Photo: Will Hart
By Kieran Mulvaney
For Gennady Golovkin, the in-ring challenges to his superiority have of late been so undemanding that he has been forced to create some of his own.
Specifically – and atypically in a sport whose participants are generally and understandably happy for their night to end as soon as possible – he has been urging himself to extend a fight all the way to the final bell. That is something he has not had to do since Amar Amari dropped an eight-round decision to him in Copenhagen, seven years and 20 fights ago.
“Knockout is easy fight: lucky punch, or one punch,” he said in February before facing Martin Murray in Monaco. “Right now, I need decision fight. I have never tried 12 rounds. I need decision fight, so I show everybody my class. Not just one punch. Show everybody my boxing.”
Murray tried, surviving into the eleventh round despite taking a fearful beating, until the referee stepped in and mercifully saved him from his own bravery.
Three months later, prior to taking on Willie Monroe, Jr. in Los Angeles, Golovkin was at it again, talking of a desire for a lengthy evening at the office; but before the sixth round had come to an end, Monroe was shaking his head to referee Jack Reiss, indicating that, for him, the work day had lasted quite long enough.
In the build-up to his October 17 HBO PPV main event against fellow middleweight titlist David Lemieux, however, there has been no such idle talk about hoping to be taken rounds, or to have the opportunity to show off his boxing skills. The reason for that, says Golovkin’s trainer Abel Sanchez, is simple.
“This preparation has been different,” the trainer explains. “Finally, he has gotten someone who he considers as a threat. Someone that he feels will give him a fight for as long as it lasts.”
If not quite on the scale of Golovkin, Lemieux too was once highly touted as the next big thing, an all-conquering middleweight with devastating knockout power. But then it all fell apart in two consecutive fights in 2011: a stoppage to Rubio and a controversial majority decision loss against Joachim Alcine. Since then, however, Lemieux has been on a roll of nine straight wins, eight by KO, and he is confident that his setbacks of four years ago are irrelevant today.
“Everybody has their path, everybody has their ways of doing things and their evolution and becoming a champion, you know,” he explains. “Some guys go undefeated, some have defeats and become the greatest fighter out there. They have zero significance and are in my past, those two losses; they were miscalculations. I lost those two fights because of things I neglected, and I changed everything in my life to be where I am at today.”
Golovkin agrees, pointing to the fact that in the intervening years, Lemieux has surrounded himself with a new, confidence-building group of people – not just in the form of trainer Marc Ramsay but also promoters, and ring legends, Oscar De La Hoya and Bernard Hopkins.
“Right now he feels better because he has a stronger team,” he says. “He gets to talk with Oscar and Bernard. Bernard tells him, ‘I remember my fight at Madison Square Garden against Tito [Trinidad, in 2001]. Right now he is acting like a star, and of course he is a star.”
If Lemieux’s win streak and new crew have instilled him with a strong self-belief – “Golovkin is a very good fighter, but I am also a very good fighter so it's going to be even better for me when I win”, he proclaims – unanswered is the question of how exactly he plans to become the first person to emerge victorious against GGG as a professional.
Lemieux, like Golovkin, is noted for his power – and understandably so, given 31 stoppages in 34 wins – but Sanchez argues that the Montreal-based fighter won’t find it as easy to land that power as he has against other opponents. According to CompuBox, Sanchez notes, “Gennady is the third-best defensive fighter with 10 or more fights [in that he has the third-highest differential between the punches he lands and those his opponents land on him] … so when it comes to defense, I think he is pretty adept at it. We have worked on all of the aspects of training, just because we have a force in front of us.”
And even should Lemieux breach that defense and explode his weaponry on the Kazakh’s chin, what then? Golovkin has reportedly never once been off his feet in 375 or so fights as a professional or an amateur. It’s a combination of ring generalship, knockout power, solid defense and chin sturdiness that seems almost unfair, but his opponent professes to be unconcerned.
“Nothing really frightens me when I'm in the ring, when I know I'm prepared,” Lemiuex says. “I know I'm going to take on the strongest there is, and I'm very confident in my strength so I have zero worries going into a fight against anybody when I'm perfectly ready, which I am today.”
Besides, he offers, like Golovkin he is more than a one-trick pony.
“Yes, I do have power, but I'm not going into this fight only with power,” he explains. “I'm going to need all the tools in order to be sharp in a fight of this degree. He's a very good fighter, very smart, but I think I got a lot of surprises to show the world.”
Golovkin himself recognizes as much, and appears to believe that, in fact, Lemieux’s best hope lies in dialing back his power punches.
“With power alone, he could go maybe three or four rounds with me,” he claims. “If he boxes he could go twelve rounds. Every second is very important, every round, every step.”
Once more, then, Golovkin is at least entertaining the notion of a fight of his lasting twelve rounds. And it would be the height of irony if this, featuring two power punchers who between them have scored 61 knockouts in 67 wins, were the one in which it happened. It seems safe to say, however, that neither of them truly expects that to be the case.
For all the talk of each man’s boxing abilities, Sanchez, too, expects an explosive fight with a knockout ending – and so, as he pointed out to HBO’s Max Kellerman, does everyone else:
“That’s why 15,000 tickets sold in a week. Because the fans know that’s what’s going to happen.”