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Golovkin, the guy with a Rocky-style punch, is nearing boxing superstardom

23 october 2014, 20:49
2

It was a Rocky moment.

 Everyone who watches a boxing movie has seen the oversized leather mitts a trainer dons to help his fighter develop punch.

When Abel Sanchez slipped on the mitts in 2010 to assess Gennady Golovkin’s pop, his new prot?g? hit him so hard that “I felt it all over, down to my toes.”

In his entire career as a trainer, Sanchez said, nobody had hit him that hard. That’s when he knew Golovkin was special.

The 32-year-old Kazakhstan middleweight shows how special every time he enters the ring. Last week he knocked out a good boxer, Marco Antonio Rubio, in the Los Angeles suburb of Carson, California.

Gennady Gennadyevich Golovkin of Kazakhstan and Marco Antonio Rubio of Mexico congratulate each other after the WBC Interm Middleweight Title bout at StubHub Center. ©AFP

It was his 17th knockout in a row and the 28th in his 31 victories as a professional. That equates to a knockout percentage of 90 percent, the highest in the sport.

Golovkin is not only living up to his star potential, but after just four years of fighting in the United States he’s become a fan favorite.

That’s something Ukraine’s Klitschko brothers never achieved. Americans considered the heavyweights’ stand-up, cautious style boring. And the Klitschkos either didn’t have it in them to reach out to American fans, or didn’t know how.

The brothers’ inability to inspire those fans – and thus pack American boxing arenas – is a key reason they’ve chosen to schedule most of their bouts in Europe in recent years.

American fans respected the Klitschkos, but couldn’t get excited about them, let alone love them.

Not so with Golovkin, who trains in Big Bear, California. Americans love him with a capital L-O-V-E.

They love his straight-ahead, brawling, all-heart style in the ring, and his engaging smile and polite, humble demeanor out of the ring.

Americans give their sports heroes catchy handles to show how much they love them -- ARod for baseball star Alex Rodriguez, for example.

With Golovkin, it’s Triple G, for his full name – Gennady Gennadyevich Golovkin. Few Americans would want to try to pronounce Gennadyevich.

Gennady Golovkin poses for a portrait during an open media workout . ©AFP

Even though Golovkin’s fight against Rubio was his first on the American West Coast, thousands of fans in Carson City’s StubHub Center greeted him with shouts of “Triple G! Triple G!” when he entered the ring.

Not only was his West Coast debut sold out, but the StubHub Center had to add 1,300 seats beyond its 8,000-seat capacity to accommodate all the fans who wanted see Triple G.

Many of Golovkin’s supporters in Carson City were Mexican-Americans, who in most circumstances would have been expected to back Rubio, a fellow Mexican-American.

Golovkin is aware that ethnic Mexicans are America’s largest boxing fan base. He’s also aware they idolize him.

So he’s been making a special effort to reach out to them.

In his post-fight ringside interview with journalists at the StubHub Center, he yelled out to the crowd: “Buenos noches, amigos!”

Good evening, friends.

“Triple G! Triple G!” the delighted spectators roared back.

It was the kind of adulation that American fans lavished on the charismatic Philippine boxer Manny Pacquiao a few years ago, when he was in his prime.

Golovkin credits Sanchez with helping him go from great to invincible. The trainer has made Triple G’s arsenal of weapons even more formidable than it was by helping him master additional punches.

Golovkin staggered Rubio with a right uppercut, for example – a punch he hadn’t used much as a deal-breaker.

Gennady Gennadyevich Golovkin of Kazakhstan throws a punch against Marco Antonio Rubio of Mexico in the second round. ©AFP

When Golovkin came to Sanchez, he was using the same stand-up style that the Klitschko brothers were using -- a staple of fighting in the former Soviet Union.

Sanchez wanted him to change his style. The shrewd trainer knew that Americans – particularly the big Mexican-American fan base – would be more enthusiastic about a bob-and-weave, brawling-type fighter.

Changing style to accommodate fans might sound like a cop-out. But, after all, one of the marks of a boxer’s success is how many fannies he can get to plop down in the seats of the arenas where he fights.

Golovkin wisely agreed to the style shift.

His captivation of American fans started on the East Coast in 2010. As his stature rose, so did the quality of his opponents and the venues -- until he made it to the Valhalla of boxing, Madison Square Garden in New York.

Although it’s only been in the past couple of years that Golovkin’s reputation has grown to the point that he’s taken the American boxing world by storm, he’s been a fighter most of his life. In his early years the brawling was outside the ring.

Golovkin grew up boxing in his native Karaganda, where his ethnic-Russian father was a coal miner and his ethnic-Korean mother a chemistry-lab worker.

His older brothers, Sergei and Vadim, pointed him toward a career in the ring by goading him into picking fights with other boys on the street, many of them bigger than Gennady.

“You think you can take that guy?” one of the brothers would ask. Gennady would always say yes. “Show us,” the brother would answer.

That early start to using his fists led to Golovkin having almost 400 amateur and professional fights, only five of which he’s lost. All were amateur bouts.

Golovkin’s most disappointing loss was at the Athens Olympics in 2004. Russia’s Gaydarbek Gaydarbekov outpointed him in the finals to take the gold. It must be of some consolation to Golovkin that nobody’s heard of Gaydarbekov since.

Kazakhstan's silver medallist Gennadiy Golovkin wave during the awards ceremony for men's middleweight (75 kg) boxing at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games. ©Reuters

One of Golovkin’s records is truly amazing. In all of his 400 fights, he’s not only never been knocked out, but he’s never been knocked down.

Golovkin has a twin brother, Max, who also was a terrific boxer.

As boys during the 1990s they often ended up in the finals of tournaments against each other.

Their mother couldn’t stand that, so Max, who is 20 minutes younger than Gennady, gave up the ring. He now helps Gennady with his career.

Their mother’s reluctance to see the twins hurt each other was even more understandable given the heart-rending loss of the Golovkins’ two older boys in the early 1990s.

Sergei and Vadim joined the Soviet army when Gennady was 8.

In 1990 army officials notified the family that Sergei had died in action. Making the loss harder to bear was the military’s refusal to divulge what conflict he had died in or where he was buried.

As far as the rest of the world knows, the Soviet Union was not involved in a war in 1990, so Sergei’s death remains shrouded in mystery.

Four years later the Golovkins were notified that Vadim had died in combat. The Soviet Union had broken up, so Vadim was fighting for the Russian army at the time.

The same lack of answers about Sergei’s death applied to Vadim’s as well. The military wouldn’t say what conflict had claimed him or where he was buried.

Those who know history can make two guesses. The first Chechen War was raging in 1994. In addition, hundreds of Russians were fighting for Serbia during the war in the former Yugoslavia.

Golovkin made his professional boxing debut in Germany in 2006. His career was what one boxing writer called solid but “unsatisfying” – that is, his stature wasn’t rising as fast as he wanted.

He began fighting in the United States in 2010.

His home is still in Germany, but he plans to move to California soon with his wife Alina and their son.

Although Golovkin has been unstoppable as a pro, he’s still a step or two away from superstardom – from the reverence that fans bestow on the all-time greats long after they’ve hung up their gloves.

That’s not his doing, however.

Gennady Golovkin shadow boxes in the ring during an open media workout. ©AFP

The three boxers in his weight class with bigger reputations than his – Puerto Rico’s Miguel Cotto and Mexico’s Canelo Alvarez and Julio Caesar Chavez Jr. -- have been ducking him.

From a financial perspective, that makes sense, boxing observers say.

A beating by Golovkin could diminish a headliner’s appeal to fans, making it difficult for him to get the top purses he’s getting now.

Boxing insiders believe the Big Three won’t be able to duck Golovkin much longer.

There’s a good chance Cotto and Alvarez will fight each other next spring, the experts say – and the fight with the most sex appeal after that would be Golovkin versus the winner.

That means 2015 is likely to be a break-out year for Triple G, the insiders say.

Whether Golovkin becomes a boxing legend will depend on his maintaining his win streak – and his knockout streak.

If he does, he may even be able to get into politics some day, as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Manny Pacquiao did.

Or diplomacy. There’s no question he’d be the most popular Kazakh ambassador to Mexico ever.

 


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