Boxing: Gennady Golovkin
Oh, sure, it's fun enough to debate fantasy matchups that will always remain fantasy, confidently predicting outcomes secure in the knowledge that you will never be proved wrong because the fight will never come to pass.
But, to my mind, that's far less exciting than the anticipation of a bout that isn't just possible but arguably probable. Andre Ward against Gennady Golovkin is just such a bout.
None of the usual disqualifiers apply here. Both men are staples of the same network. Although they are represented by rival promoters (for now, at least; Ward is still desperately trying to sever his professional relationship with his), neither of those promoters would rather stick a fork in his face than deal with the other. Add to that the fact that neither man is exactly deafened by the clamor of credible opponents beating down his door, and this is a very makable contest.
It's arguable that Golovkin, with his fan-pleasing, all-action style and his friendly out-of-the-ring demeanor, has developed a larger fan following in the past year than Ward has secured since turning pro in 2004; but Ward would enter the fight as a big favorite, and deservedly so. The Californian is almost universally regarded as, at worst, the second-best boxer in the world, and he has shown an ability to adapt to whatever his opponent throws at him. He can box from the outside, brawl on the inside, rough his guy up and work behind a tight defense.
By contrast, Golovkin is rapidly compiling a Hall of Fame highlight reel, but questions remain. Although analysts love the subtle things he does -- his shifts in stance, his footwork, his feints, the way he cuts off the ring -- almost as much as his bludgeoning blows, his commitment to offense can come at the expense of his defense. After all, if Curtis Stevens could nail him with some big punches en route to being badly beaten, what might Ward do? And Golovkin's opposition, although solid and improving, still falls some way short of the likes of Mikkel Kessler's or Carl Froch's.
But that, as they say, is why they fight the fights. One man is at the top and looking to establish himself there. Another is trying to knock him off his throne before he has even had a chance to make an indentation in the seat pillow. It's a clash of styles, personalities and unbeaten records. And it could well happen in 2014.
I think Ward-Golovkin plays out similar to how Garcia-Matthysse did earlier this year, with Ward out working the Golovkin #ESPN12Days— Andres Iglesias © (@DreStiles) December 24, 2013
#ESPN12Days mayweather vs Garcia.. ggg vs ward..mikey vs gamboa— Erik beltran (@Air_ek) December 25, 2013
For as spectacular a one-man wrecking crew as unbeaten middleweight titlist Gennady Golovkin has looked throughout his reign of terror in 2013, there are many who still need to see him against A-level competition before giving him his due.
All of this despite the fact that Golovkin (28-0, 25 KOs) has accomplished a devastating run of nine title defenses -- all by knockout -- and 15 consecutive stoppages overall, while showing unmistakable evidence of elite power, poise, chin and technique.
The bigger problem has been that the very best are unwilling to face Golovkin, 31, causing him to basically offer an open challenge to literally any fighter over an unprecedented four-division span from 154 to 175 pounds.
Meanwhile, the division's lineal champion, Sergio Martinez, has heard his own legion of doubters assert the notion that he has entered a state of marked decline thanks to an aggregated toll of injuries and age (he turns 39 in February).
The majority of the fuel for this argument was built up after Martinez's contested victory over then unbeaten Martin Murray in April, even though "Maravilla": (1) rushed back too quickly from knee and hand injuries suffered against Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., (2) took Murray lightly while focusing too much on putting on a show in front of his hometown fans in Buenos Aires and (3) fought outdoors in a driving rainstorm.
Martinez (51-2-2, 28 KOs), a late-bloomer who didn't take up the sport until age 20 or win a title until his mid-30s, is still just over a year removed from the most dominant performance of his career in the fight against Chavez (despite overcoming a knockdown in Round 12). With a break of more than one full year by the time he makes his expected return this spring, the reports of his demise could prove to be exaggerated.
The best remedy, of course, for either fighter to quiet the suspicions of his own critics would be the two to fight each other. It's not only a mouth-watering style matchup between two pound-for-pound-level talents -- one a slick counterpuncher and the other a stalking slugger -- it's also the best realistic fight in boxing that could be made in 2014.
Should Martinez secure a big-money showdown with Miguel Cotto in June and get through unscathed without defeat, injury or the announcement of his own retirement, the battle for true division supremacy against Golovkin would be unavoidable. Simply put: There would be no logical excuse for the fight not to be made.
Martinez has talked publicly in the past of his willingness to face Golovkin and has been nothing but a stand-up champion since taking the crown from Kelly Pavlik in April 2010. The question, of course, is whether his promoter, Lou DiBella, and manager, Sampson Lewkowicz, would share the same interest in making the fight.
Ironically, the only fighter this decade besides Golovkin who has endured a tougher time securing deserved fights with the biggest names in the sport is Martinez. Pairing them together would be the right thing to do.
By using his athleticism to land countershots from dynamic angles to beguile Golovkin and defend his crown, Martinez would secure a bookending victory to a Hall of Fame career no longer in question.
Conversely, if Golovkin proved able to walk down Martinez with power shots before forcing the aging champion into submission, it would cement his credibility and catapult him to stardom.
But there's an even more important dynamic to this fight, and it's something we don't always get to see in today's cold war promotional climate: the opportunity for an authentic changing of the guard in one of boxing's few glamour divisions.
And that still means something.
If Martinez looks great against Cotto, then I want Martinez vs Mayweather @ 154, Sept, best challenge for Mayweather I'd buy it #espn12days— Stan Griffin (@Stan_13) December 25, 2013
disagree with golovkin vs Martinez. Martinez will have to employ the same tactics he used against pavlik but with older legs #ESPN12Days— Joydeep Sen (@Joydeep3000) December 25, 2013
Ward's jab was a most potent weapon against the overmatched but willing and sturdy-chinned Edwin Rodriguez. And Ward's left hook, although not a concussion inducer, sent note to Rodriguez that he would pay mightily whenever he let his left hand drop away from his cheek.
Ward (27-0, 14 KOs), the super middleweight champ, confirmed what hard-core fight fans already knew -- that there is nobody in his division who has more than a minute's chance to defeat him. So, we wonder, who could challenge Ward?
Some names that have popped up include KO cravers and titlists Sergey Kovalev and Adonis Stevenson, both of whom are slated to fight on Nov. 30, against separate foes. One could surmise they would most likely meet each other in a light heavyweight showdown if both have their hands raised in two weeks.
Bernard Hopkins, the soon-to-be-49-year-old craftsman, could challenge Ward in the boxing knowledge department. But because he's aligned with promoter Golden Boy, which doesn't do work with HBO (the network has aired Ward's bouts), that matchup doesn't seem to be a viable coupling.
On social media, there seems to be a consistent call for middleweight star Gennady Golovkin, someone who can truly lay claim to the over-used nickname "Baby-Faced Assassin," if he chose to employ it, to jump from 160 to 168 to face Ward. With that in mind, I asked Golovkin's trainer, Abel Sanchez, what he thought of Ward's outing against Rodriguez.
"I would give Ward a 9.5 out of 10," said the trainer, who enjoyed Golovkin's last scrap, a TKO win over Curtis Stevens at the MSG Theater on Nov. 2. "He is who he is; he is not going to get any better. He didn't let Rodriguez bully him, and Edwin is limited, so he had no other tactics to try and get Ward. I was happy to see that Ward made more of a fight in some rounds, but he did so because he had a limited opponent in front of him."
So how would Golovkin deal with Ward if they tussled? "Gennady is a fighter with superior power, skills, strength," Sanchez said, adding with a chuckle, "and grappling ability." That crack was a reference to a knock on Ward -- that most of his bouts feature excessive wrestling, better suited to the octagon.
And, I wondered, could fans be treated to a Ward-Golovkin matchup in the near future?
"I hope so," Sanchez said. "Time will tell. Right now, they are both on top, and Andre must believe he is in a superior bargaining position, but not for long. The masses are catching on to GGG!"
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If Saturday's performance in Ontario, Calif., was any sort of barometer, maybe Andre Ward should take a year off between every fight.
Thankfully for fans, that's unlikely, especially now that Ward -- who had been out 14 months, in part because of shoulder surgery -- is healthy, and also considering how little damage he absorbed in a thorough floor-wiping of Edwin Rodriguez. In a chippy but one-sided scrum, Ward emptied his toolbox to show the ringside judges all they needed to see in a unanimous decision win (118-106, 117-107, 116-108).
From the jump, Ward scuttled any notions about potential ring rust. And although he didn't often uncork his purported newfound right-handed power against Rodriguez, his footwork, defense, signature left hook and jab -- a serious poke that comes off like a boxing version of an MMA Superman punch -- ensured that Ward maintained total control of the proceedings from start to finish.
Key moment: Early in the fourth round, referee Jack Reiss called for Ward and Rodriguez, tangled up and falling into the ropes but still throwing punches, to stop fighting. Neither did, and Ward and Rodriguez kept at it even after Reiss tried to separate them by grabbing Ward around the midsection. After Reiss was able to pull them apart, he called timeout, sent the fighters to separate corners, docked both two points for unsportsmanlike conduct, immediately recommended to ringside officials that both be fined, then made it clear to Ward and Rodriguez that no more rules bending would be tolerated.
Reiss' warning had the desired effect: The wrestling and grabbing mostly ended and the fight was a clean one from that point on. But because Ward is the quicker, more dynamic fighter and is expertly effective at controlling distance, it also meant that any chance Rodriguez had at scoring an upset probably ended there.
We've got your number: 27-4. The number of punches landed by Ward in Round 6, compared to those landed by Rodriguez, according to CompuBox. The huge disparity was amplified by how cleanly Ward was connecting and the variety of his offense.
Last word: Any question about whether Ward would return after his long layoff as boxing's clear-cut No. 2 pound-for-pound fighter in the world was quickly, and pointedly, answered on Saturday. And although his super middleweight title was never at risk -- Rodriguez missed his opportunity to challenge for it when he weighed in heavy -- Ward had to feel some relief that, after all the down time, he was his old self again (and perhaps better). All that's left to figure out now is who to put in with him next -- Gennady Golovkin isn't nearly ready for 168 pounds -- and how soon Ward might dethrone Floyd Mayweather Jr. for the top spot on P4P lists.
Gennady Golovkin knocked Brooklyn-born Curtis Stevens to the mat with a left hook in Round 2 on Saturday night at the Theater at Madison Square Garden. Most expected the middleweight titleholder to close the show and finish off Stevens, but his opponent didn't cooperate. He hung tough, stayed smart and made it through Round 8.
Stevens landed scoring blows along the way -- more than Golovkin is used to absorbing -- but body shots in the eighth got to him. He was caught on the ropes, trying in vain to cover up, and went back to his stool nearly spent. His corner said "no more," seeking to keep him from being battered in the next round.
Golovkin, who needed to be patient as Stevens fought a tactically smart style, landed 293 of the 794 punches he threw, compared to 97-303 for Stevens, who spent the night trying to catch Golovkin after errant launches.
Any talk of Curtis Stevens upsetting unbeaten middleweight titlist Gennady Golovkin this weekend has been met with a predictable level of opposition.
Sure, most are willing to give the heavy-hitting Brooklyn, N.Y., native at least a puncher's chance when he steps into the ring Saturday at New York's Madison Square Garden Theater (HBO, 10 p.m. ET/PT). But outside of that, the responses have been typical: Stevens doesn't have the skills to win a decision against Golovkin. He doesn't have the chin to withstand his power. And, wait a second, isn't Stevens the same guy who lost -- badly -- to Jesse Brinkley a few years back?
At the first two points, Stevens just shakes his head. In fact, any talk of Golovkin's supposed superhuman powers draws a villainous laugh from Stevens, who believes HBO has sold the general public "a facade" of Golovkin's true talent, thanks to careful matchmaking.
But bring up the Brinkley fight with Stevens, and you've hit a serious nerve. Stevens, once considered a top prospect at 168 pounds, was knocked down twice by the former "Contender" participant en route to a wide decision loss in their 2010 title eliminator.
The defeat was devastating for Stevens, a heavy favorite who turned in an admittedly dreadful performance. But, he says, it's also far behind him. After the loss, he was out of the ring for two years due to a contractual dispute. But he has recently undergone a rebirth at middleweight, recording four straight wins, albeit against limited competition, including three by first-round knockout.
The problem for Stevens (25-3, 18 KOs) is that most boxing observers haven't forgotten the Brinkley fight and, in a fickle way, likely will hold it against him until he produces a big enough win to erase the memory.
"I believe they're so scared to want me to excel, to achieve, to be great and meet the potential they know I have, they still want to downgrade me from the Brinkley fight. That was three years ago! And I had four fights after that. How you still living on the Brinkley fight? I know I lost. I said I lost. I said it was a learning lesson. So why y'all still just ... is that the only thing y'all have to talk about?"
Stevens, 28, credits his time away from the ring for improving his focus and drive, especially after he was forced to sit and watch fighters he came up with through the amateur ranks suddenly winning world titles.
"I believe I became a little more humble," Stevens said. "I was always mature, but I just humbled myself a little more. I had a son, and suddenly it wasn't for me anymore. It was for him, so he has a great life and has everything he wants in life when he grows up."
It's clear Stevens' punching power is what gives him the best shot at knocking Golovkin (27-0, 24 KOs) off his lofty perch as boxing's next big thing. But just as many have questioned the recent string of opponents Stevens has torn through, he believes Golovkin's competition deserves the same level of scrutiny.
"He's not all what they're making him out to be," Stevens said. "He's knocking out 154-pounders. Then they're saying he has the highest KO ratio. OK. Knockouts is what I did to Saul Roman. Knockouts is what I did to [Elvin] Ayala. Knockouts aren't the corner throwing in the towel because they seen too much damn blood."
Stevens says most of Golovkin's opponents, including Matthew Macklin in June, already had lost by the time they enter the ring to face him. He guarantees that won't be the case for him. In fact, during the months leading up to their fight being made, Stevens was the only fighter who publicly called out GGG.
"Macklin was scared s---less going into that fight," Stevens said of Golovkin's third-round KO win, on a one-punch body blow. "That's the thing I think people are always misunderstanding with me. I'm not scared in this thing called boxing of someone else. You can't be scared of someone. For me, I always have super confidence. I asked for this fight. They didn't offer me the fight, I asked for it."
Just as Stevens was humbled during his initial rise up the ranks, he is confident he can help provide Golovkin with the same humility, potentially giving the former Olympic medalist his own Brinkley moment.
"I'm just letting the world know that after Nov. 2, his ass is going to be over," Stevens said. "His little reign of terror on HBO, that everyone thinks he is this or that, is going to be dead because that's what happens to fighters when you try to make them a superstar when they haven't fought no one. Then they finally get in there and fight someone and they get beaten badly. What happens to them? They come back to where they started."
Stevens has already been there and back. Saturday will mark his chance to leave his setbacks permanently in the past, while providing a new performance for former skeptics to think about when they hear his name.
There might be nothing more avoided in boxing than the acquisition of the title "boxing's most avoided fighter."
It might not be rain on your wedding day, but it's still plenty ironic. Don't you think?
Unbeaten middleweight titlist Gennady Golovkin has been wrestling with this very dilemma ever since exploding onto the radars of American boxing fans barely more than a year ago.
Although fans have clearly taken to his "Jekyll and Hyde" persona -- grinning choir boy struggling endearingly to command a new language outside the ring, void-of-emotion assassin inside of it -- that additional bit of irony hasn't turned Golovkin into a desired opponent.
He is simply too dangerous for his own good, a Kazakh crusher who lacks the built-in fan base to help create enough dollars to make it worth it for a big-name fighter to test himself against Golovkin's ferocious union of talents.
But Golovkin (27-0, 24 KOs), for his part, continues in his dogged effort to extinguish the "most avoided" label, attacking it with the same cold-blooded intensity that resulted in knockout victories in each his past 14 bouts.
If the best thing an avoided fighter can do is to stay busy while looking spectacular in doing it, Golovkin has overwhelmingly succeeded. His title defense against Curtis Stevens on Saturday (HBO, 10 p.m. ET) will be his fourth fight of 2013 and his fifth since making his American debut 14 months ago.
Saturday's bout is essentially a stay-busy fight wrapped in a flashy package, thanks to the backdrop of New York's Madison Square Garden Theater -- although there is the outside threat of Stevens' top-end power. Golovkin respects the challenge, calling it "a dangerous fight for us -- for him and for me."
What that had meant, previously, was a three-division window between 154 and 168 pounds that was open to willing opponents. But in recent months, Team Golovkin has boldly opened that window wider, now inviting 175-pounders to take their best shot.
Golovkin's confidence and commitment toward capitalizing on the relatively small remainder of his absolute prime -- he's already 31 -- is admirable. But you also have to wonder if the offer to potentially move up two weight classes to contend with a bevy of heavy hitters at light heavyweight is a bit too ambitious, if not excessive.
On the one hand, Golovkin has yet to be knocked down -- or even hurt -- in nearly 400 amateur and professional fights and he just might possess the kind of transcendent power that knows no divisional boundaries. Still, it's important to remember that he's not exactly a big middleweight to begin with.
And although politics and intelligent matchmaking probably will prevent him from luring cash cows Floyd Mayweather Jr., Canelo Alvarez and even Miguel Cotto into marquee fights at 154 pounds, Golovkin might not be in that bad of a spot, all things considered, if he focuses on what's available to him between 160 and 168 pounds.
Golovkin is on the right side of the firing line in terms of promotional politics, with the majority of big names in and around his division being HBO-friendly. In fact, the two most realistic options for him who could offer either pay-per-view buys (Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.) or critical respect on a pound-for-pound level (Andre Ward) have both expressed at least some level of interest in fighting him.
But one opponent could not only provide a gateway fight to launch Golovkin's brand skyward while offering him the kind of test to quiet his small legion of doubters, a foe who makes more sense than all the others: super middleweight titlist Carl Froch of England.
Froch, a mainstay on most P4P lists, is a marketable opponent with an exciting style that would nicely complement Golovkin's in a potential high-level slugfest. He also appears interested in the idea, provided he is unable to land a fight with Chavez.
"[Froch] is a big guy, a strong guy and a good fighter with good offense," Golovkin said. "That fight is important and is a great fight for everybody -- fans, fighters, HBO; a good deal for everybody. I want the big fight."
But none of those fights Golovkin seeks, including a potential showdown with injured middleweight king Sergio Martinez, will be possible unless GGG takes care of business against Stevens first. If he does what's expected of him, Golovkin says, he'll return as quickly as January to continue doing what he does best: staying busy, looking spectacular and trying like heck to lure the biggest and most dangerous names to face him.
"Right now is my time," Golovkin said. "I want next year to fight the same schedule of four to five fights. I feel great. I am here. I am ready. This [schedule] is very easy for me."
Like a no-hitter through seven innings, this year shouldn't be celebrated too early. Can't be too careful to avoid jinxing anything to do with this cruel and unpredictable sport. But ... this year has been crazy. Amazing. Riveting. Scintillating. And it just seems to keep getting better with every week.
Even now, in the midst of a promotional cold war I personally abhor and will never accept as simply "Well, that's just the way it is," we are getting the fights we want -- and they are actually living up to expectation.
Fans have been able to enjoy at least five legitimate candidates for fight of the year (and that was before Saturday's Darren Barker-Daniel Geale scrap), including at least two -- Timothy Bradley Jr.-Ruslan Provodnikov and Mike Alvarado-Brandon Rios II -- that produced enough drama and savage artistry to be considered on par with the best of this century.
But it goes beyond that. We've also seen breakout campaigns from exciting and marketable action fighters such as Gennady Golovkin, Lucas Matthysse, Adonis Stevenson and Sergey Kovalev. We've seen the development of young stars who appear more than ready to be labeled "next." (I'm looking at you, Abner Mares, Adrien Broner and Mikey Garcia.) And we've seen more than the typical number of under-the-radar fights (think Omar Figueroa-Nihito Arakawa and Sakio Bika-Marco Antonio Periban) deliver unexpected fireworks.
What this all amounts to, especially with a jam-packed final five months already on the slate, with fight-of-the-year hopefuls and big-name pairings jumping off the schedule, is two-fold.
First of all, and probably most important, the sport is relatively healthy again. Go ahead, bring on the backlash to that comment. And don't forget to mention the lack of a central governing body, too many titles, far-from-ideal drug-testing protocols and, oh yeah, that whole promotional catfight. But all things considered, boxing appears to be moving in the right direction after such an up-and-down decade.
And it clearly had been a rough ride for the sport since 2004, when a clear and distinct changing of the guard began to take place. There was the sudden crumbling of the heavyweight division, with the retirements of Lennox Lewis and Vitali Klitschko, not to mention the fallout of two knockout losses in a 17-month span for current champion Wladimir Klitschko. You also had a group of fighters who had become the face of the sport over the previous seven or eight years -- Oscar De La Hoya, Roy Jones Jr., Shane Mosley, Felix Trinidad -- hit career snags as losses and the impact of age began to erode their elite status.
Every valley, however, eventually leads back to another peak, and boxing rebounded in a big way with a banner year in 2007. In fact, it was the sport's last truly great year.
You had the anchor of the highest-grossing fight in history between Floyd Mayweather and De La Hoya. There were marquee bouts between unbeaten fighters such as Mayweather-Ricky Hatton, Kelly Pavlik-Jermain Taylor I and Joe Calzaghe-Mikkel Kessler. There also was a run of memorable action fights: Miguel Cotto-Mosley, Paul Williams-Antonio Margarito, Cotto-Zab Judah, Juan Manuel Marquez-Marco Antonio Barrera and the first two Rafael Marquez-Israel Vazquez wars. (And let's not forget about the Bika-Jaidon Codrington "Contender" finale and the two Michael Katsidis fights with Graham Earl and Czar Amonsot.)
Seriously, take inventory of the past 10 years or so in boxing and you simply won't find a more action-packed and memorable year than 2007 ... until now. And that leads to my second point.
The buzz of excitement surrounding the sport in 2013 has been a virtual runaway train. For the first time in many years, boxing's traditionally cynical group of fans and experts have grown to expect things to go their way. This is a huge departure from just a year ago, when a flurry of injuries and drug suspensions wiped out nearly a complete summer of entertaining fights.
So what was the tipping point? Ironically, it was a date that was supposed to have been representative of the type of greed that continually has plagued the sport in recent years. With both HBO and Showtime airing competing blockbuster cards on Sept. 15 -- which pitted a Sergio Martinez-Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. PPV against a cable show headlined by Canelo Alvarez -- a night that was expected to further darken the sport's black eye somehow had the opposite effect.
Instead, the fighters on both cards applied the black eyes to each other. The momentum of the evening then spilled into a memorable three months to close out the year, highlighted by Marquez-Manny Pacquiao IV, and it hasn't slowed yet.
The fact that 2013's biggest fight to date -- Mayweather's May 4 win over Robert Guerrero -- featured a poor promotion, lackluster sales and a rather unexciting in-ring result, yet still hasn't killed the buzz, is proof that this will be a year to remember.
And think about this for a second: The next few months, we expect, will bring us continued excitement from the likes of Danny Garcia-Lucas Matthysse, Bradley-Marquez, Alvarado-Provodnikov and Pacquiao-Rios. But what about Mayweather-Canelo? What if this fight -- the one most experts continue to downplay as likely one-sided, with an almost predetermined result -- ends up bringing the kind of action, drama and excitement on par with what we've seen throughout most of 2013? What happens next?
It's crazy to think about, of course. But for a sport that is regularly labeled as cursed to yield a year so sublimely fun to be a part of, I'm not going to bet against it.
I have to admit, it's kind of weird going into a season of big fights and actually expecting them to live up to expectations. Don't lose heart -- this is really how it's supposed to be. Let's savor the flavor while we can.
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Have you ever seen the perfect punch before in a boxing match?
Basically, you know it when you see it.
A single punch that fit this description perfectly was thrown on March 30 when unbeaten slugger Gennady Golovkin traveled to Monte Carlo for a stay-busy fight with respected journeyman Nobuhiro Ishida. And by the time it connected late in the third round, the punch produced one of the most sublime and devastating one-punch knockouts that you will ever witness.
In fact, it was so impressive that it easily gets the nod as the best knockout of 2013 at the midyear point.
Golovkin, who was making the seventh defense of his middleweight title, extended his consecutive knockout streak to 13 with the victory. But this one was extra special, even when compared to the Kazakh KO King's ever-burgeoning career highlight reel.
The fight didn't carry any extra meaning, not with the 37-year-old Ishida having entered the bout with eight career defeats. But the fact the durable native of Japan had never been stopped in 35 pro fights raised the ante, especially considering the balance between the otherworldly hype Golovkin entered the fight with and the finality of what one right hand did to Ishida.
Golovkin set up the knockout shot -- the final blow in an immaculate three-punch combination -- with a level of aesthetic brilliance. After stalking forward and forcing the straight-up Ishida to backpedal toward the corner, Golovkin landed a flush jab before missing on a left uppercut attempt.
What the missed uppercut did, however, was distract Ishida and blind him to the fact a pivoting Golovkin was about to step forward and land a crushing overhand right for the ages. As Ishida stood helpless, with his hands low, Golovkin got full extension on the punch and threw him onto the mat with the force of a hurricane wind.
Not only was Ishida knocked cold by the impact of the punch, the top half of his body was catapulted under the ring ropes and nearly to the floor. Ishida's head had to be supported by a quick-responding official at ringside to prevent it from slamming back onto a table adjacent to the ring.
As far as visual devastation goes, it was about as good as it gets for a knockout punch. It wouldn't, however, be the last time a Golovkin finishing shot was in the conversation for best of the year.
Honorable mentionsAdonis Stevenson KO1 Chad Dawson: By claiming the lineal light heavyweight title with one demolishing shot on June 8 in Montreal, 35-year-old Adonis Stevenson scored the biggest victory of his career and easily the most important knockout so far in 2013. The Haitian-born southpaw connected on a textbook 1-2 combination by slinging a right jab and coming right over the top with a missile left hand that landed flush to the right side of Dawson's head. The veteran champion reached his feet, but he was unable to show referee Michael Griffin enough signs that it was safe for him to continue.
Golovkin KO3 Matthew Macklin: The knockout blow -- a pulverizing left hook to the body in the third round that crumpled Macklin like a house of cards -- was almost as exciting and eye-opening as what the punch represented. This was the much-hyped GGG's true coming-out moment, which proved that he was more than merely a must-see knockout attraction. The punishing body shot, which sounded like a shotgun blast from ringside, floored Macklin -- the first legitimate title contender that Golovkin has faced -- and left him writhing in pain on the canvas for minutes after the final bell was rung to end the fight.
Javier Fortuna KO1 Miguel Zamudio: Fortuna, the unbeaten featherweight prospect from the Dominican Republic, unleashed a stunningly vicious knockout shot just 68 seconds into this bout against the overmatched Miguel Zamudio on April 19 in Atlantic City, N.J. The southpaw Fortuna had roughed up and floored Zamudio, a native of Mexico who had built up a mark of 25-1 against relatively soft opposition, early in the round before finishing him moments later on a short left cross. Zamudio was out cold and seemingly lifeless with his eyes open, and stayed down for an extended period as the medical staff examined him.
Despite what you hear and read, there's a very good chance middleweight titlist Gennady Golovkin might actually be human.
You wouldn't necessarily know that, however, by listening to boxing experts -- this one included -- who unleash a gluttony of adjectives to describe his otherworldly power and exciting style.
Golovkin (26-0, 23 KOs), the 31-year-old unbeaten destroyer from Kazakhstan who holds the highest knockout percentage among active titleholders, has reached a cartoon-cult status within the sport. There is such a mythology that follows him from fight to fight (and subsequently knockout to knockout) that he might as well change his nickname from the delightfully cheesy "GGG" to boxing's "God of Thunder."
The main reason for the surrounding cloud of hype is Golovkin's calamitous power in both hands -- a sort of Tyson-esque equalizer that all fighters dream of being born with. It's the kind of power that keeps you in every fight and, in Golovkin's case, causes opponents and ringside writers to marvel at just how much different it sounds and feels when his punches land.
And Golovkin is far from a one-trick pony when it comes to his five-star talent. He says he has never been knocked down, or even hurt, in his entire career. And with a decorated amateur background that features a 2004 Olympic silver medal, multiple world championships and a record of 345-5, he's just as likely to outbox the rare fighter who proves able to withstand his best punch.
But therein lies the problem: Not only are fighters unable to typically get past the early rounds against him -- Golovkin has seen the ninth round just once in his career and hasn't had a fight go to the scorecards since the George W. Bush administration -- he also continues to have trouble getting big-name opponents into the ring with him.
The big concern surrounding the myth of Golovkin is that, despite holding a middleweight title since 2010 and having made seven title defenses -- with all seven ending by knockout -- he is still untested at the highest level. In fact, it's fair to ask what we really know about Golovkin until we see him in with a myriad of high-end punchers and slick boxers.
The good news is, we should have a better handle on his stock by the end of Saturday night's fight against two-time middleweight title challenger Matthew Macklin (29-4, 20 KOs), by far the most experienced opponent Golovkin will have faced. And Macklin, who has taken both former titlist Felix Sturm and current middleweight world champion Sergio Martinez into deep waters in back-to-back fights, also happens to be the perfect opponent at this point in GGG's rise.
Golovkin said he likes the fight so much because he believes both fighters "have [the] same size, same power and same speed. [Macklin] is very serious and I think he's a great fighter." More important, Macklin will serve as a litmus test to gauge whether Golovkin is simply a power puncher with a lot of buzz or a true future pound-for-pound threat. Macklin clearly has the chin, power and inclination to brawl to make him an attractive opponent, but he also proved in his two title fights -- particularly against Martinez -- an ability to adapt his style by utilizing a level of defense and counterpunching we hadn't previously seen from him.
Macklin also has the disposition not to be intimidated by anything Golovkin brings to the table and a willingness to go out on his shield if that's what it takes to give him the best chance to win. He describes himself as a throwback fighter from a different era, and expects to expose Golovkin for being "the middleweight champion of the world fighting B- and C-level junior middleweights."
Young fighters on the rise such as Canelo Alvarez and Adrien Broner have been routinely called out for their soft résumés, a criticism Golovkin has somehow mostly escaped. Maybe it's due to his willingness to fight anyone across three weight classes or how active he has remained -- Saturday will mark his fifth appearance in 13 months -- despite being unable to land the opponents of his choice. Heck, it could be chalked up to his endearing, almost boyish demeanor.
Years from now, we may look back at Golovkin's fight with the straight-ahead Macklin as another stop on a long road of highlight-reel knockouts that ultimately carried him to the top of the sport. Or maybe this one goes down as the key moment when at least a little air was taken out of Golovkin's balloon.
Either way, it will be exciting to watch thanks to enough intrigue, and even doubt, to mark this as something of an early defining fight for Golovkin.
Just don't start sizing the superhero Kazakh KO King for a cape and pair of blue tights until we can confirm that either Golovkin is from another planet or that he's just like one of us.
Believe me, I know, it's not easy.
We use pound-for-pound rankings as a method of classifying the best and most skillful fighters regardless of weight. We've seen lists similar to the Grantland Relevance Rankings, which aggregates superiority based on a combination of ability, marketability and importance. Heck, even HBO's Jim Lampley has his "Gatti List," named after the late Arturo Gatti, which attempts to order the best blood-and-guts warriors who lay it all on the line.
But what about a set of rankings aimed at the very reason why we watch fights? Which major-network attractions -- superseding in some cases titles won, drawing power and even likeability -- are the most entertaining, compelling and watchable fighters on any given Saturday?
This isn't a list of simply the best all-action brawlers or most artistically beautiful fighters, but in some ways a marriage of both, with a chunk of personality thrown in -- a nod to the fighters who do a better job than others of selling their brand through creative sound bites and flamboyant antics.
Without any further ado, here are boxing's current top 10 most entertaining fighters, with a tip of the cap to honorable mentions Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., Abner Mares, Sergio Martinez, Miguel Cotto and Carl Froch, who just missed the cut:
10. Leo Santa Cruz
Pros: Fights at an absurdly relentless pace behind a high guard, using his long arms to punish with hooks to the body. He's as exciting on a minute-by-minute basis as any fighter in the sport. In his May 4 victory over Alexander Munoz, he became the first boxer in history to have both the Watson brothers and Mariachi Skull Guy in his corner at the same time during the prefight introductions. Now that's some serious representation.
Cons: Even with an ambitious five appearances on television in 2012, Santa Cruz needs a bit more time to build a bigger following and audience.
9. Victor Ortiz
Pros: It's getting to the point where fans can expect one of two scenarios each time Ortiz steps into the ring: It's either going to be a toe-to-toe battle or it'll end in a Tyson-esque meltdown. Sometimes we even get both. Interviews with Ortiz can be an equally bizarre ride. He is at times painfully honest -- such as following his loss to Marcos Maidana when, at 22, he openly contemplated retirement -- and at other times detached and almost unaware of the gravity of what just took place. He added to his fan base with a surprising appearance on ABC's "Dancing With The Stars" and never fails to entertain in some fashion.
Cons: Oritz is the kind of personality you can only take in occasional doses, unlike other polarizing fighters who draw you to the screen time and again, regardless of your level of loathing. And, of course, there's always that VO FaceLube commercial.
8. Canelo Alvarez
Pros: The red-haired and freckled Mexican warrior with the matinee idol looks is, despite having 43 pro fights under his belt, still just 22. Not only does he have an Oscar De La Hoya-like ability to attract mainstream female fans due to his smile, he brings in casual male fans with his exciting style. There's a certain star quality to Canelo that you can't teach, let alone describe, and few fighters his age have looked as comfortable as he does in the spotlight.
Cons: Up until this year, he had been brought along far too slowly for a fighter of his popularity and potential, feasting on an unexciting mix of faded names and journeyman contenders. Although he has made strides, he still isn't fluent enough in English to give his own interviews.
7. Gennady Golovkin
Pros: Has the face of a 12-year-old boy, but punches like Wreck-It Ralph. He also once endearingly referred to opponent Gabriel Rosado as "a good boy" in a postfight interview after stopping him. Such a polite fellow. In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to find another fighter who is as efficiently violent inside the ring and almost naively sweet outside of it. That contrast is compelling enough on its own, never mind his crushing right hand.
Cons: Despite the fact that he's been a middleweight titlist for three years and is a featured player on HBO, the only thing holding back Golovkin's ability to entertain is the fact that he’s too dangerous for his own good and could end up having difficulty finding big-name opponents -- same as Martinez did. But will it ever really get boring watching him knock out middle-of-the-road competition?
6. Amir Khan
Pros: The combination of his dynamic and top-end offensive talents mixed with his shaky chin make the vulnerable Khan, who fights with a tremendous amount of courage, a must-see attraction. He also has a way of speaking with a confidence that defies the reality of his own limitations, which is encouraging to some and tremendously irritating to others. Either way, we keep watching.
Cons: He's somehow equally overrated and underrated at the same time, making it impossible to get a grasp at any point on just how good he really is.
5. Manny Pacquiao
Pros: Still brings a very exciting style to the table and has arguably the most recognizable name among active fighters. Also, the expectant drama that should come as he attempts to recover from a brutal one-punch knockout against Juan Manuel Marquez while navigating the twilight of his career could be interesting. And, you know, there's always Buboy Fernandez.
Cons: Outside of a pair of recent bouts with Marquez, we really haven't seen Pacquiao in a competitive and evenly matched fight since 2009. The storylines in his personal life have also been played out ad nauseam in the various documentary series leading up to his fights.
4. Brandon Rios
Pros: There might not be another fighter in the sport who loves brawling at close range and testing his manhood more than Rios, who not only doesn't know how to make a bad fight, but might actually be crazy. Rios very well may have more talent and potential inside the ring than his style lets on, meaning he doesn't go to war each fight because he has to, but does so instead because it's too much fun for him not to. He's got the Gatti gene.
Cons: Only a lack of one-punch knockout power really separates Rios from becoming a breakout star and topping this list.
3. Lucas Matthysse
Pros: He has the best nickname in the sport -- "The Machine" -- and an explosive, wrecking-ball style to match. Oh yeah, and he don't need no stinking judges. (How does an 86.5 percent knockout rate grab ya?) Throw in the rat tail, tattoos and the raw emotion with which he fights, and Matthysse has become appointment viewing. The power in his hands, even on grazing shots, is frightening.
Cons: With his stock at the moment being as hot as a fighter's could be, Matthysse has a window to make a crossover leap. But although you could argue that his fists do enough talking for him, the opportunity to address the masses in English after one of his spectacular knockouts would greatly improve his value to the casual American audience.
2. Adrien Broner
Pros: If you find yourself irritated at the end of a Broner interview, it means he's doing it right. Although some say the fighter owes too much of his style and swagger to Floyd Mayweather Jr., Broner is slowly carving out his own niche with his intentionally polarizing persona outside of the ring and his spectacular potential inside of it. By standing right in front of his opponents and sitting down on his power punches, all the while with a smirk on his face, viewers will be tuning in to see Broner knock people out -- or end up the victim of one -- for years to come.
Cons: Even if you're sick of the postfight hairbrush already, no one provides a sound bite quite like the self-proclaimed "Can Man." But Broner often steps too far over the line of decency. See his recent comments during the buildup to his welterweight debut against titlist Paulie Malignaggi.
1. Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Pros: The greatest reality star the sport has ever seen, Mayweather dominates the spotlight he helped create and does so despite a defensive style that is appreciated but not always considered entertaining. Along with his brilliant ability to market fights and the general buzz he creates by making claims that he is the best fighter in history, "Money" never fails to deliver inside of the ring despite his advancing age and multiple layoffs. His pursuit of perfection and the ongoing debates about his legacy remain boxing's biggest storylines. There isn't a more consistently compelling figure in the sport who demands our attention and keeps us watching.
Cons: Outside of any differences you might have with his lifestyle or opinions, the only criticism anyone can rightfully hurl at Mayweather relates to the fights he failed to provide fans when the opportunity was there. His September bout with Alvarez should help quiet the critical chatter.
Love, one of the higher-profile up-and-coming members of The Money Team -- Mayweather's promotional outfit -- has plenty of talent. But he hasn't yet been truly tested or faced top opposition. In his most recent outing, notable for the fact that Mayweather also served as his cornerman, Love endured some torrid times against tough-as-teak Derrick Findley.
He will take a major step up in class on Saturday when he squares off against Rosado, who turned down the opportunity to headline an ESPN2 card against Delvin Rodriguez to stay at middleweight and take on Love. Rosado, who has fought most of his career at 154 pounds, most recently moved up to 160 in a valiant but losing effort against Gennady Golovkin.
LAS VEGAS -- It was an eventful night of boxing on two continents on Saturday, from an impressive knockout by Gennady Golovkin in Monaco to a war at the Mandalay Bay. Here are five thoughts on what we saw and learned:
1. Despite itself, boxing continues to amaze
Far too often, boxing coverage and chatter dwells on the negative: fights that don't get made or don't live up to the hype; judging decisions that seem improbable at best or larcenous at worst; promoters not talking to networks and vice versa; ear bitings and Fan Man; boxers getting arrested, publicly burying their faces into very private parts or otherwise acting like buffoons.
And yet, when boxing gets it right, all that even the most cynical observer can do is stand back, applaud and acknowledge that professional prizefighters are athletes like no other. Think of the endlessly cycled "SportsCenter" highlights when a shortstop suffers a nose bleed after a seemingly routine grounder bounces into his face; and then look at a picture of Brandon Rios and, especially, Mike Alvarado at the end of their 12-round war. Grueling doesn't begin to describe their combat. The physical conditioning of both men has to have been off the charts for them to have dished out and withstood what they did, to say nothing of their extraordinary heart and courage.
There were times during Saturday night's battle in Las Vegas when the punches were flowing with such speed and ferocity and the momentum was shifting with such whiplash rapidity, that there was no hope of keeping up and making accurate, detailed notes; there was nothing to be done except to sit slack-jawed in amazement at it all. And although the attention will rightfully be on the punishment each man meted out, there was subtlety, as well -- boxing brains as well as brawn, particularly on the part of Alvarado, whose success came not just from his right hands and left hooks but from his feet and his ability to move laterally, shift position and reduce his opponent's effectiveness.
It was one of those truly remarkable nights when it was a privilege to be able to sit ringside. And at the risk of returning to the extra-curricular shenanigans touched on earlier, with this war coming on the heels of Timothy Bradley Jr.-Ruslan Provodnikov, do you really think HBO is missing Adrien Broner or Bernard Hopkins right now?
2. Being respectful outside the ring doesn't preclude going to war inside it
Forget the tension in the ring in the immediate aftermath of the fight, which came when adrenaline was pumping and Rios, having had his brain rattled around in his skull for 12 rounds, was coming to terms with his first loss. Focus instead on the build-up to this contest and the mutual respect from both men. They had been to war once and were about to do so again, but in the interim they smiled, shook hands, even hugged on the weigh-in stage. At the end of the night, they both went to the same trauma center at the same hospital. What do you want to bet that, a la Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward, they at one point found themselves in adjacent beds and, in the small hours of the morning, exchanged compliments about what they had just done to each other?
3. GGG keeps rolling
Granted, nobody expected Nobuhiro Ishida to defeat Gennady Golovkin. It's doubtful many people not called Mrs. Ishida even expected him to make it an especially close contest. And Ishida himself didn't aid his own cause by eschewing his jab and reach, and choosing instead to stand in Golovkin's wheelhouse and fight.
But if there aren't official style points awarded in boxing, the way in which a boxer wins a fight still counts for a lot, and the spectacular right hand that dropped Ishida onto his back and out in the third round added to the growing Golovkin mythology. Golovkin combines the pressuring, stalking, suffocating style of a python with the sudden, vicious finishing strike of a rattlesnake. He is as much of a beast inside the ring as he is a gentleman outside of it. Once Dmitry Pirog heals from a back injury, his postponed clash with Golovkin is aching to take place. And the prospect of GGG ultimately colliding with Sergio Martinez to see who truly is the best middleweight in the world is something to savor.
4. There are few things to match British fight crowds
In the grand scheme of things, there is nothing extraordinary about either Derry Mathews or Anthony Crolla. Crolla, by way of illustration, was previously stopped by Mathews, who was in turn halted by Gavin Rees, who was swatted aside with contempt by Adrien Broner. Matthews and Crolla had 12 losses between them as they walked to the ring in the Liverpool Echo Arena in the co-main event for Tony Bellew's light heavyweight battle with Isaac Chilemba, but the British fans roared them into the ring as if Lennox Lewis were fighting the ghost of Henry Cooper.
Part of that came down to the fact Mathews is from Merseyside and Crolla from Liverpool's hated local rival, Manchester. But as anyone who will recall Ricky Hatton's magical nights in Las Vegas can verify, British fight fans display a genuine passion that few, if any, North American cities outside Montreal can match.
5. Macau awaits its turn on the stage
This week Monte Carlo, Liverpool and Las Vegas. Next week, the boxing world turns its eye to Macau for what promises to be both an entertaining card and, potentially, the first of many to come. Top Rank's Bob Arum has long talked of staging a fight in Macau, and now circumstances have conspired to make it possible. The signing of Chinese amateur standout Zou Shiming is an important key to unlocking the door. At the same time, Macau itself brings increasing riches to the table, with the territory's casinos generating more income in January this year than all of the Las Vegas strip's properties average in six months.
Over dinner with media members on Friday night, Arum sounded confident that Manny Pacquiao's next bout -- slated for Sept. 14 -- would be at the same venue as next Saturday's card, unless its sister property in Singapore proves able to wrest it away. None of which is to say that the MGM Grand will go without a fight. Nor does it mean that Sin City's position as the undisputed fight capital of the world is under any imminent threat just yet; a number of factors, including geography and TV money, will see to that. And plenty of other rivals -- Atlantic City, Cowboys Stadium in Dallas, even Madison Square Garden -- have come and gone or continue to fall short of what the MGM Grand and Mandalay Bay offer. But if the trial balloon floats as planned next week, then with the right boxers and the right cards, catering to the right demographics and fighting for the right money, Macau may place itself in contention as a major stop on the global boxing circuit.
The unbeaten Golovkin has knocked out 21 of his first 24 opponents using a fighting style he calls "power boxing." In fact, it has been nearly five years since an opponent has been able to go the distance with him.
But Golovkin, who fights out of Stuttgart, Germany, is more than just a knockout machine. A 2004 Olympic silver medalist for his native Kazakhstan, he is a veteran of more than 350 amateur fights and is just as comfortable boxing as he is digging a left hook to the body.
Golovkin, 30, dismantled a game Grzegorz Proksa in his U.S. television debut last September and enters his second fight on American soil Saturday against Gabriel Rosado (21-5, 13 KOs) on the undercard of an HBO tripleheader from the Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York. The underground buzz he has created within the sport as a must-see fighter is just about off the charts. But it's how threatening Golovkin appears to be that could prove to be a double-edged sword as he continues to gain exposure.
Look no further than the saga of middleweight champion Sergio Martinez as a cautionary tale. It was the serially avoided Martinez who went from overnight sensation in 2010 to being forced to wait two full years before landing an opponent of any legitimate name recognition. Martinez, like Golovkin, is a man of multiple countries -- hailing from Argentina before coming of age as a fighter in Spain -- but without a marketable American fan base that is representative of either.
Before ultimately lucking out that Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. had improved enough in a short period of time to make a pay-per-view fight against him viable, Martinez was left for too long toiling in title defenses against inferior and unheralded European opponents who did little to further his career. In the cold-hearted business of boxing, it's the relationship equivalent of falling into the friend zone.
Is Golovkin at risk of becoming the next Martinez? Is it possible the more impressive Golovkin looks, the less likely he is to land a big-name opponent?
"Yeah, this is a good question, you know," Golovkin told ESPN.com. "But it doesn't matter for me. Seriously. It doesn't matter, the name. I'll fight everybody."
Golovkin's attitude is refreshing and one can only hope contagious, as well. He's thoroughly enjoying each step of his journey in a way that is palpable, having recently achieved lifelong goals of not only fighting in the U.S. on American TV, but also securing a fight at Madison Square Garden.
Rather than worrying about becoming the next Martinez, Golovkin is too busy having fun trying to figure out how to land a fight against him.
"I want this fight with Sergio," Golovkin said. "I expect to fight him. He is a great champion, and it will be good for my career."
But the similarities between Golovkin and Martinez end nearly as quickly as they begin. Golovkin has been willing to do all of his interviews in English (Martinez has only recently begun brushing up), and he has more time to build his brand than "Maravilla," who was already in his mid-30s when he captured the lineal middleweight crown.
Martinez also had more limitations on potential opponents considering his unwillingness to move up to 168 pounds for a money fight and the fact he was toiling in a then-barren 160-pound division. Finding worthy opponents in his natural division, at junior middleweight, also proved difficult because the big-name welterweights who moonlighted at 154 pounds considered him too big and talented.
The 5-foot-10 Golovkin, meanwhile, has repeatedly stated that he's willing to fight anyone in all three divisions. Just 10 days ahead of the Rosado fight, Golovkin said he sparred comfortably at 162 pounds and felt great. He also referred to the idea of moving down even further, to 154 pounds, as something that "is easy for me."
"Right now my focus is 160; I want to be the best at middleweight," Golovkin said. "Next, it doesn't matter for me. I think next fight, [if] I'm going down to 154, I don't know with who, but it doesn't matter to me. Seriously, it doesn't matter. I just want to fight, and maybe in the future I'm going to 168. I think for me it's good to find good fights there in the future. I like Andre Ward, Carl Froch. There's a lot out there [at 168 pounds]."
With the upper half of his body crouched forward and his chin precariously extended within reach, Golovkin competes with a fighting stance that invites excitement by almost daring his opponents to engage, and that in-ring style could have the same effect on viewers at home. Golovkin, who is promoted by the Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko-owned K2 Promotions, also has a savvy understanding of the business. He calls building a fan base in America his most important goal in 2013.
"I love the fans, and my style a lot of fans like, with hard punch -- like Mike Tyson-style," Golovkin said. "People want power and knockouts and drama. I like this as my style."
In boxing, if you build a reputation for devastating knockouts, the fans will come. And if they keep coming, the marquee opponents won't be too far behind.