Golovkin-Wade: The Hurting Game

Photo: Will Hart

Photo: Will Hart

By Oliver Goldstein

The hurt will be on this Saturday night when Gennady Golovkin returns to the ring against Dominic Wade in Inglewood, California. Six months since making ragu of David Lemieux's face, eleven since flaying Willie Monroe Jr, fourteen after frying Martin Murray, Golovkin begins his 2016 in earnest expecting to do more and worse to 'Lights Out' Wade, who on paper comes armed with the most appropriate nickname for a GGG opponent but possibly not a lot more.

Previewing fights is always a matter of speculating—what happens if X does this, what if Y's prepared as so—but Golovkin's made the art of speculation an increasingly difficult thing in recent years: on a streak of 21 KOs in a row, extended past ten only twice in that run, the only things more inevitable than a GGG stoppage these days might be dying and taxes. Murray had the chin to stretch him eleven rounds, Lemieux promised the power to end things perhaps himself, but both in 2015 fell the way of each Golovkin opponent since someone called Amar Amari took him the full eight in Denmark in 2008.

Golovkin's come an awful long way since then, with the titles, fame, PPV bout and New Yorker coverage to show for it. So far none other than Kassim Ouma several years back in Panama has done much more than prod Golovkin, which remains a point of frustration (even if little fault of the Kazakh himself). Because GGG is so goofy and so compelling, perpetually smiling as though someone's always prompting him "Say cheese," and also because he is so good and so dominant, Golovkin tends to make for better highlight reels than he does fights: sure it's fun to watch, but by God won't it be good to see him tested?

Fingers crossed that Wade is that test ahead. Manny Pacquiao, a fighter whose success Golovkin surely hopes to imitate, made it quite so big by being pushed left, right and center by a plethora of hugely talented fighters through near every weight class he absurdly decided to ascend. Pacquiao had Barrera, Morales and Marquez beneath lightweight, then de la Hoya, Hatton, Cotto, Bradley, Margarito and others above it. So far Golovkin has lacked that competition, if not that competitiveness, instead turning several very capable fighters who'd likely do well against the rest of the division into squash matches. Golovkin needs what Pacquiao found: opponents who, like him, had transcended their divisions.

If Wade's that opponent we'll find our evidence first-hand on Saturday, because there's scant to suggest beforehand that he is. For Wade this is as daunting a step-up as possible: from splashing around in puddles, he's being dropped in the middle of the ocean. His best win, disputed by many, came in his last out against Sam Soliman, a former middleweight belt-holder with wins over Sakio Bika, Garth Wood, and Felix Sturm, a very strange three-loss trilogy with Anthony Mundine, and one of the most awkward styles in boxing. Wade looked best against Nick Brinson in June 2014. Since the Soliman fight he's changed his corner, which suggests he might know where he went awry that night, when his trainer oddly elected not to try cajoling more action from him.

There's not really anyone for Wade to emulate here; Golovkin has turned all else to pulp. Still, to turn back to one of the great pieces of writing on GGG (there are also many very good), Wade might heed Bart Barry's words in 2013, that "someone who was able to deflect fractionally Golovkin's shots and make Golovkin burn calories for 24 to 27 minutes and encounter the stress of tiring, itself boxing's most counterintuitively stressful sensation, might come on a fairly average fighter with a stationary head before him, not unlike the man James 'Buster' Douglas sent on a mouthpiece-recovery expedition in Tokyo 23 years ago." For that Wade needs patience, a stiff chin, much luck, and a better defense than he's hereby shown.

Otherwise, and really in any case, Golovkin should be expected to continue doing as he's done now for a while. The Forum in Inglewood will be packed, extra seats supposedly being brought in to cater for the demand, while Golovkin's minted status will be also reflected by his Jordan gear. And if the desire is for violence, he'll surely satisfy it too: as Kelefa Sanneh wrote in October for the New Yorker, "Golovkin's fights look a bit like what the average non-specialist, reared on artificially percussive boxing movies, is likely to picture when picturing a boxing match."

Then, and only then, will attention turn to May 7th's fight between Canelo Alvarez and Amir Khan. Alvarez is the opponent Golovkin needs, and aside from Sergey Kovalev or Andre Ward, the someone to give as well as take. That is, unless Wade proves more than he seems, and GGG gets the fight he needs in advance of the opponent. In which case, Saturday night should turn up all sorts of hurting.