From the Amateurs to the Pros, Golovkin and Macklin Go Way Back

by Kieran Mulvaney

Matthew Macklin after winning the NABC's in 1998.

Gennady Golovkin might be a relatively fresh face on the boxing scene, but Matthew Macklin, his opponent this Saturday night at Foxwoods, has known about him for a long time.

By the time most fans become aware of a professional boxer – when he does his first ring walk on ESPN or on Boxing After Dark – the likelihood is that he has already been plying his trade for a couple of years and has probably racked up at least a dozen wins. Few of us pay heed to the early-career four-and-six-rounders, contested in near-empty arenas several hours before the main event, in which he honed his craft.

Many of his fellow boxers, however, have probably been watching him for a while. Fighters know fighters, as the saying goes, and news of one with talent spreads through the community, with whispered descriptions of gym work and sparring as well as reports of those early pro fights. And, in many cases, there is a deeper reservoir of information on which to draw, in the form of dozens, even hundreds, of amateur bouts.

Fighters of comparable age and experience may have been around each other for years before turning professional, going to the same amateur tournaments, keeping a watchful eye on potential rivals, perhaps doing battle en route and all the while making notes for a possible future clash when the bodies are bigger, the gloves are smaller and the headgear has been removed.

Amateur rivalries can spill over into the professional ranks in various ways. Lennox Lewis famously stopped Riddick Bowe in the 1998 Olympic super heavyweight final, which fanned interest in a rematch when the two reached the top of the pro ranks several years later; when Bowe dumped his title belt in a trash can rather than face mandatory challenger Lewis, it was hard to escape the conclusion that the Olympic loss left the American wanting no further part of his conqueror.

Conversely, Miguel Cotto seemed to go out of his way to avenge his amateur defeats. Fellow Puerto Rican Kelson Pinto made the mistake of beating Cotto twice in the unpaid ranks; Cotto smoked him in six when they met as professionals. Muhammad Abdullaev dumped him out of the 2000 Olympics; Cotto beat him up and stopped him in nine rounds five years later.

Sometimes, what happened in the amateurs happens in the pros: Vernon Forrest was the underdog when he faced Shane Mosley for the welterweight title in 2002, but he had defeated Mosley in the Olympic trials ten years previously and he did so again as a professional in what was considered a major upset.

Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield never fought as amateurs, but they sparred once – reportedly with such ferocity that the session was stopped after one round – and allegedly had a brief but intense staredown over a youthful game of pool, two events in which Holyfield refused to be intimidated by the great intimidator, and which he took with him when he finally met, and beat, Iron Mike in the ring.

Which brings us to this Saturday’s Boxing After Dark main event.

Golovkin’s fame, and the enthusiasm that many boxing cognoscenti express for his career, is based almost as much on his amateur pedigree as his professional accomplishments: 2003 World Amateur Champion; 2004 Olympic silver medalist; victories over the likes of Andy Lee, Matt Korobov, Andre Dirrell, and, by spectacular stoppage, Lucian Buté. But, as Eric Raskin notes in his preview of Saturday’s contest, one man watched Golovkin’s rampage through the unpaid ranks with an interested detachment over the years.

Macklin never fought Golovkin as an amateur, but became aware of him long before the rest of us, all the way back in 2000 in fact, when the two youngsters competed a division apart at the world junior championships. He looked at him then as a potential foe and has been observing him ever since. By the time the undefeated Kazakh exploded onto the radar screen of the broader American boxing public with a crushing win over Grzegorz Proksa last September, Macklin already had 12 years of mental notes filed away for the day of reckoning that is now just around the corner.

Fighters know fighters, they say. And Macklin claims to know Golovkin as well as anyone. Does that knowledge extend to knowing how to beat him? We'll find out Saturday night.