Gennady Golovkin is a fight nerd/hardcore fight fans must see fighter right now who is also fast becoming a star among the casual fans and is poised to be the next superstar. Each fight out he continues to deliver a highlight reel knockout performance. His last one was supposed to be different as Daniel Geale had never been stopped before and is considered to be one of the three or four best middleweights in boxing today. This fight was going to test Golovkin and push him. No one really thought Geale could win, but many felt he could make it a difficult fight and maybe take Golovkin the distance. Instead it was more violent brilliance from the man known as GGG as he destroyed Geale inside of three rounds. Up next is Marco Antonio Rubio instead of a bigger name as apparently the other top middleweight title holders want nothing to do with the beast that is GGG.
It is masterful performances from Golovkin like the one against Geale that are scaring off potential big name opponents. The TKO also gives him 17 in a row now. It’s no wonder people are starting to compare him to Tyson when it comes to generating pre-fight KO hype and then delivering on it. What is most impressive is that he is doing it against some of the best in the division. At least the ones that will actually face him.
Opponents are not lining up to call him out. Fights with Miguel Cotto and Pete Quillin to unify the middleweight titles is what Golovkin wants but it will have to be seen if they have any interest in fighting him next if ever. Right now Golovkin is one of the scariest fighters going because he is not some wild puncher that you can fight defensively, patiently and technically. No, he is like a predatory panther stalking his prey until the right moment to strike occurs and then he ends it swiftly.
Golovkin now faces Rubio because all of the other top fighters close to him in weight are running from him. Cotto may not be able to do that much longer and hold on to his WBC belt. They have ordered him to face the winner of Golovkin and Rubio. All Golovkin needs to do to get his shot at Cotto and at becoming the next big boxing superstar is knockout Rubio next.
The power of the KO and Superstardom
Everybody loves the knockout. It is one of the most exciting moments in sports. There is just something about one person knocking out another that appeals to something deep and primordial in us. It is the reason Tyson became such a huge star so quickly. We love the anticipation of the violence and we love it even more when it is fulfilled. The quickest way for a young fighter to capture our imagination is to knock people out. Golovkin has done that with 17 straight KO’s and 27 total in his 30 fights, all of them wins. He is on the verge of being that next great boxing superstar. He just lacks a couple of big pelts hanging on his wall.
The lack of big game trophies is not his fault as he is ready to face anybody but the big names have no interest in fighting him. It goes beyond just the KO’s. It is the way he achieves them that scares off potential opponents. The power comes from both hands, he can take you out with a shot to the body or the head, his footwork is excellent, as is his timing and head movement, and he can take a shot himself. This is a real challenge and very few of the top fighters want to face him.
It was Golovkin’s last fight that was supposed to be his toughest challenge and it looked almost easy for him. This fight with Rubio is a tough fight for him as Rubio will come to fight. He has not been stopped since 2009 when he retired after nine rounds against Kelly Pavlik and the last time he was KO’d was back in 2004 by Kofi Jantuah. It will make a statement if Golovkin can stop Rubio and it would potentially setup a fight with Cotto, a fight Cotto may do everything he can to avoid – there is even talk of him fighting Canelo Alvarez instead. It seems like if Cotto is going to lose he wants to get paid and have it be to a bigger name. At some point one of the top fighters will be forced to step up and then Golovkin will get the bigger fights he seeks.
The knockouts themselves are works of art where his movement, timing, use of space and distance combined with speed, precision and power all come together to create this one moment. A moment frozen in time. A moment we will see on the highlight shows later on. There is violence within his KO’s but they are the result of punches that are precisely, perfectly placed ones.
As always it starts with the movement and the jab
Economical, precise, subtle and patient are all words that spring up when watching Golovkin. He does not have that silky smooth fluidity of some fighters but he is still mesmerizing to watch him in the ring. It is about beats, space, rhythm, angles and timing. It all comes together to create a flow of punches that explode at just the right moment to create the dichotomy of artistic violence. The jab sets the beat for the other punches to follow.
The economy of movement is seen in his footwork, shoulders and head. Consistently you see him moving just enough to avoid or deflect the punch on defense. While offensively he moves the minimum amount to land the strike or cutoff his opponent while creating the right angle for him to strike. His latest opponent [Geale] would test those skills in the fight. He is an excellent defensive fighter with great movement of his own but lacks the knockout threat like Golovkin.
In the first round, Geale got off to a good start against Golovkin by using his movement. He moved in and out landing some good shots to the body early. At the same time he mixed in lateral movement. While Golovkin stalked him around the ring.
When Geale would come forward Golovkin moved backwards just enough to avoid any danger but was still close enough to pounce on any openings. Max Kellermen noted that Golovkin was also doing an excellent job of using his shoulders to pickoff Geale’s punches and deflect them. As Kellermen finished that then Jim Lampley slid right in pointing out Golovkin’s footwork as he glided along the outside keeping Geale on the ropes. Then trapping him briefly in the corner before landing a nice right hand as Geale escaped.
You consistently see the same use of footwork from Golovkin to cutoff the ring. As his opponent tries to circle away he continues to shrink the ring until he has him against the ropes and then he attacks. When he does unleash his power it almost unassuming as he uses different punches to end fights. Against Nobuhiro Ishida he used a right cross, the first knockdown of Curtis Stevens was off of a double left hook, for Matthew Macklin the KO came via a liver shot and before Geale he stopped Osumanu Adama with his jab.
The first knockdown in the Geale fight came when he had him trapped against the ropes and clipped him with a right hand sending him down early in the second round. The end would come just one round later. Geale started the round more active and he was making Golovkin miss but he did not frustrate him. It is easy for a fighter to let the misses bother them especially when the opponent is lowering their hands and dancing a little. Geale did this in the opening minute after making Golovkin miss a couple of times. Instead of getting angry, over committing on his punches and getting reckless, Golovkin stayed calmed and continued to stalk Geale around the ring and letting the knockout come to him and not forcing it.
For all of the showboating Geale did at the beginning of the round he was still finding himself continually up against the ropes. So far with the one exception in the previous round, he had been able to duck, dodge and dip away from Golovkin’s punches. There would be a limit to how many times he could escape the danger.
With 36 seconds left in the fight Golovkin double jabbed feinted and threw a hard righthand that backed Geale into the corner. Another half-feinted jab, a little right hook that got Geale to duck and then a hard left to the body. A perfect example of a combo used to land one hard shot. Both the jab and the hook where to open up the hard left to the body. It is something the best knockout artists do very well and we see it from Golovkin all of the time.
Two little left hooks actually open Golovkin up to a right hand from Geale that glances off his face. Golovkin just rolls his head with the punch but keeps his feet squarely planted and in position to throw his own right hand that catches Geale right on chin and instantly dropped him down to the canvas. The power of the punch was aided by its precision and by Geale being off-balance due to the punch he had just thrown. Geale got up but was wobbly and the fight was over.
The subtly of his work
It is funny in the New Yorker piece by Jay Caspian Kang titled Gennady Golovkin,The Smiling Champion said this:
His knockout percentage, which stands at a staggering ninety per cent, has brought up the inevitable comparisons to Mike Tyson. As far as comparisons go, it’s a bad one. Despite a decorated amateur career that saw him win a silver medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics, Golovkin is far from Tyson’s technical equal. He does not move his head at all. His footwork is perfectly adequate, but not much more. His punching style, which, at times, looks like an aggrieved child poking at his mother’s side, should never bring up comparisons to Tyson’s compressed, violent hand speed.
This misses much of the artistry of Golovkin in the ring and his technique. While Tyson is a bad comparison as they are different fighters that share three common traits; the knockout power from both sides, the KO’s themselves and the ability to make other fighters want to avoid fighting them. This is what Carl Froch had to say about Golovkin on Sky Sports when he was asked how he would fight him, “Just swerve Golovkin like the plague. He punches like a mule. I don’t need to be in with him. Dangerous fight.” What exactly that means only Froch knows but it is clear that a big rugged super-middleweight wants nothing to do with the middleweight Golovkin and considers it a dangerous fight. As fighters, Tyson was the more explosive puncher but they both are scary to their opponents.
Part of the problem in appreciating Golovkin completely is understanding who he is and is not as a fighter and athlete. There is little flash to Golovkin’s game and he is not a natural showboat. His footwork is basic, he moves his head but not a lot, his punching style is not pretty but he is very technical, almost too much so. The entertainment value, the excitement come from the knockouts and he sets them up by using the basics and doing just what needs to be done. He does it with his beautiful sense of timing and by controlling the space and distance of the fight.
When it comes to his head movement to avoid punches he is not like Tyson who had some of the best in his early days. Tyson, as almost always the shorter fighter, had to have great head movement to get inside while Golovkin, who is taller does not need it as much. That does mean he does not have it though but he uses it slip punches or let them slide harmlessly off of him. He does get hit solid at least once in each fight but he is not a brawler and has excellent defense.
The footwork of Golovkin is not flashy. There is no shuffle in his arsenal and he is not out there to dance. Instead the footwork is all about getting you against the ropes so he can unload on you. He knows that at some point if he hits you cleanly you are going down. The last 17 foes have all fallen. Well, technically Gabriel Rosado never went down but his corner would not let him continue after taking Golvkin’s punishment. When Rosado’s father wanted to let the fight go on the corner said, “I gotta stop it. Your son’s gonna die, man!” The bloody mask that was the younger Rosado’s face looked like he could die if he continued. It was a great example of a corner doing his job and protecting the fighter. Sometimes that is all you can do against Golovkin is protect the fighter.
The Kevin McHale of Boxing
Growing up two of my favorite basketball players were Magic Johnson and Dr. J. There games while different both had that beautiful fluidity to it. You could see their greatness in the way they moved. Larry Bird also had a fluidity to his game especially for someone who was 6’10” but his teammate Kevin McHale was the epitome of awkward effectiveness. His game was not pretty, he moved strangely and awkwardly but somehow he would score his 20 points and get his 10 rebounds. McHale was able to do this due to his excellent sense of timing and using fakes and feints to create space for himself.
In the boxing ring you see a similar style from Golovkin who does not move like a Roy Jones Jr. or a Floyd Mayweather Jr. When you compare him to them he looks very awkward but he is still effective. His awkwardness makes it difficult for his opponents to get a read on him and get his timing down. It also allows him to land his accurate power punches that end his fights.
As his opponents struggle to get his timing Golovkin usually has theirs down by the second round. This is aided by the use of his jab. He throws more that almost any other fighter and it is the basis for his attacks and defense. It helps keep distance and find his opponent’s timing. The better sense of timing is what allows him to control and defeat a faster, dangerous fighter like Stevens.
The other element of timing that Golovkin has mastered is his ability to mix up his cadence. This throws off his opponent’s sense of his timing and allows him to land his big punches. It something that reminds me of McHale leaning and pushing hard on his opponents only to quickly let go and allow his opponents momentum to get him off-balance and out of place. The way Golovkin changes his tempo in his fights gets his opponents off-balance, out of place and then results in a KO win for him. A couple more big knockout wins for him and his popularity will explode.
Anything CAN Happen
Up next is Rubio who is a dangerous opponent. One who brings 51 KO/TKO wins out of 59 overall into the ring. Rubio is big, rugged and durable. This is the type of opponent that if Golovkin overlooks him, could derail everything but Golovkin is not that type of fighter. He will take Rubio seriously and will be ready.
There is the question of whether or not he can knock Rubio out though. It has not been done in several years. In some ways it might good for his career if he does not. The fans would be disappointed but maybe if Rubio goes the distance one of the top fighters may feel like he has a chance and will actually fight Golovkin.
What is more likely though is another KO win from him. A big part of Golovkin’s knockouts come from his accuracy. With his ability to hit his opponents in the right spot at the right time set him apart from just big punching brawlers. Look for him to find the openings on Rubio and end the fight early.
I like Golovkin for a fourth round KO win in this fight with Rubio. That win would set up in theory a fight with Cotto and it will be interesting to see if he takes on the challenge of Golovkin or gives up the WBC title.