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What Makes Gennady Golovkin Special

Kelsey McCarson

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It’s just about the most embarrassing thing that can happen when you have a phone interview with one of boxing’s biggest stars.

The call gets made. The interview begins.

And then the decrepit replacement phone you use (because you were dumb enough to jump into a swimming pool over the summer with your previous phone tucked into your pocket) doesn’t allow you to hear anything the fighter says.

“Hello Kelsey,” an ever-polite Gennady Golovkin said to me all three times the interview began. He remained just as polite after two stop-and-starts, the frantic finding of an alternate phone solution and the third-time’s-a-charm connection.

But Golovkin didn’t just seem polite. He seemed genuine about it. That’s a rarity in today’s world.

More applicable to what happens once the bell rings, when Golovkin hits somebody, they almost always fall down. That’s also a rarity. Golovkin has won 27 of this 30 fights by knockout, including the last 17. He not only knows how to punch with concussive force, but where and when to do so.

Golovkin is a knockout machine. But the 32-year-old from Kazakhstan doesn’t really know what to say if you ask him about it.

“It’s hard work every day in my gym,” said Golovkin. “It’s hard work. A long time ago, hard work every day.”

Golovkin’s work is paying off. He’s become one of HBO’s signature fighters, and appears to be on the verge of becoming one of boxing’s elite superstars. But what sets him apart from his competition? And how did his rise seem to come along so very fast quickly?

“It’s been a lot of work,” said K2 Promotions’ Tom Loeffler. “I call it a perfect storm in terms of the efforts on our side, the training on Abel Sanchez’s side and Gennady’s fighting style in the ring.”

Loeffler said Golovkin’s style has helped him both inside the ring against opponents and outside the ring with fight fans as well. Golovkin is an offensive force who is fun to watch fight.

“One unique quality Gennady has is his ability to cut off the ring and adapt to any style put in front of him,” said Loeffler.

Golovkin is an aggressive stalker with incredible power in both hands. He walks his opponents down as if they were his prey and disposes of them in due measure. Loeffler said it’s been difficult to get top-tier middleweights in the ring with Golovkin, despite his fighter holding the WBA and IBO middleweight title belts.

HBO Sports’ Vice President of Programming, Peter Nelson, put it most succinctly: “It’s not to say that any middleweight fighter is scared of a fight with Gennady Golovkin. It just seems like they don’t want to be there when it happens.”

Golovkin has come a long way in just two short years, but Loeffler believes it could have happened even faster had certain fighters been more willing to engage him than suggested by Nelson.

“Unfortunately, none of the big names were willing to get in the ring with him. It’d have been much easier had Sergio Martinez—when at that time he was considered the No. 1 middleweight—if he would have taken a fight with him. Or a different name like Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. or Peter Quillin. We made a number of attempts at trying to get Quillin in the ring. I think it would have gone quicker had he gotten a bigger name to fight him. We’ve had to do it the hard way as far as keeping him active.”

Despite the difficulty in finding opponents, Golovkin has stayed active enough to fight his way into being one of the top budding stars in the sport. He fought four times in 2013 and his bout Saturday against Marco Antonio Rubio will be his third of 2014. Golovkin was scheduled to fight in April as well but the bout was cancelled due to the passing of his father.

“That’s the other unique quality about Golovkin. He wants to stay busy, unlike many champions who fight once or twice a year, Golovkin’s schedule is always for four fights a year. That’s also what made his rise possible in such a short period of time and without having a real A-side name on his record.”

HBO sure seems to like him. Nelson, said the growing mandate among fans to see him fight started because of his mysterious background.

“He’s always existed as a kind of myth,” said Nelson. “You take a look at a guy who had close to 400 amateur fights and lost almost none of them. And he wasn’t just winning the fights, but he was knocking out amateur fighters like Lucian Bute with head gear on. You take that kind of mystique and apply it to a professional career where he goes on these long knockout streaks…and everyone had heard a story or two about Gennady Golovkin…this is a kid who really earned his way.”

Nelson referenced rumored gym wars with Chavez, Alvarez and Sergey Kovalev as well as YouTube clips of Golovkin obliterating European fighters as key aspects of Golovkin’s mosaic of intrigue.

“So much of it starts with the press honestly. The mandate to see Gennady arose from the curiosity about his mystique and a desire to give the man an opportunity to see if he’s real. Everyone can relate to that. Everyone has had a moment in their life where all they wanted was an opportunity, and all they were asking for was someone to give it to them. And they knew that if they got it, they would make the most of it. Everyone can respect a man for whom it takes him nearly being 30 years old just to get the opportunity he’s wanted. That’s a relatable experience in any language and any culture.”

After some early-career promotional struggles in Germany with his previous promoter, Universum, Golovkin found his way to Loeffler and K2. Loeffler said his team’s commitment to Golovkin was making him into a global star, something they believed would necessitate bringing their fighter to the United States in order to achieve.

“Fighting in the U.S. is very important for me,” said Golovkin. “It’s my dream. For my fans, for my family and for my team of course. This is my life.”

But the knock on Golovkin has less to do with his age or even what he displays inside the ring when the bell rings and more with his lack of elite dance partners, willing or otherwise.

Boxing writer Bart Barry of 15Rounds.com told me he’s not buying the idea that Golovkin could become one of the best middleweights ever, something bandied about frequently via social media.

“I would say it is almost a mathematical impossibility for Golovkin to become an all-time great at middleweight,” said Barry. “Marvelous Marvin Hagler was not even a year older than Golovkin is right now when Hagler retired as an all-time great…Before we even consider using a word like ‘great,’ we have to look at fights a man has won against other greats. A prime Bernard Hopkins could have beaten Golovkin’s last three opponents in a handicap match with all three in the ring at the same time.”

Barry also believes at least some of the mystique around Golovkin has to do with his complexion.

“He’s an offensive force, and he’s fighting in a remarkably poor era. Just as importantly, white Americans – who compose the majority in our country, and the vast majority of boxing writers – identify with him in a way they do not identify with Floyd Mayweather or Manny Pacquiao or Bernard Hopkins. He may not speak English well, but in appearance and demeanor he otherwise reminds us of ourselves, and boxing has always been more honest about ethnic identification than America at large.”

Regardless, Loeffler said he expects Golovkin to become the premier fighter in the sport. In other words, Loeffler believes Golovkin will take over the mantle from Floyd Mayweather within the next couple of years, whether the latter takes a fight against him or not.

“I think that’s his destiny. I think he has that rare combination of not only being the best fighter but also being perceived as the most exciting fighter. Not since Mike Tyson have you seen that. I think Golovkin, after next year, will rise to tops of pound-for-pound lists. He’s even willing to go outside of the division for big fights.”

Loeffler said fans enjoy Golovkin’s ability to end fights with his fists as much as any other quality he might possess, something increasingly important in the age of bogus boxing judges and controversial decisions.

“There’s never a controversial ending to Golovkin’s fights,” said Loeffler.

Moreover, Loeffler said he expects Golovkin to finally get his chance against top-tier boxing stars next year. He said HBO’s financial commitment to Golovkin was substantial enough now that it would help GGG secure bouts against the likes of Chavez, Cotto and/or Canelo Alvarez. Moreover, Loeffler mentioned possible showdowns against Carl Froch and Andre Ward at 168.

HBO Sports’ Senior Vice President of Operations and Pay-per-view, Mark Taffet, indicated that Golovkin might just be the right man for the right moment in time.

“Inside the ring, he has tremendous knockout power,” said Taffet. “It’s the attribute by which he’s identified most. And it’s an incredibly fan-friendly attribute.”

Perhaps equally fan-friendly is that Golovkin and his team seem whole-heartedly engaged in putting him into the ring with anyone between 154 and 168 pounds. Loeffler said as much, and Golovkin himself brought up Cotto, Chavez and Alvarez by name as 2015 targets without even being asked about it. That’s a quality that a PPV guru like Taffet can really get behind.

“He’s willing to fight anybody,” said Taffet. “Not only is he a great middleweight champion, but he can fight anywhere from 154 to 168 pounds. He’s said numerous times he’s willing to fight anyone in those weight classes. Fans love that.”

Taffet called Golovkin part of the foundation of HBO’s boxing programming “for years to come,” and said Golovkin seemed poised to become one of boxing’s biggest stars. He said a proposed bout against Chavez earlier this year fell through on the Chavez side and would have been Golovkin’s first appearance on HBO PPV.

Still, Golovkin’s future appears bright.

“He’s fighting often and regularly on the HBO service,” said Taffet. “So he’s on boxing’s No. 1 television platform to the largest and broadest audience possible at the most important developmental stage of his career. His style appeals to fans in the same way Manny Pacquiao’s style appealed to fans early on through his fights with Marco Antonio Barrera, Juan Manuel Marquez and Erik Morales. Gennady has that same universal appear in the ring.”

Heck, even one of Golovkin’s biggest critics believes the fighter is on his way to becoming a big deal.

“I believe he already is among boxing’s biggest stars,” said Barry. “HBO has thrown the weight of its diminished credibility behind him, and with the dearth of talent in prizefighting today, and the disproportionate exuberance that adheres to his every accomplishment, there’s no reason to believe he will not ascend to an outsized stardom–at least until he encounters Andre Ward.”

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Weekend Boxing Recap: The Mikey Garcia Stunner and More

Arne K. Lang

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Weekend Boxing Recap: The Mikey Garcia Stunner and More

Boxing was all over the map on the third Saturday of October with many of the shows pulled together on short notice as promoters took advantage of relaxed COVID constraints to return to business as usual. When the smoke cleared, a monster upset in Fresno overshadowed the other events.

Mikey Garcia, a shoo-in to make the Hall of Fame, was on the wrong side of it. Spain’s Sandor Martin, in his USA debut, won a well-deserved decision over Garcia at a Triple-A baseball park in Fresno.

Garcia, a former four-division belt-holder, was 40-1 coming in with his only loss coming at the hands of Errol Spence. Martin, a 28-year-old southpaw, brought a nice record with him from Europe (38-2) but with only 13 wins coming by way of stoppage it was plain that he wasn’t a heavy hitter. His only chance was to out-box Garcia and that seemed far-fetched.

But Martin did exactly that, counter-punching effectively to win a 10-round majority decision. Two judges had it 97-93 with the third turning in a 95-95 tally.

Neither Garcia nor Martin were natural welterweights. The bout was fought at a catch-weight of 145 pounds. After the bout, the Spaniard indicated a preference for dropping back to 140 where enticing opportunities await.

There was another upset, albeit a much milder one, in the co-feature where Puerto Rico’s Jonathan Gonzalez improved to 25-3-1 (14) while shearing the WBO world flyweight title from the shoulders of Mexicali’s Elwin Soto (19-2).

Soto was making his fourth defense of the title and rode into the match with a 17-fight winning streak. Gonzalez, a southpaw, had formerly fought for the WBO world flyweight title, getting stopped in seven rounds by Kosei Tanaka in Nagoya, Japan.

One of the judges favored Soto 116-112, but he was properly out-voted by his colleagues who had it 116-112 the other way.

Riga, Latvia

The first major fight on Saturday took place in Riga, Latvia, where hometown hero Mairis Briedis successfully defended his IBF cruiserweight title with a third-round stoppage of Germany’s Artur Mann who was on the deck three times before the match was halted at the 1:54 mark.

Briedis (28-1, 20 KOs) was making his first start since dismantling KO artist Yuniel Dorticos in the finals of season two of the World Boxing Super Series cruiserweight tournament. He scored the first of his three knockdowns in the waning seconds of round two when he deposited Mann (17-2) on the canvas with a straight right hand.

Although boosters of fast-rising WBO champ Lawrence Okolie would disagree, the Latvian is widely regarded as the best cruiserweight in the world. His only setback came when he lost a narrow decision to current WBA/IBF/WBO heavyweight champ Oleksandr Usyk in this ring in January of 2018. Now 36 years old, Briedis has yet to appear in a main event outside Europe. That’s undoubtedly about to change and a rematch with Usyk is well within the realm of possibility.

Newcastle, England

Chris Eubank Jr, whose fight two weeks ago in London with late sub Anati Muratov was cancelled at the 11th hour when Muratov failed his medical exam, was added to this Matchroom card and his bout with Wanik Awdijan became the de facto main event. A 26-year-old German, born in Armenia, Awdijan was 28-1 and had won 21 straight (against very limited opposition), but he was no match for Eubank Jr who broke him down with body shots, likely breaking his ribs and forcing him to quit on his stool after five frames.

Eubank Jr, 32, improved to 31-2 (23) His only defeats came at the hands of former world title-holder George Groves and BJ Saunders. He dedicated this fight to his late brother Sebastian Eubank who died in July while swimming in the Persian Gulf.

In other bouts, Hughie Fury, the cousin of Tyson Fury, stayed relevant in the heavyweight division with a stoppage of well-traveled German Christian Hammer and Savannah Marshall successfully defended her WBO world middleweight title with a second-round TKO of Lolita Muzeya.

Akin to Eubank-Awdijan, the Fury-Hammer fight also ended with the loser bowing out after five frames. A biceps injury allegedly caused Hammer to say “no mas,” but Fury, in what was arguably his career-best performance, was well ahead on the cards.

The Marshall-Muzeya fight was a battle of unbeatens, but Muzeya’s 16-0 record was suspicious as the Zambian had never fought outside the continent of Africa. She came out blazing, but Marshall, who improved to 11-0 (9) had her number and retained her title.

Brooklyn

In the featured bout of a TrillerVerz show at Barclays Center, Long Island’s Cletus Seldin, the Hebrew Hammer, knocked out William Silva in the seventh round. It was the fifth-straight win for the 35-year-old Seldin, a junior welterweight who was making his first start in 20 months.

Silva, a 34-year-old Brazilian who fights out of Florida, brought a 28-3 record. His previous losses had come at the hands of Felix Verdejo, Teofimo Lopez, and Arnold Barboza Jr. Seldin improved to 26-1 (22 KOs).

In other bouts, junior welterweight Petros Ananyan, a Brooklyn-based Armenian, improved to 16-2-2 (7) with a 10-round majority decision over local fighter Daniel Gonzalez (20-3-1) and Will Madera of Albany, NY, scored a mild upset when he stopped Jamshidbek Najmitdinov who was pulled out after five rounds with an apparent shoulder injury.

Najmitdinov, from Uzbekistan, was making his U.S. debut but he brought a 17-1 record blemished only by former world title-holder Viktor Postol. Madera improved to 17-1-3.

Photo credit: Ed Mulholand / Matchroom

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Emanuel Navarrete Retains WBO Featherweight Title in a San Diego Firefight

David A. Avila

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SAN DIEGO-WBO featherweight titlist Emanuel Navarrete won by unanimous decision over Joet Gonzalez in a slugfest that had fans cheering nonstop on Friday night. Fans were mesmerized by the savagery.

More than 2,000 fans saw Mexico City’s Navarrete (35-1, 29 KOs) and Southern California’s Gonzalez (24-2, 14 KOs) bounce brutal shots off each other for 12 successive rounds at Pechanga Sports Arena.

Both Navarrete and Gonzalez were about equal in height with the champion maybe a slight taller, but not by much. As soon as the first bell rang the two featherweights opened up in furious fashion.

Gonzalez was making his second attempt to grab a world title. His first attempt fell short a year ago. He was eager to atone for the defeat by clobbering Navarrete. Body shots were the weapon of choice.

The Mexican fighter Navarrete was accustomed to battling shorter fighters, this time the two were equal in size and in fury. Blows were flying in bunches and by the third round Gonzalez suffered a cut on his right cheek.

At several points Navarrete would connect with a solid blow and eagerly seek to finish the fight. Each time it happened Gonzalez would fight back even more furiously and beat back the champions attacks.

Gonzalez also connected with big shots and moved in for the kill only find Navarrete take a stand and fire back. Neither was able to truly gain a significant edge. After 12 rounds of nonstop action the decision was given to the judges. One scored it 118-110, two others saw it 116-112 all for Navarrete.

Fans were pleased by the decision and even more pleased by the breath-taking action they had witnessed.

Welterweights

Local fighter Giovani Santillan (28-0, 15 KOs) remained undefeated by unanimous decision after 10 rounds versus Tijuana’s Angel Ruiz (17-2, 12 KOs). The two southpaws were evenly matched.

San Diego’s Santillan was able to outwork Ruiz in almost every round. Though Ruiz has heavy hands he was not able to hurt Santillan even with uppercuts. It was clear very early in the fight that Santillan was the more technical and busier of the two. No knockdowns were scored.

After 10 rounds two judges scored it 100-90 for Santillan and a third saw it 99-91.

Other Results

Lindolfo Delgado (14-0, 12 KOs) battered and knocked down fellow Mexican Juan Garcia Mendez (21-5-2) in the last round of an 8-round super lightweight bout, but could not score the knockout win.

Delgado, a Mexican Olympian, was the quicker and stronger fighter yet discovered Garcia Mendez has a solid chin. All three judges scored it 80-71 for Delgado.

Puerto Rico’s Henry Lebron (14-0, 9 KOs) defeated Manuel Rey Rojas (21-6) by decision after eight rounds in a lightweight match.

Javier Martinez (5-0, 2 KOs) soundly defeated Darryl Jones (4-3-1) by decision after six rounds in a middleweight clash. Jones was tough.

Las Vegas bantamweight Floyd Diaz (3-0) knocked down Tucson’s Jose Ramirez (1-1) in the first round but was unable to end the fight early. Diaz won by decision.

Heavyweight Antonio Mireles (1-0) knocked out Demonte Randle (2-2) at 2:07 of the first round.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank for Getty Images

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Book Review

Russell Peltz’s “Thirty Dollars and a Cut Eye”: Book Review by Thomas Hauser

Thomas Hauser

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Russell Peltz’s “Thirty Dollars and a Cut Eye”: Book Review by Thomas Hauser

Russell Peltz has been promoting fights for fifty years and is as much a part of the fabric of Philadelphia boxing as Philly gym wars and Philly fighters. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2004 and deservedly so. Now Peltz has written a memoir entitled Thirty Dollars and a Cut Eye that chronicles his many years in the sweet science.

Peltz started in boxing before it was, in his words, “bastardized by the alphabet groups” and at a time when “world titles still meant something.”

“I fell in love with boxing when I was twelve,” he writes, “saw my first live fight at fourteen, decided to make it my life, and never looked back.” He promoted his first fight card in 1969 at age 22.

Peltz came of age in boxing at a time when promoters – particularly small promoters – survived or died based on the live gate. Peltz Boxing Promotions had long runs at the Blue Horizon in Philadelphia and both Harrah’s Marina and the Sands  in Atlantic City. His journey through the sweet science included a seven-year stint as director of boxing for The Spectrum in Philadelphia. At the turn of the century, he was a matchmaker for ESPN.

Along the way, Peltz’s office in Philadelphia was fire-bombed. He was robbed at gunpoint while selling tickets in his office for a fight card at the Blue Horizon and threatened in creative ways more times than one might imagine. He once had a fight fall out when one of the fighters was arrested on the day of the weigh-in. No wonder he quotes promoter Marty Kramer, who declared, “The only thing I wish on my worst enemy is that he becomes a small-club boxing promoter.”

Now Peltz has put pen to paper – or finger to keyboard. “The internet is often a misinformation highway,” he writes. “I want to set the record straight as to what actually went on in boxing in the Philadelphia area since the late-1960s. I’m tired of reading tweets or Facebook posts or Instagram accounts from people who were not around and have no idea what went on but write like they do.”

Thirty Dollars and a Cut Eye is filled with characters (inside and outside the ring) who give boxing its texture. As Peltz acknowledges, his own judgment was sometimes faulty. Russell once turned down the opportunity to promote Marvin Hagler on a long-term basis. There are countless anecdotes about shady referees, bad judging, and other injustices. Middleweight Bennie Briscoe figures prominently in the story, as do other Philadelphia fighters like Willie “The Worm” Monroe, Bobby “Boogaloo” Watts, Eugene “Cyclone” Hart, Stanley “Kitten” Hayward, and Matthew Franklin (later Matthew Saad Muhammad). Perhaps the best fight Peltz ever promoted  was the 1977 classic when Franklin knocked out Marvin Johnson in the twelfth round.

There’s humor. After Larry Holmes pitched a shutout against Randall “Tex” Cobb in 1982, Cobb proclaimed, “Larry never beat me. He just won the first fifteen rounds.”

And there are poignant notes. Writing about Tanzanian-born Rogers Mtagwa (who boxed out of Philadelphia), Peltz recalls, “He couldn’t pass an eye exam because he didn’t understand the alphabet.”

Remembering the Blue Horizon, Peltz fondly recounts, “”The Blue Horizon was a fight fan’s nirvana. The ring was 15-feet-9-inches squared inside the ropes. No fighter came to the Blue Horizon to pad his record. Fans wanted good fights, not slaughters of second-raters.”

That ethos was personified by future bantamweight champion Jeff Chandler who, after knocking out an obviously inept opponent, told Peltz, “Don’t ever embarrass me like that again in front of my fans.”

Thereafter, whenever a manager asked Peltz to put his fighter in soft to “get me six wins in a row,” Russell thought of Chandler. “I enjoyed promoting fights more than promoting fighters,” he writes. “If I was interested in promoting fighters, I would have been a manager.”

That brings us to Peltz the writer.

The first thing to be said here is that this is a book for boxing junkies, not the casual fan. Peltz is detail-oriented. But do readers really need to know what tickets prices were for the April 6, 1976, fight between Bennie Briscoe and Eugene Hart? The book tends to get bogged down in details. And after a while, the fights and fighters blur together in the telling.

It brings to mind the relationship between Gene Tunney and George Bernard Shaw. The noted playwright and heavyweight great developed a genuine friendship. But Shaw’s fondness for Tunney stopped short of uncritical admiration. In 1932, the former champion authored his autobiography (A Man Must Fight) and proudly presented a copy to his intellectual mentor. Shaw read the book and responded with a letter that read in part, “Just as one prayer meeting is very like another, one fight is very like another. At a certain point, I wanted to skip to Dempsey.”

Reading Thirty Dollars and a Cut Eye, at a certain point I wanted to skip to Hagler.

There’s also one jarring note. Peltz recounts how, when Mike Jones fought Randall Bailey for the vacant IBF welterweight title in Las Vegas in 2012, Peltz bet five hundred dollars against Jones (his own fighter) at the MGM Sports Book and collected two thousand dollars when Bailey (trailing badly on the judges’ scorecards) knocked Jones out in the eleventh round.

“It was a tradition from my days with Bennie Briscoe,” Russell explains. “I’d bet against my fighter, hoping to lose the bet and win the fight.”

I think Russell Peltz is honest. I mean that sincerely. And I think he was rooting for Mike Jones to beat Randall Bailey. But I don’t think that promoters should bet on fights involving their own fighters. And it’s worse if they bet against their own fighters. Regardless of the motivation, it looks bad. Or phrased differently: Suppose Don King had bet on Buster Douglas to beat Mike Tyson in Tokyo?

Philadelphia was once a great fight town. in 1926, the first fight between Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney drew 120,000 fans to Sesquicentennial Stadium. Twenty-six years later, Rocky Marciano knocked out Jersey Joe Walcott at same site (renamed Municipal Stadium) to claim the heavyweight throne.

Peltz takes pride in saying, “I was part of Philadelphia’s last golden age of boxing.”

An important part.

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His most recent book – Broken Dreams: Another Year Inside Boxing – was published by the University of Arkansas Press this autumn. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism. In 2019, he was selected for boxing’s highest honor – induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

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