By Kieran Mulvaney
The Fabulous Forum will be scaled for 12,600 people on Saturday night for the second big-time prize fight since it was purchased from the Faithful Central Bible Church and returned to its rightful status as a sporting venue. And, according to event promoter Tom Loeffler, the likelihood is that it will be close to capacity.
The first big boxing event in its new incarnation was a year ago, when Juan Manual Marquez and Mike Alvarado traded knockdowns before Marquez emerged the clear decision winner in a terrific fight. The crowd that night was enthusiastic and large – officially, 12,090 – as it might well have been expected to be, given that Mexico’s Marquez is an understandably huge deal in the Southern California boxing community, and especially as he fought several of his early-career bouts under that very roof.
In contrast, the headliner on Saturday was born in Karagandy, Kazakhstan; lived for several years in Germany; and only officially became a California resident in 2014. Yet Gennady Golovkin has already been embraced by the same community, to the extent that, according to Loeffler, “After Saturday, Gennady will be the highest ticket-selling boxer in the state of California in the last two years [following his second-round TKO of Marco Antonio Rubio last year broke the attendance record at the StubHub Center]. A kid from Kazakhstan outselling all these guys who fight in California all the time.”
“And that’s fighting supposedly B level fighters, right?” chimed in Golovkin’s trainer, Abel Sanchez.
“Imagine if he fought Canelo [Alvarez],” Loeffler quietly salivated.
Four years ago, when he was knocking out Nilson Julio Tapia in Astana, the prospect of being an immensely popular boxer in the United States, let alone being effectively an adopted Mexican with legitimate dreams of being one half of what would surely be the biggest clash of 2016, would surely not have been a scenario even in Golovkin’s wildest dreams. But then he signed with K2 Promotions, who brought him to Big Bear, California and matched him with Abel Sanchez, a trainer best known for his work with the exciting former junior middleweight champion ‘Terrible’ Terry Norris.
“Four years ago, I told him he would be here,” said Sanchez, an arm draped protectively over the back of the chair next to him, in which his prize pupil sat. “But what they’ve done in this period of time is really unheard of.”
Sanchez admitted that the day Golovkin and his brother Max showed up at The Summit, Sanchez’s gym atop Big Bear Mountain, he knew “zero” about the man. “But that night, I did some more research on him, and began to think, ‘Wow, why isn’t he a superstar already?’ They weren’t paying attention over there [in Europe]. Fortunately, they had the foresight to hook up with Tom.”
Sanchez has raved repeatedly, not only about Golovkin’s punching power and boxing skills, but also his dedication to his craft and his willingness to learn. Sanchez immediately set about refining his new charge’s fighting technique, morphing him into a more aggressive, TV-friendly fighter with, as they have famously dubbed it, a “Mexican style.” That transition has earned him plaudits, a fan base, high TV ratings, a “Mexicans for GGG” movement, and seemingly limitless potential.
Does Sanchez ever pinch himself when he thinks about Golovkin walking through his gym’s doors, and what has happened since?
“The first and only time I pinched myself was the first time I caught him on the mitts,” he said, to laughter from a small group of assembled journalists fully aware of the middleweight titlist’s powerful punches. “The first time I caught him on the mitts, I thought, ‘Wow, what a future this man could have.’ And as it went on, the rest of the qualities came into play. But no, I’m wide awake. Wide awake, and looking forward to what they put together next, because we’re willing to do it and he’s willing to do it. It’s exciting.
“Very few times in a boxing trainer’s career does he get an opportunity to work with a future Hall-of-Famer. This is my second opportunity; Terry was my first one. But it’s exciting, because there’s not a question in this man’s mind about what we’re doing. He calls me the boss – I hate when he says that, but he calls me the boss, because he’s willing to submit to whatever we put him through, and that’s why he’s successful and why he’ll continue to be successful.”