Postfight Analysis: When the Going Gets Tough…

Photo: Ed Mulholland

Photo: Ed Mulholland

By Eric Raskin

“Easy” is a relative word in boxing. Even when a fight is “easy,” it most likely involves getting punched in the face at least a few dozen times, to say nothing of the grueling task of enduring several weeks of training camp. But in the relative sense, Gennady Golovkin and Roman Gonzalez had it easy for quite a long time. Whether because of their supreme skills and talents, the quality of their opposition, or some combination thereof, GGG fights and Chocolatito fights have been, more often than not, showcases in which the outcome was never in doubt. They climbed the pound-for-pound lists through sheer dominance, through mastery of the eye test, without having to prove — again, in boxing’s relative terms — what they were made of deep down.

But how does a fighter respond when it isn’t so easy anymore? What does he do when he can’t just walk in and blow the other guy out? That’s when the true test of a fighter’s greatness is conducted. That’s when we find out if the reality can confirm the theoretical, if what the eye test told us was accurate. And that’s what we will remember about the night of March 18, 2017. In consecutive fights in front of a packed house at Madison Square Garden, Gonzalez and Golovkin had to answer questions rarely posed, questions about their ability to adjust in the face of adversity and to fall back on heart when their fists alone aren’t getting the job done.

Those answers came back in the affirmative. Maybe the official results were mixed. But both Golovkin and Gonzalez proved that they don’t need things to be easy.

Of the two, it was Chocolatito who had to dig deeper (but who was also more used to it, considering his previous fight, against Carlos Cuadras, also pushed him within sniffing distance of the brink). Chocolatito is more than five years younger than Golovkin — he’ll turn 30 in June — but smaller fighters tend to age faster and the Nicaraguan has had 10 more pro fights than GGG. Against Srisaket Sor Rungvisai of Thailand, Gonzalez found himself an undeniably post-prime fighter, a pugilist whose power at 115 pounds clearly isn’t what it was at 105, 108, and 112, and those revelations were complicated by the fact that southpaw Sor Rungvisai applied unrelenting pressure and was as tough to fight as saying his name five times fast.

Chocolatito got dropped by a body punch in round one. He got cut by a headbutt in round three. At a certain point, he decided he couldn’t win this fight with finesse; he’d need to stand his ground and win the exchanges. The 12th round was, in some ways, the finest three minutes of Gonzalez’s career. Fighting with cojones so big it’s a wonder he makes the super flyweight limit, Chocolatito let bomb after bomb go and had Sor Rungvisai reeling and relieved to hear the final bell.

I thought Gonzalez won, 115-111. The judges awarded a majority decision to Sor Rungvisai, a verdict that was met with boos from the MSG faithful. Gonzalez will not finish his career undefeated. He’s not the pound-for-pound best fighter in the world anymore. But he’s all fighter. Whereas once such a statement would have qualified as speculation, now it’s a fact. Or at the very least, it’s one of those opinions you’d have to be insane to dispute.

For Golovkin, the struggle was less about his best days being behind him (although it’s possible they are) or about him fighting above his best weight (although he was certainly outsized). Rather, for GGG, the problem was the other fellow in the ring. In Daniel Jacobs, Golovkin finally met something resembling his match, an opponent with the speed, skill, and self-belief to deny the Big Drama Show its typical early closing. Golovkin had knocked out 23 straight opponents dating back to 2008. He simply isn’t used to this kind of resistance, to a fighter with a game plan and the gifts and determination to execute it. We’d long wondered, what would GGG do when he could knock the other guy down but not out? How would he handle a fight whose outcome seemed up for grabs after six rounds, after eight rounds, after 10 rounds?

The answers weren’t quite everything we’d dreamed they would be. Jacobs got the better of several of the later rounds, and Golovkin rarely let his hands go with the kind of desperation the situation seemed to call for. But he didn’t let himself get discouraged in the face of stiff competition. He remained focused, he kept pumping out jabs, he cut off the ring, he closed the distance, and he took some shots from a legitimate puncher with probably 10 pounds or so on him. He wasn’t required to show as much heart as Chocolatito, but he showed his own brand of steely resolve, and it carried him to a close unanimous decision in by far the toughest challenge of his professional career.

The performances of GGG and Chocolatito, pound-for-pound elite fighters who were being rudely reminded that, to use a Golovkin-ism, “this isn’t game,” called to mind other modern greats having to use a gear they’d never needed to shift into before. Just four months ago, Andre Ward showed what he was made of when Sergey Kovalev had him down — on the scorecards and his knees — and Ward needed to use every ounce of his guile and guts to get back into the fight.

A generation earlier, fellow HBO broadcaster Roy Jones found himself in a similar situation in the same weight division, when the nearly untouchable P4P king was struggling mightily in his first fight with Antonio Tarver. Jones showed a determination nobody knew for sure existed and, like Ward, pulled out a controversial decision win. When two of Jones’ P4P rivals met in June 2000, formerly dominant lightweight champ Shane Mosley lost perhaps five of the first seven rounds against the bigger, seemingly better Oscar De La Hoya, until Sugar Shane elevated his game and streaked to a stirring victory.

And then there was the fight that Sor Rungvisai vs. Gonzalez most reminded me of: the 1998 strawweight rematch between Ricardo “Finito” Lopez (the Chocolatito of his time) and Rosendo Alvarez. Lopez, like Gonzalez, went years without losing rounds, until age and an elite opponent finally made him look human. Lopez battled through the blood to eke past Alvarez in a thriller; it was essentially Sor Rungvisai vs. Gonzalez with more palatable scorecards.

But for every time a great fighter lives up to our expectations, there’s another example of a heavily hyped boxer coming up short when it stops being easy. Mosley was actually on both sides of the dynamic. As inspiring as he was against Oscar, after a few more spectacular wins, he ran up against a nightmare style in Vernon Forrest and couldn’t make any of the necessary adjustments. The same thing happened to Naseem Hamed, who dug deep to beat Kevin Kelley in 1997, but three years later, had no answers for the masterful boxing of Marco Antonio Barrera. Hamed’s fighting spirit seemed to disintegrate over the course of those 12 rounds, never to return again. Then there are cases of highly touted prospects, seemingly working their way toward pound-for-pound rankings, only to get exposed as unworthy of the hype. Think guys like Adrien Broner and Victor Ortiz — not bad fighters, by any means, but men who both folded, to one degree or another, when asked (in both cases by the litmus test that is Marcos Maidana) to find something deep inside themselves.

It probably isn’t going to get any easier after this for Chocolatito. The same might be true for GGG. One of them lost on Saturday night, and the other flirted with losing. But they both showed dimensions they haven’t had to show before and took steps to confirm their greatness on the toughest nights of their respective careers.

PODCAST: Golovkin-Jacobs Postfight Discussion

HBO Boxing Insiders Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney reflect on a spectacular night of boxing at Madison Square Garden that shook up the pound-for-pound rankings, with Gennady "GGG" Golovkin edging Daniel Jacobs over the distance and Srisaket Sor Rungvisai shocking Roman "Chocolatito" Gonzalez by controversial decision.

Both bouts will be replayed on HBO World Championship Boxing on Saturday, March 25 at 10 p.m. ET/PT.

Golovkin Wins By Decision, But Jacobs Scores Moral Victory

Photos: Ed Mulholland

By Kieran Mulvaney

NEW YORK – Daniel Jacobs scored his first big victory of the night when he clambered off the deck in the fourth round after a pair of booming Gennady Golovkin right hands sent him to the canvas. He scored his second when, instead of Golovkin jumping on him and seeking to finish him off as he had done with so many opponents before, GGG instead returned to the jab that had served him so well in setting up the knockdowns. And his third victory came when he did what no Golovkin opponent had ever done, taking the Kazakh fighter the full 12 rounds, causing him to hear the final bell and the scorecards for the first time since he won an eight-round decision over Amar Amari in 2008.

But despite all that, Jacobs didn’t get the victory that he wanted and that many of those in the crowd at Madison Square Garden felt he deserved. It was close, but by scores of 115-112, 115-112 and 114-113, the three judges ringside awarded victory to Golovkin, who remains undefeated and retains his middleweight titles.

“I think I won the fight,” protested Jacobs. “I think I won by at least two rounds minimum.” Getting hit by the feared knockout puncher, he insisted, “wasn’t that bad. I told him he’d have to kill me to knock me out. I got up, I came back and I thought I won the fight.”

With his size, reach, power and skills, Jacobs (32-2, 29 KOs) had entered this contest with the expectation that he had the potential to provide Golovkin (37-0, 33 KOs) with one of the toughest challenges of his career, even though those same prognosticators predicted, almost unanimously, that the Kazakh would end up, as he had for his previous 23 outings, a winner by knockout. And in that pivotal fourth round, it appeared as if that would be the case.

The bout had opened slowly, Golovkin controlling the ring in the first round and looking to land a short jab, Jacobs responding with a snapping jab of his own to take the second. The third, like the first two, was close, but Golovkin was showing signs of closing the distance and finding the range for his stiff jab to land frequently and effectively, and in the fourth, that jab backed Jacobs to the ropes, followed by a pair of booming right hands that connected on Jacobs’ jaw and sent him tumbling over.

The American looked decidedly ragged as he climbed to his feet. The footwork he had displayed in the opening stages, which had enabled him to frustrate Golovkin’s efforts to cut off the ring, now deserted him and he backed up in a straight line as the man from Karagana snapped back his head and landed a swift, short uppercut for good measure. By the end of the frame, however, Jacobs had found his feet and was throwing back as the round ended. 

Golovkin opened the fifth with a big overhand right and continued to pursue him with jabs, but Jacobs fought him off with whipping left hooks that caught the eye of the crowd even as they landed primarily on arms and shoulders rather than directly to head and body. Golovkin was now doing what he does best, closing the distance, giving his opponent little room to breathe, let alone throw punches.

But Jacobs would not be easily denied. At several points during the fight, he turned southpaw, and did so again in the sixth, a stance that made it more difficult for Golovkin to find room for his feared right hand. A big hook from the Brooklynite backed up Golovkin and brought Jacobs some breathing room; by the seventh, Golovkin was once again forced to chase after a foe who had rediscovered his range and elusiveness, allowing him to fire eye-catching punches and exchange furious fire at round’s end, Jacobs punching his gloves together in delight as he felt the momentum swinging his way. 

Golovkin backed Jacobs to the ropes to start the eighth, but Jacobs backed him off with hooks to close it. The ninth felt as if it might be decisive, another sneaky Golovkin uppercut followed by a right hand hurting Jacobs and sending him backward on slightly uncertain legs. But Golovkin could not land the decisive blow, and the next two frames were arguably Jacobs’ best of the contest. The tenth began with Golovkin smelling blood and chasing after his wounded prey, but Jacobs dug in and fired back with lefts and rights. A reversion to southpaw confused and stunted Golovkin again, and the close of the eleventh saw the two men once again engaged in a close-range firefight and Jacobs screaming out loud in triumph, believing he was ahead, as the bell rang and it became apparent that the fight had actually gone the distance.

But for all the eye-catching qualities of Jacobs’ punches, Golovkins’ blows, while shorter and less obvious, had been landing with greater accuracy, frequency and effect, and that was enough for him to secure the win when the scores were read. The crowd booed the result, something Golovkin is not used to hearing. Another victory for Jacobs. But still not victory enough.

Sor Rungvisai Shocks Chocolatito in Controversial, Savage Brawl

Photos: by Ed Mulholland

By Eric Raskin

Late in the first round, Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez hit the canvas. That simply doesn’t happen. You knew immediately that this fight was different. But you didn’t know just how different.

At the end of 12 sensational, brutal, bloody rounds, Thai underdog Srisaket Sor Rungvisai got his hand raised, taking away Gonzalez’s super flyweight title, knocking him off his number-one pound-for-pound perch, and ending a 46-fight, 12-year winning streak. It didn’t seem to most in the press section or in the pro-Chocolatito crowd at Madison Square Garden that Sor Rungvisai had done enough to win, but judges Julie Lederman and Glenn Feldman felt otherwise, both scoring 114-112 for the 30-year-old Thai fighter; the third judge, Waleska Roldan, had it 113-113. The crowd booed the decision and continued to boo Sor Rungvisai throughout his postfight interview, and while their reaction to the decision was understandable, the negativity was unfair. Both fighters showed extraordinary heart and resolve, and neither deserved to hear anything but cheers at fight’s end.

The southpaw Sor Rungvisai, now 42-4-1, 38 KOs, presented problems for Gonzalez from the start, and with about 30 seconds left on the clock in round one, a right hook to the body sent the Nicaraguan to the deck for what is believed to be the first time in his storied pro career. Nearing his 30th birthday and coming off a grueling war with Carlos Cuadras last September, Gonzalez didn’t look like himself in round two either. Sor Rungvisai was applying pressure, pivoting, and landing to the head and body, keeping Chocolatito on the defensive. And it got worse for Gonzalez in the third, when a head clash cut him over the right eye. But then the momentum began to change. Gonzalez began finding a home for his straight right hand. He was outworking Sor Rungvisai, and hurt him to the body in round six. Just before the bell to end the sixth, the fighters clashed heads again, and this time referee Steve Willis took a point away from the Thai warrior. It seemed the pound-for-pound king was set to pull away.

Instead Sor Rungvisai kept it close at every turn as brutal two-way action continued in the second half of the Fight of the Year candidate. Blood poured from above Chocolatito’s right eye, and doctors examined both fighters before round nine. The last few rounds were a blur or literal blood and figurative guts, but when Gonzalez (46-1, 38 KOs), showing heart to match his remarkable skill, hurt Sor Rungvisai with bombs in the 12th round, it seemed he’d secured a points win. The CompuBox stats clearly favored the Nicaraguan: He landed 441 of 1,013 total punches, compared to 284 of 940 for Sor Rungvisai. But the numbers that mattered in the end favored Sor Rungvisai by a couple of points. 

The new titleholder from Thailand said afterward that he would welcome a rematch. So would any fight fan who witnessed this violent brawl.

And that leaves Carlos Cuadras very much out in the cold. He won a lackluster 10-round decision over fellow Mexican David Carmona in the previous bout on the card by scores of 97-93, 97-93, and 96-94. The idea, in principle, was for both Gonzalez and Cuadras to win their bouts and engage in a rematch next. Obviously, that’s off the table with Chocolatito going down controversially. But even before that, Cuadras failed to create any sentimental mandate. He was sloppy and perhaps a bit unfocused against Carmona (20-4-5, 8 KOs), but did enough to pull out the decision and advance his record to 36-1-1, 27 KOs.

In the opening bout on the HBO Pay-Per-View card, lightweight prospect Ryan Martin demonstrated that he is nicknamed “Blue Chip” for a reason. The 24-year-old from Cleveland advanced to 18-0, 11 KOs, with a one-sided pasting of game Bryant Cruz, forcing referee Harvey Dock to intervene 45 seconds into the eighth round, with Cruz (17-2, 8 KOs) still on his feet but trapped and nearly defenseless in the corner. Martin doesn’t seem to have especially heavy hands, but he flashed nearly every other tool you want to see in a young fighter, boxing effectively at distance and inside, throwing a variety of smooth, textbook punches, and forcing the action in a fast-paced, fan-friendly manner.

Order the Golovkin vs. Jacobs Pay-Per-View

Unified middleweight world champion Gennady “GGG” Golovkin (36-0, 33 KOs) will square off against WBA middleweight world champ and mandatory challenger Daniel “The Miracle Man” Jacobs (32-1, 29 KOs) on HBO Pay-Per-View live on Saturday, March 18 at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT from Madison Square Garden in New York.

In the co-feature fight, consensus top pound-for-pound boxer and WBC super flyweight champ Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez (46-0, 38 KOs) will defend his title against mandatory challenger Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (41-4-1, 38 KOs). 

Click here to order!

Watch: Preliminary Undercards Ahead of Golovkin vs. Jacobs

Watch a livestream of the preliminary undercards leading up to the Gennady Golovkin vs. Daniel Jacobs.

Golovkin vs. Jacobs and the fight undercards air live on pay-per-view beginning at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m PT.

Golovkin vs. Jacobs Predictions: GGG a Heavy-Handed Favorite

Photo: Ed Mulholland

Ahead of Saturday night’s fight between Gennady Golovkin and Daniel Jacobs at Madison Square Garden on HBO pay-per-view (9 PM ET/6 PM PT), HBO Boxing Insiders offer up their predictions. (Fans of Danny Jacobs may want to look away.) 

Hamilton Nolan: Gennady KO

I think Golovkin will knock Danny Jacobs out, mid to late rounds if I had to guess. Jacobs is probably the best fight Golovkin could get right now at 160 pounds, and he's a serious puncher, so he has an outside chance if he can hurt Golovkin early. But we've never seen Golovkin hurt, so it's not likely. I think Golovkin will hunt him down and kill him, the same as he will anyone else in that division. 

Nat Gottlieb: Golovkin TKO 8

He’s an indestructible force and has faced better competition than Jacobs has. Jacobs is a nice story, but all stories have an ending. 

Kieran Mulvaney: Golovkin TKO 7
In many respects, Jacobs has all the elements you would want in a fighter going up against Golovkin: He's tall and strong, with a good jab and power. And make no mistake: He's a real challenge for Golovkin, quite possibly the biggest the Kazakh has yet faced. The problem for Jacobs is that GGG knows it; there is a feeling of focus and intensity around Team Golovkin that hasn't always been there. And everything Jacobs can do -- be it box or brawl -- Golovkin can do better. Jacobs will crack Golovkin, he'll hurt him, he'll have his moments, but slowly but surely, GGG will cut off the ring, break Jacobs down and finish him off sometime around the seventh round.

Diego Morilla: Golovkin KO 5

Six years have passed since a scrawny and pretty much untested Russian fighter named Dmitry Pirog simply destroyed Jacobs with frightening ease. And even though I can easily assume that Jacobs has improved both mentally and physically after enduring his toughest fight outside of the ring, I also have no problem assuming that a human wrecking ball like GGG will have no problem scoring a very similar and equally devastating stoppage win against Jacobs, who has shown courage and grit in his miraculous recovery as a fighter, but who has not nearly enough of either of those virtues to stand in front of Golovkin with any kind of chance of victory. 

Springs Toledo: Golovkin KO

Defeating Gennady Golovkin requires athleticism backed up by speed and power. Danny Jacobs has it, but it won't be enough without a very disciplined strategy. The fact that Jacobs is working with Virgil Hunter means he understands that. If Jacobs avoids exchanges and uses his legs for sudden attacks and fast exits, he can compile points and gain confidence. Golovkin disdains his opponents' offense by punching with them; but if Jacobs can feint and set traps and counter, he'll be all right for a few rounds -- maybe more. Eventually, however, Golovkin's pressure will wear Jacobs down and his attack will prove too varied for Jacobs to avoid getting hurt over 12 rounds. Jacobs has a glaring liability in this fight that cancels out his assets: His chin won't hold up.             

Eric Raskin: Golovkin KO 6

I definitely view Daniel Jacobs as GGG's most dangerous pro opponent, in that he has the most impressive combination of speed and power that Golovkin has come up against. But that doesn't mean I give Jacobs much chance to win. I can see him doing well for a couple of rounds, but before long, Golovkin's body shots will slow him down and GGG will cut off the ring with ever increasing success until Jacobs stands still in the wrong place for a half-second too long and goes down.

Michael Gluckstadt: Golovkin KO 3

If Mike Tyson may have said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face,” GGG could just as easily say, “Everyone is the best fighter I’ve ever faced, until they get in the ring with me.” Jacobs may be more skilled than any of Golovkin’s prior competition, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be able to go punch-for-punch with him. If Sergio Mora can put Jacobs on the canvas, I shudder to think of the damage Gennady is liable to inflict on Saturday night.

Gordon Marino: Golovkin KO 4

Jacobs is an explosive puncher and you can be sure that he will try to attack up the middle. But Gennady has the iron whiskers to go with his hands of stone. More importantly, one of GGG's greatest virtues is that he punches when his opponents are punching. That will be the undoing of the noble and talented and Mr. Jacobs. 

Carlos Acevedo: Golovkin TKO

Jacobs has talent. When he works behind his jab, drops one-twos from the perimeter and sidesteps an on-rushing opponent, Jacobs reminds us of why he was such a hot prospect years ago and why he was a standout amateur. His right hand -- as a lead or as a counter -- is potent and he has a fair killer instinct to go with its sting. But Jacobs is rarely consistent in the ring; while the Brooklyn native is athletic and mobile, he often fights straight-up and loses form from round to round. If Golovkin enters the ring weight-drained on Saturday night (which the scuttlebutt indicates), he may drop the first few rounds on the scorecards before revving up and pushing Jacobs back with steady pressure. That pressure includes thumping body shots, a ramrod jab and a punishing left hook. It will take a near-perfect performance -- similar to what Frankie Randall pulled off against Julio Cesar Chavez in 1994 -- for Jacobs to score the upset, and fighters like Randall are few and far between today. Golovkin will likely score a late TKO after some difficult moments early.  

You Want to Fight Gennady Golovkin?

Photo: Will Hart

By Frank Della Femina

You want to box Gennady Golovkin? 

He can box. He’ll box you right out of the ring. Snap your head back two dozen times per round with a laser-precise jab and leave you questioning just how in the hell you got yourself in that position. Worst of all, you have no way around it. Your best bet is to try and counter, but don’t open yourself up too much, because there’s another jab coming right down the pike. Sorry, David Lemieux.

You want to brawl with Golovkin? 

Yeah, he can do that too. He’ll trade with you. Take a punch to give a punch. Ask Daniel Geale about that. He’ll eat a punch to the chin just to lure you into a false sense of confidence. Then, BAM. You’re assed out on the canvas. You can pace and try to walk it off all you want, but the first step to getting over a Golovkin bazooka punch is knowing you won’t be getting up from it.

You want to threaten Golovkin? 

Tweet photos of a coffin with his initials on it? Make jokes? Go ahead, Curtis Stevens. Talk a big game. Say you’ll end his career. He’s just going to smile on his way into the ring. You may think you’re crazy making those threats, but nothing’s crazier than a man who smiles through that. It’s like he knows the outcome already. He doesn’t need to tell you until you need to know. And that’s evident right around the time when he catches you with a left hook that leaves you exhaling, making a meme out of your face.

You want the home-crowd advantage against Golovkin? 

It’s yours. Take it. He’ll give it to you, in front of a sold-out crowd, no less. And before you know it he hits so hard he cracks bone and you’re left to realize that the only thing worse than one Golovkin coming at you is four Golovkins bullying you around the ring, which is exactly what you’ll see through a battered and broken orbital socket. Sorry, Kell Brook.

You want to show heart against Golovkin? 

He’ll respect that. After all, boxing is not a game, and he’ll probably remind you of that again when it’s over. But no matter how many times you get up, there’s always going to be one more time you go down. You gave it your all Martin Murray, but in the end, no matter how strong the heart, there’s only so much you can physically take. Same goes for you, Gabe Rosado.

You want to beat Golovkin?

They all did. Probably still do. If you’ve ever seen the movie Shawshank Redemption, one quote stands out as an example of what every challenger must think when coming out of a fight against GGG (read in Morgan Freeman voice for dramatic effect):

“I'd like to think that the last thing that went through his head, other than that [punch], was to wonder how the hell [Gennady Golovkin] ever got the best of him.”