NOT unlike any other fighter in the departure lounge of their career, there is an air of inevitability to the gradual winding down of Gennadiy Golovkin that makes it hard to watch and harder to look away.
As with most victims of time, be it television or phone, the sense is that Golovkin, in 2022, is a fully functioning and more than effective version of his old self, though cannot be upgraded. This, as a result, makes every “GGG” fight both precious and perilous and every achievement of his all the more remarkable.
At 40, and with a life of fighting behind him, Golovkin not only keeps going but keeps winning, a knack he again demonstrated on Saturday (April 9) in Saitama, Japan, where he defeated Ryota Murata inside nine rounds. That, the 42nd win of the Kazakh’s professional career, was no mean feat, nor an easy fight, but at this stage, every fight is increasingly difficult and therefore every win impressive.
That said, do not mistake this for a Gennadiy Golovkin obituary, one written in advance, ready to be called upon at a moment’s notice. It’s certainly not. Instead, rather than tempting fate, or fearing the worst, this is more of an acknowledgement. Or acceptance. A great career is nearing its end, of that there is little doubt, yet, equally, Golovkin still retains much of what originally made him so formidable.
In truth, the issue with any steady demise, as opposed to a sudden one, is that it will offer hope it can be delayed, prolonged. There is, too, a whiff of unfairness about Golovkin’s decline, owing to how quickly time seems to have passed, how avoided Golovkin was during his prime, how he has never convincingly been beaten, and how now, at 40, his ability to still perform at an elite level will, according to history, lead only to certain defeat – and a punishing one at that.
After all, with another statement win on his record, Golovkin becomes a wanted man – suddenly. He is also that most alluring of prospects for any lurking prey: a still-dangerous animal, but one sufficiently wounded and weakened.
No doubt Murata and his team will have had this thought when enticing Golovkin to Saitama. Moreover, there’s every chance they would have felt vindicated in light of the start Murata made to their 12-round middleweight fight, which was encouraging to say the least.
The younger man by four years, Murata attacked early and effectively in round one, doing so behind a tight guard, and cleverly targeted Golovkin’s body with a hook before shooting upstairs with a one-two and a second right, which, in effect, set the tone. After that, with Golovkin surprised if not damaged by Murata’s advances, the Japanese fighter enthusiastically set about his foe, pursuing him in a way few so much as contemplated in years gone by.
Indeed, the sight of Golovkin on the back foot is a strange one to behold. It becomes stranger, too, when a younger man, as if ignorant to both his reputation and the damage he can inflict, stands directly in front of Golovkin and lands body and head shots with either hand, as was the case with Murata.
Golovkin, oddly passive by his standards, let him. Never one to get excited, nor intimidated, he took his time, he had a look. Behind a pumping jab, which he threw to keep Murata honest, Golovkin sized up his opponent and used the occasional hook to remind Murata of both his name and history. In these moments, the difference in power between the two, both in the jab and other shots, was as clear as the difference in speed. Murata boasted the latter; Golovkin boasted the former.
One other difference, meanwhile, was this: whereas once there was terror in the eyes of Golovkin opponents, there now seems to be a healthy level of competitive disrespect in their overall demeanour. This all started, perhaps, when Danny Jacobs pushed him close in 2017 but has clearly continued with Sergiy Derevyanchenko and now Murata, both of whom stepped to Golovkin with an unshakeable belief that his time is up and that they would be the person to reveal this to him.
Even when the pair touched gloves at the end of the first round, for instance, the act was followed by Murata grinning at his corner, a sign he was happy with the way the first three minutes went. The look on his face, rest assured, was nothing like concern. That was to come.
In the second, Murata slashed Golovkin’s body with another quick hook and this again triggered a combination, one that turned Golovkin defensive and had Murata buoyant, stalking. He next tried an uppercut, supported by a right hook, and though neither shot landed clean it was the temerity to throw them, with no thought spared for what may come back, which caught the eye. More followed, too: a stiff right cross to the head, then a stabbing right to the body, a sequence of punches Murata used routinely to good effect.
Breathing heavily as early as the second round, Golovkin never let Murata gain any true ascendency – returning fire whenever this became a possibility – but was nonetheless on the back foot and markedly slower to the draw than usual. This allowed Murata to encroach his territory without any fear of reproach and to throw punches at Golovkin with a smile on his face, something unheard of in the good old days.
Sensing Murata’s comfort, Golovkin started the third fast. He whipped in a right cross and two uppercuts to begin the round and followed with a left hook to the body, a left uppercut, and another right over the top. If only a cameo, it was a necessary one.
Murata, for his part, coped with it well. He covered up expertly and stayed close to his opponent to smother any additional work. Seconds later, he was then back to drilling Golovkin’s body with hooks and those stabbing rights he utilised repeatedly. More rights to the head were thrown for good measure, with Murata buoyed by the Japanese crowd, and one cross even knocked Golovkin back on his heels, so perfect was its execution.
The gulf in energy was stark at times. While Golovkin waited, watched and prepared to reload, Murata would be bouncing in front of him and throwing freely, unshackled by his relative youth. They were not heavy blows necessarily, at least not when compared to those thrown by Golovkin, but they were effective in their consistency, the stream unrelenting.
To ride it out, Golovkin wasn’t exactly running but he was moving and he was also having to engage not because he wanted to but because he needed to. After all, to do anything other than engage was to give an already confident opponent what he was looking for: an invitation to invade.
This awareness, plus the all-round experience of Golovkin, became more and more relevant as the fight progressed. Soon, his punches, though the slower of the two, possessed an intelligence and purpose Murata’s now lacked. Each was deliberately placed, either to the head or to the body, and each carried with it a sound and impact indicative of long-term planning. There were, in the fourth, patented hooks of old – the awkward-looking one with which he finished Marco Antonio Rubio in 2014 – and an altogether more determined expression on both his face and in his work. Murata still came forward, of course, and finished strongly, but Golovkin found time – just enough – in that round to sketch a plan.
By the fifth, both were going to the body with such frequency it became obvious they saw it as a long fight, with incremental damage the aim and exhaustion their common opponent. In other words: the worst kind of fight for a fighter deemed old.
Yet, in the case of Golovkin, it was in the fifth he unloaded with some heavy hooks to send Murata back to the ropes and appeared to achieve some kind of breakthrough. Bit by bit, the confident moves of old were returning: the unorthodox hooking, the shrugs, the respectful nods, the disapproving frowns. Resigned to this kind of fight, he was now having fun.
This fun then peaked when Golovkin, once steadying Murata with a solid jab to start the sixth, released the mouthpiece from Murata’s mouth with a devastating right hand around the guard. It was, without doubt, a turning point; a small victory in a fight in which victory – total victory – remained up for grabs.
Mouthpiece replaced, Golovkin proceeded to prowl and punch with all the dramatic hand gestures and creativity of a conductor standing before an orchestra. Now, more than ever, he welcomed his opponent’s willingness to trade. It gave him openings. It gave him options.
In fact, the slowing of the pace enabled Golovkin to think quicker and act smarter. Better yet, he could line up his left hook whenever Murata lowered his right hand, its path then cleared by virtue of Golovkin now being able to push Murata back when up close. In those spots, when on the retreat, or against the ropes, Murata was not the force he had been when coming forward. It was at that point his freshness deserted him or, rather, was stolen from him.
For Golovkin, attacks would now start with a push before a skip and a jog. He was lighter now, both on his feet and in the shoulders. His punches, too, once single, forced and heavy, now flew, their threat carried in combination.
Murata, to his credit, came out hard in the eighth, though found his head snapped back with regularity, either from jabs or crosses or hooks. Backed to the ropes, he was coming undone, and even when rallying, as he bravely did, there was an unnerving patience and poise about Golovkin’s disposition, suggestive of a fighter who had been here before and knew what was to come. Nodding at him, beckoning Murata in, just as a musician has an ear for melody, Golovkin has a nose for the weakening of an opponent.
Picking up its scent, he cracked a brutal right hand against the skull of Murata to begin the ninth and from this Murata never really recovered. A second right 50 seconds later made him grimace. After that, he grimaced with every subsequent shot: the next right hand; the left hook which buckled his knees; the flurry of them as he sagged against the ropes. Knowing it was needed, his last stand was a gallant one, but all it ultimately did was unite Murata with another Golovkin right, which this time discombobulated him and motivated referee Luis Pabon to save him (2-11 into the ninth) while down on his knees.
A fine finish to a thrilling fight, Golovkin’s 42nd pro win is tempered only by a belief that had the fight taken place a few years ago it wouldn’t have been half as competitive, half as thrilling, or lasted half as long.
On the Saitama undercard, the gifted Junto Nakatani, 23-0 (18), stopped Ryota Yamauchi, 8-2 (7), inside eight rounds to retain his WBO flyweight belt. This, Nakatani’s sixth stoppage win in a row, saw him successfully defend the title he won in 2020 for the third time. Meanwhile, lightweight Shuichiro Yoshino, 15-0 (11), won a technical decision (107-102, 107-102, 106-103) after 11 rounds against former WBO super-featherweight belt-holder Masayuki Ito, 27-4-1 (17), to keep his unbeaten record intact.
The Verdict No, this was not the GGG of old but he’s still too good for quality fighters like Murata