Cleaved from his consciousness on March 30th—a single right hand having stretched him prostrate across the bottom rope in Monaco—Nobuhiro Ishida became the latest victim in Gennady Golovkin’s violent odyssey from internet bugaboo to hurt machine du jour. As has become the norm, the question of Golovkin’s next opponent was picked up with enthusiasm, an enthusiasm that has tended to wane before the ink on the contract dries. Golovkin himself seems weary of the competition he has gored recently. However spectacular his evisceration of Gzergorz Proksa, his mulching of Gabriel Rosado, his anesthetizing of Ishida—the three opponents he has faced since HBO took an interest in him—Golovkin’s achievements have not insulated him from criticism. Whether this criticism is valid is debatable. That it stands to deaden Golovkin’s career however, is a claim with some substance.
Golovkin is in the unfavorable position of being too dangerous and too unproven. This paradoxical appraisal has resulted in a game of sophistic keep-away; a bunching of the inside lanes on the race to stardom that keeps Golovkin from vying for the lead. As an embodied risk/reward ratio, Golovkin is a discouraging proposition. Fighters like Sergio Martinez, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr, even Peter Quillin—fighters with promotional and/or network leverage in the United States—can hardly be pilloried for avoiding their potential day of reckoning (for now). Chavez has recently expressed a preference for Golovkin over rematching Martinez, but that is probably an attempt to limit some of the stipulations Martinez has asked for, and promoter Bob Arum will pursue the biggest payday regardless of what his wayward bruiser wants. Australia’s Daniel Geale, and Germany’s Felix Sturm have also given Golovkin the slip. Geale chose to avenge his only loss in a lucrative grudge match with Anthony Mundine rather than face Golovkin, and Sturm agreed to an additional leeching by the WBA to avoid the same fate. Boxing is, above all, a business, and the celebrities of the middleweight division can insulate themselves from criticism by reiterating this fact. Golovkin is simply not worth the risk yet.
Nor, some would say, is he particularly proven. Golovkin butchered Grzegorz Proksa in his US debut. Proksa was a top-ten middleweight at the time, but one so grossly outmatched that his ranking was misleading, if not meaningless—when the ranking requires ten names, ten names can be found. Golovkin then turned the canvas into a slaughterhouse floor against career junior middleweight Gabriel Rosado, before sending Ishida to the Elysian Fields. In each fight, the means outshined the ends. Perhaps the most decorated name on Golovkin’s ledger is a clapped out Kassim Ouma, whom he dispatched in ten rounds in 2011.
Yet, with power augmented by sound technique, it is understandable that the rest of the division would be hesitant to wager their consciousnesses against Golovkin. And considering the dearth of distinguished names on his record, the argument that he need further prove himself has some legitimacy. In a sense, Golovkin concedes as much by exhorting the best to face him.
Strangely, the reasons for avoiding Golovkin are seemingly contradictory, as risk implies some confirmation of virulence. “On a ship, morals change with the port of call,” wrote Kafka. It would seem the same holds true in boxing, where ships are steered clear of danger by the specious reasoning and half-truths of a motley cast of pirates pursuing minimal risk and maximum reward. When a fighter like Peter Quillin passes on Golovkin, saying that Golovkin needs to prove himself, he is ostensibly asking Golovkin to do what Quillin—and, really, any high profile fighter in the division who evades Golovkin—refuses to allow.
Moreover, it seems that regardless of who he beats the arguments for avoiding him persist. If Golovkin were to defeat someone like Dmitry Pirog, one could say he has become too risky a proposition. Conversely, one could belittle the accomplishment because Pirog went twelve rounds with Ishida. Hassan N’Jikam, who gave a spirited effort in losing to Peter Quillin, would make for a nice scalp, especially if Golovkin could stop him. But were Golovkin to do so, he would either confirm his frightening reputation, or merely finish a guy who was floored six times by Quillin. That these polar interpretations stray from the truth is irrelevant to those looking to stay on the safe side of the ropes when Golovkin fights. Compounding matters is the fact that the biggest name in the division, Sergio Martinez, is nearing forty, and in the final stretch of a victory lap. If that is the fight Golovkin wants, time is not on his side.
But the public is. Golovkin has a genuine buzz about him, and if a June 29th fight in New York against Matthew Macklin is finalized, that buzz could become deafening. First, there is the location: both Macklin and Golovkin have fought at the Theater in Madison Square Garden recently, and a flag-waving, fist-shaking throng can be expected to pack the arena in expectation of bloody mayhem. And bloody mayhem they will receive. Macklin is the perfect foil for Golovkin: a face-first pug with respectable power, diaphanous skin, and a three-quarter tank of gas. Whatever his shortcomings, Macklin conducts himself like a fighter. A year ago he went eleven tough rounds with Martinez before his stamina abandoned him. A fighter who can hang with the consensus best middleweight on the planet should be able to worry Golovkin, earning the latter the modicum of undeniable merit that has eluded him. And while Macklin will inevitably be betrayed by his chin, his skin, or his motor, that betrayal should unfold spectacularly before HBO’s substantial viewership. It is against fighters like Macklin that Golovkin can translate buzz into dollars, and perhaps become the too dangerous, too unproven fighter who nevertheless is too valuable to avoid.