Is Gennady Golovkin too good to get a big fight?
On Saturday, Gennady Gennadyevich Golovkin (34-0, 31 KOs), the best middleweight boxer in the world and holder of the WBA, IBF, IBO titles and WBC interim belt, will take on unheralded challenger Dominic Wade. In the co-feature, flyweight Roman Gonzalez (44-0, 38 KOs), considered by many the world’s pound-for-pound best, will defend his WBC crown against Puerto Rican McWilliams Arroyo.
Golovkin and Gonzalez are exciting and technically gifted knockout artists, who continue to sell out arenas – the Forum is expected to draw 16,000 attendees – and the fight card will air on HBO.
While these two elite fighters should be in the sport’s vanguard, they continue to struggle to break out of boxing’s insular world and reach the status afforded their sublime skills. In one of the many quirks in a sport that endlessly frustrates its fans, and makes little sense to casual observers, the most dangerous fighters often have the most difficult time finding worthy opponents, meaning that the best are rarely fighting the best because of a myriad of competing promotional concerns. In boxing, these kind of calculated delays can go on for years as fighters allow their most competitive opponents to become shop worn. (In soccer, it would be the equivalent of only agreeing to play against Lionel Messi and his current cohorts at Barcelona when they are in their late 30s.) Floyd Mayweather Jr used this strategy to make hundreds of millions of dollars while concurrently disillusioning millions of sports fans.
Of Saturday’s two headliners, Gonzalez, who is known by Chocolatito, seems to be in a slightly more competitive fight against Arroyo, who is best known for a solid amateur career. He was a 2008 Olympian and won a gold medal at the Pan-Am Games. But Arroyo hasn’t fought for more than a year, and will be in with maybe the best fighter on the planet regardless of weight. Gonzalez is probably the most anonymous elite athlete in the world. HBO has, yes, given him some air time, and this is the second time he has been coupled with Golovkin on a card to join forces and expose both men to a wider audience. And, yes, fighters below lightweight are often ignored by the public. Gonzalez of Nicaragua will probably never receive much recognition. (Manny Pacquiao, for example, made his professional debut at 106lbs but climbed several weight classes because larger purses and prestige are in the heavier division.)
Golovkin, a baby-faced middleweight, has become a cult favorite, which has landed him an appearance on an Apple Watch commercial and a multi-year endorsement deal with Nike’s Jordan Brand. But the Kazakh has found it difficult to land a signature fight. Most observers believe that Saturday’s bout is yet another walkover. It is a testament to GGG’s popularity in his adopted hometown that ticket sales have been so brisk: people want to witness his 22nd straight knockout. He has the aura of Mike Tyson in his prime: other fighters are intimidated by him. To truly test his skills, the boxing world wants him to face Canelo Alvarez, 25, the popular Mexican fighter who yo-yos between the super welterweight and middleweight classes. Since his loss to Mayweather three years ago, Alvarez (46-1) is trying to burnish his popularity with a nearly invincible record. He figures the easier he rolls through opponents, the longer his career will last, and the easier it will be to score big paydays. In May, Alvarez will take on the slighter and lighter punching Amir Khan rather than take on Golovkin. GGG is growing increasingly frustrated at being ignored, and has called Alvarez “100% a businessman” rather than a true sportsman.
(Said Canelo in response during a recent press conference promoting the Khan fight: “It’s in my future plans. It’s definitely in my future plans. I want to have that fight. I want to give that to the fans. I’m just not sure when.”)
In modern boxing, the top fighters rely on pay-per-view bouts to make millions upon millions. Boxing is very popular in Mexico, and as Mexico’s top fighter, Alvarez is a greater draw than Golovkin. In October, Golovkin, 34, collected less than 150,000 pay-per-view buys for his at a sold-out Madison Square Garden. In November, , garnering 900,000 buys, and Alvarez’s 2013 loss to Mayweather was the third-most lucrative bout in the sport’s history. Canelo’s numbers put him in the more powerful negotiating position.
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has expressed interest in hosting a fall super-fight between Golovkin and Alvarez in Cowboys Stadium. fans crave the matchup, and it has the potential to bring casual sports fans, many of whom swore off the sport after the Mayweather-Pacquiao debacle, back into the sport. Both fighters are known for their knockouts.
But Alvarez and his team have appeared lukewarm about the fight, hinting that Canelo is not a true middleweight. The claim is dubious. In his last seven fights, Alvarez has fought as a superwelterweight (154lb limit) or a middleweight (160lb limit). He is taking on Khan at a catchweight of 155lbs. If negotiations do occur, the Mexican’s team will probably force Triple G to come down to a much lower catchweight to debilitate him.
Alvarez versus Golovkin would be good for the sport. Every few years there is talk of the “death of boxing”, but in reality the sport has always gone through ebbs and flows of popularity. It is clearly at a low point right now. Since Mayweather-Pacquiao, there has been a trailing off of interest in the sweet science. The generated very little media or popular buzz. And the growing number of promotional and network fiefdoms continue to harm the sport. Alvarez versus Golovkin might just be smelling salt that boxing needs right now.