Photos: Will Hart
By Kieran Mulvaney
Daniel Geale was supposed to give Gennady Golovkin his toughest challenge yet. Instead he ended up the Kazakh's latest victim.
The middleweight champion overcame a spirited challenge to drop the Australian twice and raise the question anew of who in the middleweight division can survive his heavy-handed assault. The nature of the conclusive punch also left ringside observers shaking their heads at what Golovkin might produce next.
Geale, himself a former middleweight titlist, had the right idea. He was busy from the opening bell, moving from side to side, firing a fast jab, trying not to stand in front of Golovkin, but taking the opportunity to land left hooks and overhand rights behind his jab whenever possible. But Golovkin needs little invitation to land his vaunted punches, and a right hand behind a left hook sent Geale into the corner. Geale, showing a confidence bordering on foolishness, dropped his hands to show he was unhurt. Golovkin landed another pair of thudding punches, but Geale – after falling to the canvas as the result ofslipping on a ringside camera strap – responded with a right hand of his own to underline his determination to be more than cannon fodder.
Golovkin came out firing in the second round (on the heels of a first one that lasted, oddly, for four minutes), and a straight rightthat landed with Geale's back against the ropes clearly hurt the Australian. He remained on his feet, but a follow-up barrage was enough to put him down. He rose, seemingly unhurt, and returned to the attack, landing sharp combinations but catching a counter uppercut from the champion for his trouble.
By the third round, Geale was still showing good defensive movement, but Golovkin's thudding punches were clearly taking their toll, leading the Australian's punch output to drop drastically. He did, however, have one last strong punch in him; it just so happened that throwing it led to his demise. He backed to the ropes and uncorked a right hand that landed flush, butGolovkin, even as he was on his back foot from Geale's punch, coiled to throw a right of his own. It landed on Geale's chin, and a follow-up left hook dropped the challenger to his back.
Geale was on his feet in a couple of seconds, but it was immediately apparent that the effects of the punch were continuing to make their way through his system. He staggered backward drunkenly, tried to walk it off as referee Michael Ortega administered a count, walked from one side of the ring to the other, failed to raise his hands when instructed by Ortega, and then shook his head to signify he was done.
It was Golovkin's seventeenth consecutive knockout win, and his twenty-seventh in 30 outings, raising his career KO rate to 90 percent.
Golovkin, as ever, was succinct in his summation.
"I was very happy with my performance," he said. "From now on I want only unification fights."
"There are a lot of fighters who can punch but can't take a shot,"said Golovkin's promoter Tom Loeffler afterward. "Gennady has shown he can do both. Geale can punch. You saw he put Darren Barker down with a body shot. Gennady is very confident and very collected. He fought a very confident fight and slowly tracked him down."
Slowly, of course, is a relative term. Barely 15 minutes after entering the ring, Geale was back in the locker room wondering what had hit him, and a boxing audience was left wondering what, and who might be next.
By Kieran Mulvaney
In heavyweight action, Bryant Jennings remained undefeated with a close 12-round split decision over formerly unbeaten Mike Perez. The fight would have been a draw had it not been for one errant Perez punch in the final round.
The Philadelphian looked tight at the beginning, flicking out jabs but throwing little of consequence through the first three rounds. Perez, far more experienced with a background in the Cuban amateur system, was evidently more relaxed, taunting Jennings and smiling at him, stepping back out of the range of his opponent's occasional straight right hands and looking to land a southpaw left hand through Jennings' guard.
The fourth round was the first that could legitimately be scored for Jennings, largely on the basis of a right hand to the jaw at the frame's conclusion that was the most impressive punch so far in a fight that was resolutely failing to live up to expectations.
A two-punch Jennings combination in the fifth ended with a right hand that shook Perez, as the tide began to turn. Jennings was finding it easier to time Perez who became progressively more stationary as his extra bulk (he weighed in at 242.2 pounds to Jennings' 226.6) slowly took its toll. The Cuban émigré's tactics increasingly involved throwing some punches and falling forward onto Jennings to tie him up, but Jennings, wise to the plan, sought to unload swift, short combinations as his foe fell on to him, a right hand in the eighth proving particularly effective. At the same time, consistent Jennings body punches contributed to slowing down Perez.
Even so, largely because of his early points advantage, Perez was still in the fight when the bell rang to start the twelfth. Jennings, sensing as much, came flying out of his blocks, looking to put the fight beyond any doubt with some hard combinations. About halfway through the round, Perez leaned on Jennings against the ropes; the American's head and shoulders were well over the top rope and as referee Harvey Dock broke up the fighters, Perez landed a sneaky right hand that earned him a rebuke and a point deduction that would be the difference between a draw and a loss. One score of 114-113 for Perez was countered by scores of 115-112 and 114-113 for Jennings.
"He wouldn't trade with me," said Jennings. "I wanted him to stand in there and fight. I was expecting the inside pressure of Mike Perez. The decision didn't matter, as long as I get the win."
Golovkin, Geale, Jennings and Perez weigh-in ahead of Saturday’s doubleheader on HBO beginning at 9:30pm ET/PT.
Photos: Will Hart
By Kieran Mulvaney
Tom Loeffler chuckled at Wednesday's press conference as he introduced Gennady Golovkin as the A-Side' of Saturday's middleweight title fight – a pointed reference to the tension between Miguel Cotto and Sergio Martinez over that same phrase when they met here at Madison Square Garden last month. But the Kazakh's promoter knows what it's like to be on the other side of the equation at the Mecca of Boxing; so too does Golovkin's trainer Abel Sanchez, although the fortunes of their respective 'B-side' fighters varied greatly.
Loeffler was manager of featherweight Kevin Kelley when the "Flushing Flash" was the chosen opponent for the U.S. debut of Naseem Hamed in 1997; after a seven-minute wait while Hamed made his way to the ring, Kelley knocked the Brit down three times in less four rounds, but was dropped hard three times himself en route to a stoppage loss. Six years previously, Sanchez was the trainer of "Terrible" Terry Norris when Sugar Ray Leonard unadvisedly dropped down to junior middleweight to take on the younger, faster fighter and was soundly thrashed over 12 rounds.
There's been plenty of water under the bridge since then for all concerned, of course, but it seems safe to say that, even for the defeated Kelley and certainly for the victorious Norris, those Garden nights shine brightly among the memories of their careers. Of course, the venue alone, even the World's Most Famous Arena, does not a great fight make; nor is a storied site a prerequisite for an electric event. Terence Crawford and the people of Omaha underlined that latter point just a few weeks ago; and, as Golovkin's opponent Daniel Geale told Inside HBO Boxing this week, "it doesn't matter if it's someone's backyard or the Mecca of Boxing, I'm going to do my thing." Or, as heavyweight Bryant Jennings – who fights Mike Perez in the co-main event – put it: "I could be fighting in a cave 1,000 feet below sea level; the ring's still going to be there."
Even so, to headline at the Garden is to perform on the biggest of boxing stages, and for the winner of both of Saturday's televised fights, victory will almost certainly mean a launch pad to even bigger and better things. It is therefore to the credit of all involved that Loeffler could joke about A-sides safe in the knowledge that nobody involved would take umbrage, or that Jennings could say complimentary things about Perez even as he promised victory.
Of course, the presence of goodwill doesn't in any way equate to the absence of ambition, and as Saturday night grows ever closer, the tension rises and so does the bluster. "What is good about Jennings?" asked Perez rhetorically at a Friday morning meeting between fighters and the HBO broadcast team. "I don't know. I see nothing." Jennings countered that, "I have a size advantage, I have a reach advantage. I have an advantage, period." Even Golovkin – who smilingly acknowledged that "I am a gentleman outside the ring" – got in on the act. "I have a predator instinct," he said. "It's inside. I feel it inside. Killer instinct. I see blood, I wait … and then I finish him."
By the time the four fighters stepped on the scales to weigh in on Friday afternoon, the niceties seemed fully dispensed with: Jennings and Perez standing nose to nose, Golovkin and Geale staring coldly into each other's eyes. But then each pair broke apart, each boxer shook his opponent's hand, and they took different exits from the stage, away from each other's sight until Saturday night, when they will look at each other across the ring, the bell will ring, and they will fight.
The weights from Madison Square Garden:
Gennady Golovkin: 159.8 lbs.
Daniel Geale: 159.2 lbs.
Bryant Jennings: 222.6 lbs.
Mike Perez: 242.2 lbs.
By Nat Gottlieb
In the co-featured bout of Saturday night's World Championship Boxing card at 9:30 PM, two unbeaten heavyweight contenders on the verge of a title fight will step into the ring in what should be an all-action affair with much at stake. Bryant Jennings vs. Mike Perez has the potential to be one of the best heavyweight fights in recent memory. But despite their stellar credentials, each fighter brings some heavy-duty question marks with them into the ring. The answers will go a long way toward bringing some clarity as to who will eventually take over the world title that Vitali Klitschko vacated.
Perez, a standout Cuban amateur who defected to Ireland in 2007, seemed to be on the verge of stardom when he took on another unbeaten heavyweight from Russia, Magomed Abdusalamov in November of last year. The fight proved to be thunderous brawl. Although Perez (20-0-1, 12 KOs) won a relatively close unanimous decision, his triumph was dampened when the Russian later was diagnosed with significant brain damage that has left him severely disabled.
Perez was shaken by the outcome, and still refuses to talk about it. From his silence comes speculation that Perez might never be the same boxer again. The speculation only escalated after Perez's next fight, barely two months later. Taking on heavy underdog Carlos Takam at the Bell Centre in Montreal, Perez looked nothing like the wrecking machine he had been in his previous 20 fights, and escaped with a lackluster majority draw.
Longtime boxing writer, William Trillo, who has seen several of Perez's fights, was ringside in Montreal for the Cuban's bout with Takam and says he "looked tentative about letting his punches fly. He wouldn't be the first fighter to go downhill after beating a guy into a comatose state. It's a shame. He was on the verge of superstardom."
The questions surrounding Jennings (18-0, 10 KOs) are of a different nature. He came to boxing relatively late, at the age of 24. Like a lot of late starters, Jennings was involved in other sports. At Ben Franklin High School in Philadelphia, he played football, basketball, ran the 200 meters and threw the shot put. After graduation, Jennings took a job as a mechanic at the Federal Reserve Bank in Philadelphia to support his fiancé and young son – a job he still works at in between training for fights.
One benefit of his participation in other sports is that Jennings is an unusually athletic heavyweight whose style more resembles fighters from the lower weight divisions. In addition to moving well in the ring, he has excellent hand speed and a strong jab helped by his exceptionally long reach – at 84 inches, it's three inches longer than Wladimir Klitschko's. He is also that less common heavyweight today with a sculpted body (sort of the anti-Chris Arreola).
The downside to his late start is he is still something of a work in progress. His trainer, Fred Jenkins recently said: "People need to know that Bryant Jennings is still learning how to fight. On his skill level, he's at a B working on a B+. Each fight is a learning experience for him."
Jennings' promoter Gary Shaw says he would compare his boxer, who is 6'2", to a certain former heavyweight champion. "He reminds me of Evander Holyfield in terms of his athleticism, although he didn't have the amateur experience Holyfield had," Shaw says. "I consider him a small heavyweight, like Holyfield. But both fight bigger than their size." Worth noting is that while Holyfield was a half inch taller, his reach was just 78 inches, six shorter than Jennings'.
In his last fight, Jennings faced Artur Szpilka, an undefeated Polish boxer who had beaten a mediocre string of opponents. Although he scored a 10th round knockout, Jennings didn't look as sharp and crisp as he usually does – a fact that could be attributed to ring rust.
After a breakout year in 2012, in which he fought five times on national TV, Jennings had just one fight in 2013, due to promotional problems that were resolved when Shaw bought out his contract last year. When he entered the ring against Szpilka, it was just his second fight in two years. "Everybody has ring rust," Shaw says. "This time when he fights I guarantee you he won't be rusty."
But Jennings may face another obstacle. He was originally scheduled to fight Perez on May 24, but the Cuban sustained a shoulder injury while training and the bout had to be postponed until July 26. Jennings has been in the gym since April, could he be affected by overtraining?
Come fight night, there will be answers to those questions, and a new contender for the heavyweight title.
By Kieran Mulvaney
After two outings at the Madison Square Garden Theater – a January 2013 stoppage of Gabriel Rosado and a thumping of Curtis Stevens in November that same year – Gennady Golovkin takes his bow on Saturday in the Garden's "big room," the arena that has hosted some of the world's greatest fighters (and arguably history's biggest fight) during its prestigious history. In fact, all four fighters on HBO's World Championship Boxing card are making their MSG debuts; heavyweights Bryant Jennings and Mike Perez have also both fought and won at the Garden Theater before, while Golovkin opponent Daniel Geale is competing for the first time in New York and only the second time in the United States.
The circumstances under which some of the sport's more celebrated names have made their first Garden appearance vary widely, as do their subsequent career arcs. The following is just a sampling of famous fighters who have enjoyed memorable nights at the world's most famous arena. Golovkin, Geale, Jennings and Perez will all be hoping to follow in their footsteps.
The record shows that Ali, then known as Cassius Clay, first fought at Madison Square Garden in his eleventh pro fight, against Sonny Banks on February 10, 1962. (That debut began inauspiciously, as Banks dropped Ali in the first round before being dropped himself in the second and stopped in the fourth.) He returned the following year to outpoint Doug Jones, and in 1967, he defeated Zora Folley to defend his world heavyweight title for the last time before being forced into fistic exile. But those three contests were all at the previous incarnation of the Garden, which since 1925 had stood on the west side of 8th Avenue between 49th and 50th Streets. That's sixteen blocks north of the MSG's most recent iteration, which opened in 1968 and where Ali fought twice. The first occasion was the second fight of his comeback, a fifteenth round stoppage of Oscar Bonavena, and his subsequent outing was the epic challenge of Joe Frazier that has gone down in history as 'The Fight of the Century.'
As a member of the hugely successful 1984 U.S. Olympic boxing team, Holyfield fought at the Garden in his first professional contest – on a card with fellow Olympians and professional debutants Meldrick Taylor, Pernell Whitaker, Virgil Hill, Mark Breland and Tyrell Biggs – on November 15 later that year. "I'm fighting against a guy who's Philadelphia state champion," Holyfield recalled almost 30 years later. "This guy looks just like Joe Louis and he was already a champ. He had 12 fights already and I ain't had no fights. So I realized that I'm supposed to win, so I guess I'll go in there … and win." And so he did, via six-round decision. Holyfield didn't return to the Garden until 1996, when he stopped Bobby Czyz in his last outing before meeting Mike Tyson.
Lewis fought three times at the Garden, and all three occasions were memorable. He made his MSG debut while rebuilding his championship bona fides following his shocking 1994 KO loss to Oliver McCall. His opponent, on May 10, 1996, was the durable veteran Ray Mercer, who gave him a torrid time in a terrific fight that Lewis won by split decision. There were plenty ringside who thought the Brit was a little fortunate to escape with the win that day, but there were plenty more who felt he was outright robbed the next time he fought in the arena, when he somehow left with nothing more than a draw after seemingly dominating Holyfield in their heavyweight unification bout. There was no doubt about the outcome in his third and final Garden outing, however, when he bounced Michael Grant off the canvas several times before finally stopping him in the second round in April 2000.
The flashy featherweight made only one appearance at MSG, a mouth-watering December 1997 clash with New Yorker Kevin Kelley, but what an appearance it was. His ring entrance – beginning with shadow dancing and ending with a forward somersault over the top rope – lasted seven minutes, which wasn't much less than the duration of the fight itself. The fight may have been brief, but it was spectacular: Hamed was down in the first, touched his glove to the canvas for a knockdown in the second, then bounced back to knock down Kelley in that same round. In the fourth he touched the canvas again, but decked Kelley with hard punches on two separate occasions in that frame, the second time hard enough that Kelley couldn't beat the count. "What we just saw was the Hagler-Hearns of featherweight fighting," enthused HBO's Larry Merchant.
Trinidad's Garden debut – against Australian Troy Waters on August 23, 1997 – was over almost as soon as it began, the Puerto Rican dropping his foe twice and stopping him in round one. By this time, he was already closing in on superstardom, and would come one step closer with his next Garden outing, a dominant twelve-round decision against fellow future Hall-of-Famer Pernell Whitaker. More sensational, arena-rocking victories followed – against William Joppy in 2001 and Ricardo Mayorga in 2004 – but it was also at the Garden that he suffered his most high-profile defeat, against Bernard Hopkins in September 2001. The arena was also the site of his final fight; flabby and faded, he was easily outpointed by Roy Jones Jr. in January 2008.
Who could have known, when then-junior welterweight Cotto defeated Muhammad Abdullaev on June 11, 2005, that it would be the beginning of one of the closest relationships between fighter and venue in modern boxing? Cotto dominated his former amateur foe en route to a ninth-round TKO, the first of nine outings (so far) at the arena; the best of them – perhaps the greatest night of his sensational career – may have been the most recent, when he thumped Sergio Martinez to seize the middleweight crown in June. If all goes according to Golovkin's plan Saturday night, we could soon see a unification fight between the two middleweight champs in the near future – and one iconic venue comes to mind.
HBO Boxing Insider Kieran Mulvaney reports from the Golovkin vs. Geale and Jennings vs. Perez final press conference in New York. Golovkin vs. Geale and Jennings vs. Perez happens Sat., July 26 at 9:30pm ET/PT on HBO.