by Kieran Mulvaney
Unlike the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, its namesake establishment in Connecticut’s Foxwoods Resort complex is surrounded not by a riot of light and noise but by the genteel charm of small-town New England. Yet despite its comparative isolation, Foxwoods is no stranger to big fights. It hosted its first professional fight card – headlined by heavyweight Tommy “The Duke” Morrison – in 1992. A young Floyd Mayweather fought here; so did an up-and-coming Andre Ward. More recent contests include Sergio Martinez sending Sergiy Dzinziruk to the canvas five times and Victor Ortiz and Andre Berto exchanging furious knockdowns in a bout that had HBO’s late Emanuel Steward rhapsodizing ringside.
Not every fight can be so exciting, of course, but hopes are high that Saturday night’s main event just might be. Gennady Golovkin, the middleweight titlist from Kazakhstan, is undefeated as a professional, and his 26 wins include 23 by way of knockout. His hands appear to be made of some kind of amalgam of concrete and dynamite, landing with a heavy thud on his opponents’ chins and exploding with a ferocity that quickly renders them prone. His Anglo-Irish foil, Matthew Macklin, is a worthy foe, who twice previously came up short in title tilts, but on one of those occasions – a disputed decision loss to Felix Sturm – arguably shouldn’t have.
He is also, unlike Golovkin’s two most recent victims, Gabriel Rosado and Nobuhiro Ishida, completely at home in the middleweight division. As he and Golovkin faced off on a stage in a ballroom on Friday, Macklin looked the physically sturdier of the two, although both men weighed in at 159 pounds – one pound inside the middleweight limit – and Golovkin appeared the taller man, an illusion created by his wearing sneakers while Macklin stood only in socks.
There is a certain incongruity to the idea of a fighter from Kazakhstan facing an opponent from the British Isles in a casino on verdant Native American land, but to judge from the roars that greeted Macklin as he stepped on the scales, this is something of a home game for the man from Birmingham.
Golovkin is the favorite of the handicappers, a walking highlight reel who may be on the verge of vaulting into his sport’s highest echelons. But Macklin, drawing on the heavy Irish community in the region, will likely be the darling of the crowd in the arena on Saturday night. If they are able to roar him onto victory, it will be a famous one indeed; but a Golovkin win – and particularly an emphatic one – against his most dangerous foe yet would go a long way toward demonstrating whether he is merely a very good fighter or potentially genuinely great.