Golovkin should be better known than he is. So why isn’t he?
“One reason is that he had legal issues with the German promoter, Universum,” explained K2 Promotions managing director Tom Loeffler at a recent media luncheon. “It took him about a year-and-a-half to get out of his contract. He signed with us at the beginning of the year.”
Despite his many amateur accolades and his championship belt (won in August of 2010 and defended four times), it took time for Golovkin to make his way to this point as a professional. Promotional issues notwithstanding, Golovkin was largely seen by boxing fans on internet streams, downloaded fights or YouTube. Now that K2 is involved, they hope to build his brand globally and put the “world” back in “world champion.”
“It was our promise to him; he wants to be very popular in the U.S. He wants to fight in the U.S. He realizes that if you are successful in America, it will translate to the rest of the world. He wants to be a real and true world champion who not only fights in America but also fights in Europe.”
Golovkin trains in Big Bear, CA and has for his last six fights under trainer Abel Sanchez, who most famously has worked with Terry Norris and also trains up-and-comer Joel Diaz Jr. Golovkin had scouted Los Angeles, looking for a U.S. gym to call home. But it was when he traveled to Big Bear to visit Sanchez’ Summit Gym that he found his training home.
“I saw the mountains and the trees; I thought, ‘This is good. This is best for me.’ After one week in training I feel this is seriously my place,” said Golovkin. “I like it. It’s like my second home. I love training every day. Everyone at the gym are very good guys.”
Those “good guys” include the likes of Saul Alvarez, the WBC junior middleweight champion. It was working with fighters of that ilk that drew the attention of HBO and Showtime.
“They had heard about Gennady before,” said Loeffler, referring to the networks. “He had made a name for himself sparring with ‘Canelo,’ [Antonio] Margarito and [Alfredo] Angulo. There were so many rumors about his power and how strong he is and how everyone wanted to see him. That was part of why HBO got interested.”
To Sanchez, who had a power-punching champion in Terry Norris, striking gold like this again is a blessing. You can see him light up when he talks about Golovkin. This is not just some training assignment for a bit of cash. They each speak highly of each other and genuinely seem to get along. In the corner, chemistry is everything.
“Abel is very good. He is a professor,” smiled Golovkin.
“He likes to work hard and I like to work hard,” said Sanchez. “Where he is from, they are used to working hard, so once he knew what I demanded and could give me that, it was love at first sight.”
Golovkin typically arrives in Big Bear two to three months before a fight and begins work. He loves the atmosphere and camaraderie generated by a remote gym filled with a small but high-level group of diverse fighting styles. It is a competitive collective.
“There are so many different people there, absolutely,” said Golovkin. “Being there together, it helps [all of us]. It helps me because it’s always practice, practice. Hard training. Hard practice every day. Sparring, running a dozen miles, looking and feeling who is behind me every day.
Golovkin has been boxing since he was just 10 years old, a decision made of happenstance.
“That was a long time ago. 20 years,” Golovkin smiled, remembering. “It was part of my area where I am from. Everybody would going into wrestling or boxing. 50/50. Maybe it is Kazakhstan traditional. My friend was going to go into boxing, so I said, ‘Yeah, yeah, sure. Let’s go boxing.’ I liked boxing. Now boxing, it is life. It is my life now is boxing.”
One thing that is not happenstance is the power Golovkin possesses. He shrugged after I asked when he knew he could crack as if to say, “The first time I hit someone.”
“That is something that is God-given,” said Sanchez, who visibly lights up talking about the possibilities Golovkin’s skill and power combo open up. “Now it is about perfecting his technique so he can be more effective using that God-given talent.”
The bout with Proksa was not supposed to be. When IBF middleweight titlist Daniel Geale opted to fight WBA “super” champion Felix Sturm (a bout also taking place this weekend) instead of WBO titleholder Dmitry Pirog, Golovkin was there waiting in the wings. Unfortunately, Pirog suffered an injury and had to be replaced as well. Everything happens for a reason. That Golovkin never balked at fighting any of the possible options speaks well for his and our future.
“Originally, he was going to fight Pirog, who is the WBO champion,” explained Loeffler. “Then Pirog got injured. So Proksa and even Vanes Martirosyan came into the picture. Gennady said he would fight anyone. The style did not matter. Pirog has as different a style from Proksa as you can get. With all his amateur fights, he had 350 wins and five losses. He has faced pretty much any style that you can face. He beat Daniel Geale, Andy Lee, Matt Korobov and stopped Lucian Bute in the amateurs. So even though his résumé does not have a lot of names on it, [he is experienced with different styles].”
In Proksa, Golovkin faces a powerful southpaw who is mobile, active and hungry. Don’t let that one loss (to Kerry Hope) fool you; Proksa avenged it immediately. This is not a showcase opponent but a tough out for anyone on any given night.
“Proksa, he is good, man,” said Golovkin. “He is difficult. He is hungry. I think he is very good. I think it is a good fight because I want to show too who is best. This is boxing.”
Golovkin himself is a like a smooth tank in the way he moves ever forward, delivering punishing blows anywhere he can. He is not wild with his shots but when he does throw, he lands with purpose. It is conceivable he tracks down Proksa slowly and finishes him late in a “tortoise and the hare” situation.
“Yeah, yeah, absolutely,” agreed Golovkin. “I feel great. I feel faster, stronger [than Proska]. “Just two or three rounds so I can feel him, adjust to him. After that, I will understand what I have to do.”
Golovkin claims he will fight anyone from 154 to 168 but first things first. This is it; the chance to show that he belongs on this stage. Should he be successful, Golovkin is looking at potential dates at Madison Square Garden, which has inquired about his availability. And, of course, more cable dates.
“The problem is not him establishing himself at 160; it is who is going to fight him there,” says Sanchez. “If we can’t get to fight him at 160, we drop to 154. We had this trouble when he wasn’t known. Then when he is known, after the first, hopefully with HBO behind him, guys will want to get in with him. Hopefully, HBO will be able to pony up for not so much [Golovkin] as the opponents who don’t want to fight [a dangerous fighter for a small purse].
For Sanchez, Golovkin represents a second go round at the top levels of the sport. He did it once with terry Norris. Now Golovkin gets a turn and Sanchez gets to help guide him along the way. That’s a kind of magic in this sport.
“I’ve been lucky twice with Terry Norris and now [Golovkin]. [Norris] did what he did and made it to the Hall of Fame,” said Sanchez. “This kid has a chance to be special. He hasn’t had a chance for people to see him but now we do.”
Golovkin has dreamt of this his whole life. Middleweight has always been his favorite division with fighters like Sugar Ray Robinson, Marvelous Marvin Hagler and Sugar Ray Leonard as his idols. Now he gets to live that lifelong dream.
Does it feel real?
“Real, yes, of course. Sure,” he laughed, adding, “Seriously, this is my dream. I am very happy.”
With any luck, HBO subscribers and boxing fans everywhere are about to be very happy too.
You can email Gabriel at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/gabriel_montoya and catch him every Monday on “The Next Round” with Steve Kim. You can also tune in to hear him and co-host David Duenez live on the BlogTalk radio show Leave-It-In-The-Ring.com, Thursdays at 5-8 p.m., PST.