The Eastern Europeans Are Coming

by Kiearn Mulvaney

Gennady Golovkin

It wasn’t so long ago that arguably the most famous boxer to emerge from east of what used to be the Iron Curtain was the fictional Ivan Drago, who battered Apollo Creed to death and famously promised Rocky Balboa that, “I must break you.” That was 27 years and a Cold War ago, and today the situation is very different.

As on the silver screen in 1985, the most intimidating heavyweight in the world is from what was then the Soviet Union, although whether that honor should be bestowed upon Vitali Klitschko or his brother Wladimir is open for discussion. Poland’s Tomasz Adamek won world titles at light heavyweight and cruiserweight before stepping up a division and succumbing bravely to the much larger Vitali; taking his place in the 200-pound division are compatriot Krzysztof Wlodarczyk and German-based Bosniak Marco Huck. One division down, Kazakhstan’s Beibut Shumenov owns a world title belt, and at super middleweight the belt holders include Armenian Arthur Abraham and Hungarian Karoly Balszay.

The Central European presence continues at middleweight and junior middleweight, where three of the division’s best will be introduced to American audiences on HBO on Saturday night.

At least one of them may be familiar to US viewers, although Sergiy Dzinziruk’s HBO debut did not exactly go as planned when he was stopped in eight rounds by middleweight champion Sergio Martinez last March. Prior to that contest, he had not lost as a professional, nor tasted the canvas; Martinez dropped him five times and handed him his first defeat, and the Ukrainian will be looking to get back in the winning column when he drops back to his favored junior middleweight division on Saturday. The task ahead of him isn’t an easy one, however: His opponent is undefeated Puerto Rican prospect Jonathan Gonzalez, and Dzinziruk will need to combat age and inactivity as well as his youthful, powerful, body-punching foe.

That bout is Saturday’s co-main event; the main event should be a doozy. British-based Pole Grzegorz Proksa was much-hyped until he suffered a disappointing points defeat to England’s Kerry Hope last year; since then, he has won two in a row, including a stoppage win over Hope in which he regained his European title. But he, too, faces an uphill struggle on Saturday in the form of undefeated Kazakh wrecking ball Gennady Golovkin.

There’s nothing fancy about Golovkin. Nobody will ever mistake him for a Central European Pernell Whitaker. But he can fight, plowing forward steadily and relentlessly, and thumping and crumpling opponents with punches that don’t appear to have a great deal of torque but are evidently punctuated with fists of stone. Some of his foes, like veteran Kassim Ouma, last until late in the contest; most of them are summarily dispatched in the first few rounds.

Proksa will be looking to buck that trend, and the clash between his free-swinging style and Golovkin’s human tank assault should be one to savor. Hopefully, it will leave American viewers wanting to see more fighters from east of the Rhine. Which would be a good thing, because there are a lot more of them still to see.