by Kieran Mulvaney
It seems improbable, so meteoric has been his ascent through boxing's ranks, but just 17 months ago, Gennady Golovkin was preparing to fight an opponent named Makoto Fuchigami in the Ukrainian town of Brovari.
Of Golovkin's 22 previous professional contests, one had been in Panama, one in Denmark, one in his native Kazakhstan, and the rest in Germany. For American fight fans, the only way to watch his march through the middleweight division was via YouTube clips, links of which were circulated via online message boards in postings with headings of the "You Have to Watch This Guy Fight!" variety.
Fast forward a little under a year and a half and the situation could not be much more different. Less than four months after dispatching Fuchigami in the third round, Golovkin punched his way into the consciousness of HBO viewers with an impressive stoppage of Grzegorz Proksa in his network and U.S. debut. Despite battling a cold, he halted Gabriel Rosado in his next outing, then flattened Nobuhiro Ishida in Monaco and, in June, faced off against former two-time world title challenger Matthew Macklin at the MGM Grand at Foxwoods.
Macklin was widely expected to provide the toughest test of Golovkin's career, to challenge him in ways previous opponents had not. Instead, almost from the moment Golovkin's first punch landed, the Irishman looked unsettled, and despite battling back bravely, he was felled by a vicious body blow that could be heard and felt by those sitting ringside.
Now, as he prepares to take on Curtis Stevens on HBO's Boxing After Dark this Saturday, Golovkin is one of the most recognizable figures in the sport, with a rapidly growing fan base and a critical acclaim that is reflected in his being listed at number four in the pound-for-pound list in the most recent episode of 'The Fight Game with Jim Lampley.'
It is a success that, says Tom Loeffler of K2 Promotions, which signed Golovkin in January 2012 and has guided his rapid ascent, is rooted in two elements.
"To me, to be truly successful in boxing you need the combination: you need to be able to win inside the ring but you also need to be marketable outside the ring," he says. "It's what Sugar Ray Leonard had, what Oscar De La Hoya had: you had those combinations, and that's what really impressed me with Gennady. Not only is he ferocious inside the ring, but he's so enjoyable to work with out of the ring."
That contrast – between concussive fighter and mild-mannered ringsider – is highlighted by Golovkin's own dissection of the Macklin fight.
"I respect Matthew. He is a good boxer, and a good man," he begins. But "I have plan for my fight. After the first round, I feel him. He's a good fighter, but his style is easy for me. I don't know why. But it feels great."
If it is his highlight-reel knockouts that have fans buzzing, it is the boxing skill he deploys to set up those knockouts that appears to give him the most satisfaction:
"A lot of fans say to me, 'I like your style, your power is good.' It is not just power. Balance, timing, distance, speed, is all power," he says.
Victory over Stevens – which, it should be noted, is no sure thing, as anyone who saw the American's first-round left hook knockout of Saul Roman in August can testify – will put the cap on Phase One of Golovkin's assault on boxing's upper echelon and leave him looking forward to Phase Two.
"Every fight is baby step," he insists. "Next year is very important."
This year hasn't been too bad, either.