Golovkin has stars, stripes in eyes

Middleweight titlist eager to make U.S. debut, take on all comers in division

Updated: August 31, 2012, 5:33 PM ET
By Dan Rafael | ESPN.com

Gennady GolovkinAP Photo/Martin MeissnerGennady Golovkin, right, already owns a world title but aspires to "the top of the sport in America."

Gennady Golovkin already has accomplished so much as a fighter.

He was a star amateur, beating the likes of Lucian Bute, Andre Dirrell and Andy Lee and winning an Olympic silver medal for Kazakhstan at the 2004 Athens Games. As a professional, he has shown tremendous punching power with both hands on his way to winning one of the middleweight world titles in 2010.

But for as much as Golovkin, who lives in Stuttgart, Germany, with his wife and 3-year-old son, already has accomplished, he still has goals that haven't been met. The most important one to him is to attain ring stardom in the United States.

"I want to fight in America because I realize America is the biggest boxing market and there are a lot of great fighters in my division in America," said Golovkin, who speaks Kazak, Russian, German and English, a language in which he has made huge strides in a short time. "There are good fights over in Europe, but for me the priority is to be at the top of the sport in America."

In an effort to reach that goal, Golovkin and K2 promoter Tom Loeffler began their campaign earlier this year by visiting the networks to assure executives that unlike some coddled supposed superstars, Golovkin will fight whomever they want him to face. Period.

"There are a lot of exciting opponents for him in the division, and we made it clear to HBO that they won't have any problem getting us to accept opponents," Loeffler said. "But they might have trouble getting opponents to accept fighting Gennady."

HBO, which is heavily involved in the middleweight division given its considerable investments in lineal champion Sergio Martinez and titleholder Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. -- who square off in a major HBO PPV bout in Las Vegas on Sept. 15 -- liked the idea of adding another of the world's best 160-pounders to its airwaves.

So now the next step in Golovkin's attempt to take America by storm commences at the Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona, N.Y., on Saturday night (HBO, 9:45 ET/PT), when he will defend his belt against top-10 contender Grzegorz Proksa, the European champion from Poland who lives in England.

"Proksa is a good man and I have a lot of respect for him," Golovkin said. "He's a strong puncher and has difficult southpaw style. He's similar to Martinez with the way he keeps his hands down, but I am excited about this opportunity to fight on HBO and show my skills against a quality opponent."

Golovkin (23-0, 20 KOs) was supposed to meet Dmitiry Pirog, who was stripped of his belt for accepting the fight instead of a less lucrative mandatory defense. But Pirog ruptured a disc in his back during training for the bout and was replaced in late July by Proksa (28-1, 21 KOs) -- who will also be making his U.S. debut.

In a scheduled 12-round opening bout, former junior middleweight titlist Sergiy Dzinziruk (37-1, 24 KOs), 36, a Germany-based native of Ukraine, will face rising 23-year-old Puerto Rican prospect Jonathan Gonzalez (15-0, 13 KOs). Dzinziruk, who is undefeated as a 154-pounder, hasn't fought since he was wiped out in eight lopsided rounds challenging Martinez for the middleweight championship in March 2011.

[+] EnlargeGreg Proksa
Scott Heavey/Getty ImagesGrzegorz Proksa, a big-punching southpaw, avenged his only career defeat with an eighth-round TKO of Kerry Hope in July.

Proksa, 27, scored an eye-opening victory against former world titleholder Sebastian Sylvester on his turf in Germany in October. He stopped Sylvester in the third round, sending him into retirement. In his next fight, Proksa was upset, losing a majority decision to Kerry Hope in March. However, when they met in a rematch in July, Proksa emphatically avenged the defeat by scoring an eighth-round knockout.

Golovkin, 30, knows that a strong showing against a quality opponent such as Proksa will start the ball rolling for him in the U.S.

"This is my first fight in America, my first fight on HBO," Golovkin said. "And now I have to prove my skills in the ring on this type of platform."

Golovkin, of course, hopes to win Saturday and eventually fight the Martinez-Chavez winner. He also has interest in the winner of Saturday's unification bout in Germany between Felix Sturm -- who owes Golovkin a long overdue mandatory fight -- and Daniel Geale.

"It doesn't matter who I fight in the middleweight division. My dream fight is to fight the winner of Chavez and Martinez, but there are so many other middleweights out there," Golovkin said. "I've been the mandatory for Sturm for so long. [Top contender] Peter Quillin's name has come up. I'll fight anyone in the middleweight division."

None of the top names have ever called out Golovkin, though. Maybe that's because several of them -- Chavez, Saul "Canelo" Alvarez, Alfredo Angulo, Quillin and even Shane Mosley -- have seen enough of him during sparring sessions in the past.

"He's worked with a lot of the big names," trainer Abel Sanchez said. "I can't keep anyone in the gym at his weight, so we sparred for this fight with light heavyweights and cruiserweights. We went through, like, eight, 10 sparring partners."

Golovkin has scored 10 consecutive knockouts, some of the highlight-reel variety, and no opponent has heard the final bell against him since an eight-rounder in 2008. For example, Golovkin, who said he never has been knocked down as a pro or amateur, defended his title against Philadelphia's Lajuan Simon in December. Simon never had been stopped in any of his three previous losses, yet Golovkin knocked him out clean with one punch in the first round.

"Gennady has a naturally exciting style," Loeffler said. "He doesn't look for a knockout, but because he has so much knockout power in both hands he always comes forward and stops his opponents. We're looking for him to produce exciting knockouts in the States. When the American fans are exposed to that style, they will gain an appreciation for him and that will increase his popularity over here in America."

Golovkin, however, downplays his growing reputation as a knockout artist.

"This is boxing, so maybe this fight will go to a decision," he said. "I'm prepared whether it is a knockout of a decision. In boxing, you can never predict, but I believe it will be a knockout. I have good power in both hands, but my focus is on boxing smart and if the knockout comes, it's a great result."

Sanchez, who has been with Golovkin for three years and six fights, is more willing to make a prediction.

"This is the most difficult fight to date for him, not only with me as his trainer but in his career," Sanchez said. "Proksa has a difficult style, but I think Gennady will make him look very ordinary. As long as he does what he's been doing in the gym, he's gonna hurt Proksa and stop him in the middle of the fight."

Sanchez -- who has trained fighters such as Hall of Famer Terry Norris, former heavyweight titlist Samuel Peter, former junior middleweight titleholder Yory Boy Campas and former lightweight titlist Miguel Angel Gonzalez -- is very high on Golovkin.

"I explained to him a year and a half ago that if he gave me what I needed in the gym, he would be the best fighter I've ever worked with," Sanchez said. "At this point, he is on the level of Norris, and we have just scratched the surface. It's a pleasure to work with him because he's somebody who wants to work hard."

Their union was somewhat random. Three years ago, Golovkin's then-manager brought him to the U.S. looking for a trainer and a gym to work at. One of them was Sanchez's gym in Big Bear, Calif.

"We met, talked, had dinner, looked at some videos and we clicked," Sanchez said. "When they left, they said, 'See you in a couple of months.' So you know what that meant. But sure enough, two months later I get a call on a Saturday and they said, 'He'll be in on Sunday. Can you pick him up at the airport?' Since then, we've been together.

"What we started then is beginning to come to fruition -- that he could be the best middleweight in the world."