Photos: Will Hart
By Hamilton Nolan
Gennady Golovkin is the great metal-toothed thresher of the sport of boxing. He chews relentlessly through everything before him without ever seeming to be challenged. It would be wrong to call him simply the middleweight champion; he is clearing out the middleweight division, but would happily go up or down a division in search of someone, anyone, with a big name willing to take him on. Unsurprisingly, no one has yet volunteered. And so he continues to eat through middleweights like the world’s most voracious termite colony. This is the opponent that Marco Antonio Rubio has chosen for himself.
It’s enough to make you wonder: why? Why, at this stage, would anyone fight Golovkin? He is 30-0 with 27 knockouts, a ratio fearsome enough to make even the most experienced fighter pause and consider his mental health. Golovkin now finds himself in boxing’s uncanny valley: not quite famous enough to be a huge pay-per-view star (yet), too scary for the biggest stars to fight (because why risk it?), and left, therefore, as a sort of mythical dragon that slightly less ascendant fighters saddle up and ride off to challenge, dreaming of making their name or resurrecting their flagging careers with a huge upset. They have, so far, all fallen. Hard, and uncomfortably.
Marco Antonio Rubio (59-6-1), at 34 years old, has spent the last couple of years enjoying a gentlemanly downward slope of a decorated career. His last real world-class fight was in 2012, a 12-round decision loss to Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. Since then, he has racked up six decisive wins, all of them in Mexico, the biggest one over the badly faded Carlos Baldomir. Rubio did beat the tough (and younger) fighters David Lemieux and Matt Vanda--in 2011. All signs had pointed to Rubio gliding gently out of the sport with ever-easier fights on his home turf. That is all, obviously, about to change.
Golovkin is so good that no one has yet even come close to expose what his flaws might be. This poses quite a problem in the strategy department. He’s fought dancing, moving fighters like Daniel Geale and Gregorz Proksa; they were knocked out. He’s fought strong boxer-punchers like Curtis Stevens and Gabriel Rosado; they were knocked out. He’s fought well-regarded rugged men like Kassim Ouma and Matthew Macklin; they were knocked out. So far, neither moving, nor dancing, nor trading, nor slugging has proved effective against Golovkin. We have not yet seen the fighter who simply runs away at top speed the whole fight, but it’s not such a far-fetched idea. There aren’t too many other strategies left.
The scariest thing of all about Golovkin is that he appears to be getting better. With a decorated amateur career and Olympic experience, he’s always been polished; but he seems to be combining that polish with an ever-increasing amount of precision savagery, and the most spectacularly heavy hands in boxing, which seem to be evolving from rocks to bricks to swinging iron wrecking balls. The faces of Golovkin’s opponents routinely morph into masks of shock and fear upon feeling the first power punch he throws. It is apparent that none of these men--the best middleweights that the sport of boxing has to offer--have ever, ever experienced the sort of fearsome power that Golovkin brings to bear with every punch. He is not a flashy fighter. He is extremely fundamentally sound. He is patient. He makes very few mistakes. He is, in the truest sense, a predator. He stalks, and stalks, and when he has managed to close the distance, he destroys. No man has survived it yet.
For all of Rubio’s experience, it is difficult to imagine that he will be the first. He is tough, yes, but toughness has never gone too far against Golovkin. Rubio is an offense-oriented fighter; he thrives on being more skilled in head-to-head action. Against a puncher as deadly as Golovkin, this can only result in severe punishment. Of Golovkin’s recent opponents, Rubio probably bears the most similarity to Gabriel Rosado (younger and less experienced, but perhaps stronger), who lasted seven rounds trading punches with Golovkin before Rosado’s manager threw in the towel, fearing his fighter would die. Golovkin was also sick with the flu during that fight. There will be no such luck for Rubio this time around.