today (short of sometimes wordy trainer Abel Sanchez), praised Lemieux for having the guts to take the fight so soon after winning his first championship.
"This [fight] is the biggest present for everybody. Not just for me and for David, no," Golovkin said. "For the fans. I respect David. I like his style. He’s a very strong guy. A very dangerous guy.
"I promise an amazing show."
Lemieux understands all too well about his opponent's reputation, and he understands that some may feel this fight is too soon for him after he won a world title in an entertaining scrap against former titlist Hassan N'Dam.
He took the opportunity to explain how he'd be different while throwing some not-so-subtle criticism toward fighters who passed on this opportunity before ending with a cryptic warning.
"A lot of fighters are scared. I’m not scared of any fighter. I’m here to be at the top of the pyramid," Lemieux said. "I’m not going in there to fight Golovkin. I’m going in there win against Golovkin. That’s going to be the difference in this fight.
"I respect him a lot, he's a great fighter. He's [one of] the great ones in the middleweight division, but I'm not here to be his friend. I'm here to be his opponent. We're going to fight [and] there will be blood."
Kevin McRae is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. You can follow him on Twitter @McRaeWrites. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and information were obtained firsthand.