Photos: Ed Mulholland
By Kieran Mulvaney
LOS ANGELES, Calif. –
And so here we are.
It is an event that nobody expected eight weeks ago, and few would have predicted with certainty or in its entirety even two weeks back. But if Saturday night’s card at the StubHub Center (HBO World Championship Boxing, 11.00 PM ET/PT) is not a Las Vegas Cinco de Mayo boxing extravaganza of the kind to which we have become accustomed, it is nonetheless one that promises legitimate history and offers the possibility of its own intrigue.
Those claims to history have been stated before, but are worth repeating. When Kali Reis walks to the ring to await the arrival of her opponent Cecilia Braekhus in the opening bout of the show, it will mark the introductory scene of the very first female bout ever featured live on HBO. Coming one week after a broadcast that featured highlights of Olympic champion Katie Taylor’s most recent fight, it perhaps portends – at long last, some might say – a greater focus on and appreciation of the female side of the sport. Even if it does not – after all, it took a confluence of events for Braekhus and Reis to wind up as the co-main event of a World Championship Boxing card – then the appearance of both Taylor and Braekhus on HBO is a welcome development. Both are not just “good female boxers”; both are good boxers, period. They can flat-out fight, and while Taylor is still in the formative stages of her professional career, Braekhus has been at the game for over a decade, has held at least one version of the welterweight world title since 2009, and claimed them all in 2014.
Braekhus is widely regarded as the best female boxer in the world, pound-for-pound; on the male side of the aisle that claim is made less often of Gennady Golovkin than it was, largely because of the transcendence of Vasyl Lomachenko, but it’s a case than can be and is made still. On Saturday night, Golovkin plans to make history of his own, as he looks to notch the twentieth successful defense of a middleweight title that he first won in 2010. Doing so would equal the number of middleweight title defenses racked up by Bernard Hopkins, and if the achievement seems somewhat diminished by the fact that that first title fight was an interim belt against the log-forgotten Milton Nunez and his twentieth will be against a lifetime junior middleweight, Vanes Martirosyan, who hasn’t fought for two years, then it is worth remembering that Hopkins’ lengthy reign included wins over the likes of Bo James and Morrade Hakkar and a no contest against Robert Allen. Granted, for the latter few years, Hopkins was the lineal, undisputed champion; but Golovkin would now boast that honor had he been awarded the decision many feel he merited against Canelo Alvarez last September, and who can seriously question that he has been the best, most dominant middleweight in the world for the last several years?
The history, though, will be an afterthought for those gathered at StubHub or watching on HBO. What they will be looking for is the latest, long-awaited, instalment of Big Drama Show, the loud crack of Kazakh Thunder that rolled through opponent after overmatched opponent from 20212 through 2016. During that period, until he battled over twelve rounds last year with both Daniel Jacobs and Canelo Alvarez, the level of Golovkin’s opposition was almost an afterthought for fans. What mattered was watching Golovkin at his destructive best, blasting his foes into defeat, then bowing to all corners of the arena and smiling his cherubic smile. And if a Kazakh and an Armenian seem an unlikely pairing on Cinco de Mayo, we should note that the card is dubbed “Mexican Style 2”, a nod both to the description Golovkin’s has applied to his approach to boxing, and to the last time Golovkin fought at StubHub. On that occasion, in October 2014, he flattened Mexico’s Marco Antonio Rubio inside two rounds, and the cheers of the Mexican fans in attendance – many of them wearing ‘Mexicans for GGG’ ball caps – rose into the evening sky.
Golovkin will be aiming for something similar on Saturday. It may not be the event, or the fight, that anyone was expecting or anticipating; but it will be he, he hopes, a night to send everybody – except, possibly, Martirosyan - home happy.
Gennady Golovkin: 160 lbs.
Vanes Martirosyan: 159.6 lbs
Cecilia Braekhus: 145.8 lbs.
Kali Reis: 144.8 lbs