However destructive middleweight Gennady Golovkin’s career has been to this point, it has largely been the product of the how—not the whom. This is not to belittle the accomplishments of a fighter who has compiled a record of 26-0 with 23 knockouts: in boxing, the best platform for raising your profile remains the scaffold, and it is unlikely that either HBO or the public they occasionally represent becomes as enamored with Golovkin without the carnage he produces. But skepticism persists, primarily because ruining the likes of Nobuhiro Ishida does little more than emphatically restate the obvious. What Golovkin has long needed—and has struggled mightily to secure—is an opponent whose undoing would silence the critics. This Saturday, from the MGM Grand at Foxwoods Resort, Mashantucket, Connecticut, he faces just such a man.
Matthew Macklin, Birmingham, United Kingdom, is the perfect foil: although he is one of the better fighters in the division, he is not so dangerous that he can upset Golovkin, yet he is capable enough that a Golovkin win would justify much of the ballyhoo. And unlike many of his fellow middleweights, Macklin is willing to take a peek at the monster under the bed. At middleweight, Macklin, 31, has lost only to Felix Sturm—via an entertaining split decision—and division monarch Sergio Martinez, who stopped Macklin in eleven rounds last March. In his last fight, he ran through Joachime Alcine in less than a round, proving if nothing else that Macklin knows what to do with an overmatched opponent. Macklin can be trusted to conduct his business fearlessly. He can also be trusted to sell a ticket or two, and Macklin should see some of his fellow Irishmen liven up the atmosphere at the MGM Grand with their well-lubricated enthusiasm. And while Golovkin, Karaganda, Kazakhstan, is an understandable favorite—he is listed at -700—Macklin has both the skills and the temperament to answer a few of the burning questions surrounding “GGG.”
Half-buried if not completely submerged in the gore of his recent fights, is the fact that Golovkin gets hit. That he gets tagged of course is no guarantee of his comeuppance; indeed, everyone gets hit, and Golovkin may purposely engage knowing his fists will always have the last word. Besides, he has yet to be worried by anything he’s absorbed, indicating a solid jaw beneath his boyish smile. In addition, his opponents do not fully invest in their punches because of the vulnerability exchanged for force.
That is unlikely to be the case with Macklin, who seems willing to tempt disaster, saying, “I am ready for whatever Golovkin brings on Saturday night, but let’s be honest, I am no point scorer, and neither is he. I am looking to take him out and him the same to me, so this can be nothing but a great fight.” If he is to accomplish more than the Unknown Protestor, Macklin, a respectable puncher, will have to make good on those words and commit to his offense. It is an all-or-nothing proposition, but Macklin may be best served by bringing the fight to Golovkin early, throwing combinations to exploit his opponent’s often stationary head. Having fought largely without a hint of doubt, the question of how Golovkin, 31, responds to emphatic defiance, let alone being hurt, has yet to be posed. Macklin, 29-4 (20), needs to cultivate a little doubt in Golovkin’s mind—and he needs to do it early.
Except for big fight experience, Golovkin seems to have Macklin trumped in every way. It is not only his power, and, to borrow from Don Delillo, the “mischief it can cause with the placement of a man’s features,” but his boxing ability that is superior. He sets up his power behind a punishing jab, gets elbow deep when digging to the body, rarely compromises his balance, and, with over three hundred amateur fights, conducts his bloody business with something nearing ataraxis. Nor does the possibility of a drawn-out affair favor the more experienced Macklin. While Golovkin has seen the tenth round only once in his career—a hard-earned and brutal stoppage of Kassim Ouma in 2011—Macklin has notoriously questionable stamina. Another reason to step directly to Golovkin would be the fact that any elusiveness on Macklin’s part would only tire him sooner. Were the fight to extend to the later rounds, the safer bet is on a fading Macklin succumbing to the heavier hands of his opponent. There is also the issue of Macklin’s diaphanous skin, which has betrayed him before and may do so again when lathed by the tools Golovkin brandishes. Macklin’s chances hinge almost entirely on the questions surrounding Golovkin. If the latter answers them emphatically, Macklin should wake up around the same time that our collective hindsight comes into focus.
But if Macklin’s prospects seem inauspicious, well, they are supposed to. He represents a legitimate—albeit intentionally surmountable—challenge; the first of Golovkin’s career. There is a buzz building about Golovkin—he has been mentioned as an opponent for some of the bigger names at middleweight, and he has the full backing of HBO. Macklin, charming and earnest, is being sent to Connecticut to get rolled over by the next big thing.