By James Allen
The promotional efforts HBO put in before every Gennady Golovkin appearance are the most vociferous you will see from any TV network for any fighter. We see evidence of it now, again, as the man with the longest knockout streak in boxing prepares to put his WBC, WBA Super, IBF and IBO World middleweight titles on the line.
HBO’s latest ’24/7’ documentary show is a typically dramatic offering; deep bassy tolls over slo-motion footage, sweat flying and Golovkin’s face grimacing as he pounds another unfortunate bag in to disjointed submission. These behind-the scene shows reveal to us the human side of the hero while stoking the flames of his fable. We are told how Golovkin’s humility has seeped in to the fabric of his training camp in Big Bear, California, contagious to the other fighters present, then treated to images of Abel Sanchez, Golovkin’s trainer, grimacing at the tremoring impact of his fighter punching the pads in his palms.
Golovkin, or ‘Triple-G’, is unbeaten in 36 professional fights, only three of which have lasted until the final bell. He finishes contests in brutal fashion, his opponents simply unable to withstand the force with which he throws his fists. Video compilations of his knockouts are as well-drilled as a Philly left hook in the weeks preceding his fights, always with a fresh edition at the end of every one. He is ascending from the mortal plain, each notch adding to the legend.
Hoping to avoid a place on that dreaded highlight reel is the challenger Danny ‘The Miracle Man’ Jacobs, so called for overcoming a rare form of bone cancer in 2011 that threatened to paralyse and kill him if left untreated. Not only did he recover to regain full mobility as doctors feared he may not, he returned to the top end of the middleweight division, eventually capturing the vacant WBA world title, the regular version, in 2014.
Jacobs is on his own impressive KO streak that stretches back seven years to his only defeat, a flatline knockout at the hands of the superb Dmitry Pirog in Las Vegas. His 32-1 record with 29 knockouts stacks up well against the Kazakh champ’s. However, Pirog, Peter Quillin and perhaps Sergio Mora aside, his ledger is light in the way of meaningful names.
Now, as much as these ’24/7’ shows offer us much-needed narrative decoration before the big occasions, this latest contribution follows a quite unavoidable arc, as has much of the pre-fight coverage for Golovkin-Jacobs, a card coined as ‘Middleweight Madness.’
Jacobs survived, defeated, conquered, whipped, a horrific disease that threatened his life. Unaccountably, not only is he alive, he is a world-class athlete performing at the highest level. And he isn’t kicking a ball or swinging a racket, he’s fighting. It is an amazing story, one the media would be ignorant to ignore. And it gives us belief, belief the ‘Miracle Man’ can do the unthinkable and conquer a foe who is, after all, just flesh and blood.
I’m sorry, it’s my callous contention but the adage that ‘Jacobs beat cancer, he can beat Golovkin,’ does not ring true to my ears. It is uncomfortable, but we must wade through the idyllic fog and examine the facts at hand.
Almost all have succumbed to Golovkin. Those who managed to escape his grasp did so with time on their side, in eight rounders earlier in his career. Eventually, he catches up to everyone. Whether he takes a few rounds to get warmed up or takes a few shots on the way in, it is often only a matter a time before his puncturing swings begin to take visible effect. The opponents who last longest elicit the most sympathy. Martin Murray and David Lemieux spring immediately to mind as men who couldn’t bear to lose but had no chance of winning, mercilessly bludgeoned until they could take no more.
If Golovkin has shown vulnerability it is in his tendency to get hit when he doesn’t need to. We have seen him box cautiously in the opening rounds, employing his amateur experience to jab away against Lemieux before stepping up through the gears. He was wary of the man’s power and conducted himself accordingly. But all too often we see him wade forward with disregard, an arrogant reliance on his chin and total belief in his power. We saw Kell Brook, a welterweight, tag him flush several times in his last appearance, and Wille Monroe Jr have unexpected success up close two years ago.
It speaks to Golovkin’s dominance that we must focus on isolated snippets as signs of his falability. On the aforementioned ’24/7’ episode Jacobs himself mentioned he took heart from Brook’s shock success as evidence of exposure. It reminded me of how ‘Sugar’ Rey Leonard was said to have seen deficiencies in the great Marvin Hagler against John Mugabi, decided to come out of a five year retirement for the fight, and actually relieved the Marvellous one of his middleweight title back in 1987. Another improbable tale.
A Danny Jacobs win over Gennady Golovkin on March 18th in Madison Square Garden would not quite hold the same significance as Leonard decisioning Hagler, but it would certainly be an upset to top the list come year’s end.
Jacobs has the hand-speed to trouble Golovkin, there is no doubt about that. His one-round swinging dispatchment of the inactive Peter Quillin demonstrated how quick he can get off the blocks. His is a quick power, opposed to the clubbing thuds he will have to endure at the Garden if he is to collect all of those shiny belts.
Unfortunately, he is pregnable to the puss. Pirog blasted him out a long time ago while more recently a one-legged Sergio Mora managed to floor him in the opener as he swarmed in for the finish. I wouldn’t say Jacobs has a bad chin, he just isn’t wearing the kind of cast-iron beard one would expect him to need to withstand the incendiary incursions surely coming his way.
The assertion, albeit from Jacobs’s own manager, that this is Golovkin’s biggest test to date is not a far-fetched theory. Athletic, fast and fit the challenger will present the same problems as Kell Brook, only in a bigger frame and with a stronger punch. Uppercuts seem to find the target more than any other against Golovkin, though nothing has proven sure-fire just yet.
To hazard a guess I would side with the champion. Simply put he is too strong. As he closes in on Bernard Hopkins’s middleweight championship record of twenty defences he may slow down some, perhaps even ship far more than we are used to seeing, but his power and durability will see him through a fair distance from here.