By Eric Raskin
Ask 10 different boxing experts what their criteria for pound-for-pound rankings are, and you’ll get 10 different answers. But there’s only one reasonable answer to the question of who currently sits atop the pound-for-pound throne. Twelve rounds of fistic chess on May 2 confirmed that Floyd Mayweather is that man.
For the moment, anyway.
Mayweather says he will retire after one more fight, meaning we’ll need an answer to the question of “who’s next?” sooner rather than later. This Saturday night on HBO's World Championship Boxing (10:00 PM ET/PT) at the Forum in Inglewood, California, two of the four leading candidates for the job will have an opportunity to state their cases on the same fight card, when middleweight marauder Gennady “GGG” Golovkin tries to make a “good boy” of Willie Monroe Jr., and lineal flyweight champion Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez defends against veteran Edgar Sosa in his HBO debut.
Along with dazzling featherweight Vasyl Lomachenko and super middleweight champ Andre Ward (who would be number two on most pound-for-pound lists right now if not for his lengthy inactivity), Golovkin and Gonzalez are among the handful of boxers showing the potential to soon be recognized as the very best in the sport. Combined, Saturday night’s “A-sides” boast a record of 74-0 with 65 knockouts. What that aggregate 88 percent knockout rate should tell you is that, even if they are the potential successors to Mayweather’s claim as the best in the sport, GGG and Chocolatito are not Mayweather’s stylistic contemporaries. They combine elite skill with serious power and killer instinct, making every fight—even those against overmatched opponents—must-see affairs.
So are Monroe and Sosa overmatched? Let’s take each case individually.
Golovkin would be favored over anyone at 160 pounds or below right now, possibly including Mayweather, so Monroe’s status as an underdog is obvious. He’s less proven than most of GGG’s recent opponents, but his style presents more potential difficulty than most of them. The 28-year-old Monroe is a skilled southpaw, and while he’s no Archie Moore, he shares a fitting nickname with the Hall of Famer: “The Mongoose." He fails to match the all-time KO king Moore in the power department, as Monroe only has six knockout wins on his 19-1 record. But he can move, he can box, and he’s won nine straight, including an ESPN2 “Boxcino” tournament title and a one-sided win over Brian Vera in January. He also stacks up solidly in the amateur experience department, with 142 unpaid bouts and three national titles.
“I think that Golovkin makes a lot of mistakes,” said Monroe’s trainer, Tony Morgan. “I think he’s beatable. I think any guy’s beatable if you bring the right plan to the table. We’re going to capitalize on his mistakes, and I don’t want to say we’re going to expose him because he is a great fighter, but we’re going to expose Willie. We’re going to expose what Willie really is, and what he’s really capable of doing.”
Golovkin’s trainer, Abel Sanchez, doesn’t see it playing out the same way, naturally, but he does agree with Morgan about the challenge Monroe brings.
“If Willie brings his A-game, I think we’re looking at five or six tough rounds, and then the stretch will be who’s got more in the tank,” Sanchez said. “Willie Monroe’s not a standard southpaw. He’s very slick. He has very good wheels, so it’s going to be a process of trying to cut him off and practicing that in the gym to be able to cut him off and react to the situations.”
Fights from nearly 40 years ago rarely tell you how today’s fights are going to play out, but it’s worth noting that Monroe’s uncle, Willie “The Worm” Monroe, upset Marvin Hagler at the Spectrum in Philadelphia in 1976. So there is a precedent for Willie Monroes defeating great middleweight destroyers.
Aside from that fairly random historical note, however, there’s no good reason to pick against Golovkin. As he seeks his 20th straight knockout, and with his status as a beloved boxing attraction rising with each successive outing, Golovkin (32-0, 29 KOs) is keeping busy and collecting paychecks against whatever opponents are willing to fight him, while he waits for the bigger names—such as Miguel Cotto and Canelo Alvarez—to give him a shot. If he can’t fight the best, GGG will find other ways to try to prove he’s the best, and he thinks the little-known Monroe can help him on that front.
“I want to fight a southpaw because I want to show everybody that I can beat any style, it doesn’t matter,” Golovkin said. “Anybody, strong guy, tall guy, short guy, just anybody. I’m very anxious. This is a big test for me. I remember a lot of fighters, like Canelo, Cotto, and a lot of great champions have had problems with southpaws. So why not test myself?”
In the co-feature, Gonzalez faces a very different type of opponent—a non-tricky, non-southpaw, known commodity in Sosa, a 35-year-old Mexican fighter who held a junior flyweight title from 2007-’09. With a record of 51-8 with 30 KOs over a 15-year career, Sosa has seemingly seen it all. Yet he’s never seen anything quite like Chocolatito.
The Nicaraguan is bringing flyweight boxing back to HBO for the first time since Danny Romero decisioned Francisco Tejedor on April 22, 1995. Gonzalez, a former strawweight and junior flyweight beltholder, claimed the legitimate flyweight championship of the world last September when he knocked out Akira Yaegashi in the ninth round. He has an almost GGG-like eight-fight knockout string going that has run his record to 42-0 with 36 KOs, and the event’s promoter Tom Loeffler sees a clear parallel to Golovkin.
“For Roman, this is very similar to the opportunity Gennady had against [Grzegorz] Proksa, the first time on HBO to impress the fans,” Loeffler said. “The fight against Proksa being on HBO changed everything for Gennady.”
Gonzalez was more succinct in his analysis of the Sosa bout: “I believe this fight will steal the night.”
Is it possible that a “big drama show” won’t be all about Gennady Golovkin? With Gonzalez’s immense talent, it’s not impossible.