He has the highest knockout percentage among all middleweight champions in history. He has stopped 19 consecutive opponents and has made eight successful defenses of the "full" WBA title. He has fought eight times since January 2013 and is already engaging in his second fight of 2015. He is an offensive juggernaut who packs arenas and has been in the race for Fighter of the Year the last two years. And yet, for some reason, more than a few observers find fault with a man who has a 32-0 record with 29 knockouts. To them, "GGG" stands for "Gripe, Groan and Grumble."
Their main bone of contention is the amount of acclaim he receives in relation to his level of opposition. Never mind that his last five opponents boast a .917 winning percentage; they believe he should be fighting the best at 168 despite the fact that 161 is the heavyweight weight of his nine-year career. Maybe someday soon, but not yet.
Saturday's opponent will not quiet the critics. Willie Monroe Jr. may come from a line of middleweight contenders -- Willie "The Worm" Monroe is his great uncle (who decisioned Marvin Hagler on 3/9/76) while Willie Monroe campaigned during the 1990s -- but his profound lack of pop (6 KOs in 20 fights) paints him as a no-hoper. His southpaw stance and excellent lateral movement have befuddled his opposition thus far, but will that be enough to stop the freight train that will be coming at him at the historic Forum in Inglewood?
Statistical factors that may shape the outcome include:
Golovkin vs. Speed: If Monroe has anything going for him it is his movement, which has limited his opponents' offensive success (21% overall, 12% jabs, 26% power). Martin Murray, despite suffering three knockdowns and being stopped in the 11th, did have some very good moments and he managed to land a higher percentage of power punches (38%) than his previous four opponents (33%)- basically because GGG deducted Murray had minimal power and proceeded to walk him down. Otherwise, it's been a grim picture for Golovkin's opponents.
Daniel Geale, normally a shifty boxer who banks on big-time volume, averaged just 46.7 punches per round against GGG and was stopped with a counter right to the jaw in round three. But as was the case against Murray he landed 38% of his hooks, crosses and uppercuts.
But the one punch that worked exceedingly well for Golovkin against the speedsters is his jab. His 10 connects per round in his last eight fights is tied for first among CompuBox's categorical leaders and that punch paid big dividends against Geale (30.7 thrown/7.7 connects per round) and Murray (26.5 thrown/6.5 connects per round, well above the middleweight average of 5.2 connects per round). GGG has a +14 plus/minus rating in his last 8 fights- #4 among active fighters; GGG's 27 landed punches per round ranks #2, trailing only Leo Santa Cruz; his 17 power landed per round ranks #3; 71 thrown per round ranks #3. Opponents land just 25% of their total punches- his offense is truly his defense.
But how well will the jab work against the left-handed Monroe, whose right hand, theoretically, is in prime position to block it?
Golovkin vs. Lefties: Monroe will be the first southpaw he has faced since blasting out Grzegorz Proksa in his HBO debut in September 2012 nine fights ago. There he scored knockdowns in rounds one, three and five, averaged 68.6 punches per round to Proksa's 49.4, out-landed him 101-38 overall, 27-9 jabs and 74-29 power and led big in the percentage race (34%-18% overall, 24%-11% jabs, 40%-21% power). The jab was effective as he averaged 26 thrown and 6.2 connects per round.
Makoto Fuchigami fared even worse in his three rounds with Golovkin; he tasted 46% of GGG's total punches, 50% of his jabs and 45% of his power shots while landing just 10% overall, 3% jabs and 30% power. A double right produced the first knockdown in the second while a one-two in round three only set up the inevitable finish.
But Monroe might be able to take heart with what Kassim Ouma, then a fading former 154-pound titlist, achieved: He out-landed Golovkin 162-128 in total connects through the first six rounds while engaging GGG in a volume war (96.6 punches per round for Ouma but 102.3 for Golovkin). He limited Golovkin's jab (3.1 connects per round) as well as his accuracy (27% overall, 11% jabs, 34% power for the fight). But once Ouma slowed down Golovkin pounced. In the final three rounds Golovkin led 118-42 in total connects and 107-29 in power shots. Though he never hit the floor, Ouma was so badly battered that referee Guillmero Perez Pineda had no choice but to intervene in round 10.
If Monroe is to win, he must either slow the pace dramatically or have enough stamina to maintain his sharpness for the entire distance. That's a lot to ask, for Golovkin is number four in the CompuBox plus-minus ratings (+14), number three in volume (71 per round) and second in average punches landed per round (27), a figure only exceeded by Leo Santa Cruz.
Boxing's Four-Corners Offense: Legendary college basketball coach Dean Smith was so effective with his slow-down game that the NCAA eventually adopted the shot clock. In order to survive Golovkin, much less defeat him, he must find a way to limit Golovkin's possessions.
In his last four fights he has averaged 46.6 punches per round, well below the middleweight average of 56. His opponents have averaged 50.9 blows but Monroe has done a good job of limiting the damage because he led by a combined 27%-21% overall, 18%-12% jabs and 38%-26% power.
How did Monroe do against volume, a Golovkin specialty? The numbers offer a mixed bag. On the down side, Donatas Bondas averaged 70.5 punches per round to Monroe's 47.8 and it was that volume that enabled Bondas to prevail 61-53 overall, 20-17 jabs and 41-36 power. Neither was accurate (Monroe led 18%-14% overall, 12%-8% jabs, 26%-23% power) and Monroe's jab wasn't much of a weapon (24.5 thrown/2.8 connects per round). But his tactics were able to persuade the judges he was the better man over six rounds.
The stats were considerably better in his most recent outing against the faded Bryan Vera, who averaged 62.7 punches per round to Monroe's 46.4. Monroe was far sharper with his power shots (43%-19%) against the sieve-like Vera and his jab was marginally better (23.5 thrown/3.8 connects per round). The result was a solid decision victory but the gaps were modest at best (136-110 overall, 38-19 jabs, 98-91 power). OK, but not superlative.
For Monroe, he must hope that this fight will unfold much like his eight-round win over Vitalii Kopylenko: Monroe averaged 52.6 punches per round to Kopylenko's 41.8, his jab worked exceedingly well (33.4 thrown/7.0 connects per round) while also negating that of his opponent (16.9 thrown/2.5 connects per round) and he ended with significant connect bulges of 102-59 overall, 56-20 jabs and 46-39 power while building percentage gaps of 24%-18% overall, 21%-15% jabs and 30%-20% power. If he can do that with Golovkin, then 2015 is about to experience the unquestioned Upset of the Year.
Prediction: But as Sugar Ray Leonard told Marvelous Marvin Hagler during his "retirement" announcement in 1982, "unfortunately, it'll never happen." Golovkin is a beast on offense, surprisingly tough on defense and wields a monstrous advantage in one-shot power. Monroe is attempting a quantum leap upward in level of opposition and he doesn't possess the heft to make GGG respect him. Although Monroe's movement could befuddle him for a little bit, Golovkin is far too experienced and far too good to let it bother him for very long. This fight will end at the moment of Golovkin's choosing and the guess here that it will take place sometime between rounds four and eight.