STEVE ROLLS was feeling mighty lucky. And who could blame him?
He was fighting, after all, in Madison Square Garden, where just seven days earlier Andy Ruiz had pulled off the unthinkable over heavyweight titan Anthony Joshua. Just as significantly, his hometown basketball team, the historically downtrodden Toronto Raptors were, at the time of writing, closing in on their first-ever NBA championship against the seemingly invincible Golden State Warriors. If ever the stars were to align for the underdog, it was now.
Indeed, fantasy seemed to sabotage reality in the second round (set for 12), when Rolls briefly flipped the script by landing a pair of left hooks that caught and perhaps even hurt his opponent, the former longtime middleweight titleholder Gennady Golovkin. You could almost see Rolls’ rambunctious promoter Lou DiBella jumping off his seat, spittle lurching from his maw.
Alas, the good times would not last. In the fourth round, Golovkin uncorked one of his unusual high-arcing hooks that landed square on Roll’s prefrontal lobe, sapping his balance. Moments later, Golovkin switched to the southpaw stance and loaded up on a bone-chilling left hand that decked Rolls, face-first, to the canvas, where he lay immobile for a few seconds with his right arm tucked underneath his body.
Rolls tried to get up when he heard referee Steve Willis starting the count but stumbled, prompting Willis to wave off the fight at 2-09.
The Big Drama Show was back and with it, the cold reality of the mismatch.
What a world of difference nine months makes. Since his last outing in the ring, a disputed loss against Saul Alvarez in September, Golovkin, now 37, went on a blistering makeover spree up there with any Hollywood starlet. To wit, he split acrimoniously with his longtime trainer Abel Sanchez and replaced him with Johnathon Banks; inked a lucrative six-fight deal (reportedly worth upwards of $100 million) with insurgent streaming service DAZN; insisted that his first name had been misspelled all these years (it requires an “i” after the “d”); ditched his former managers and is now suing them for monetary malfeasance; demoted his promoter Tom Loeffler to the status of mouthpiece; began conducting more interviews in his native tongue rather than in his limited English, thus offering far more complex — and pricklier — answers; and started, it appears, to play the type that wear sunglasses indoors.
Asked postfight how he felt after the win, Golovkin replied, “I feel great. I feel like a new baby.”
Though Rolls had his moments, especially in round two, Golovkin generally had his way, flashing that killer instinct that made him the darling of the boxing world at one point. He took advantage of Rolls’ high guard with a series of knifing lefts to the liver, uppercuts, and wrap-around rights. His jab, the best in the game, was kept mostly holstered, a sign perhaps of how little he thought of his opponent.
If there is a more calculating quality to Golovkin these days, Saturday proved it has not diminished his ability in the ring. And yet, it is clear that the Golovkin gravy train has decelerated. A solid, if comparatively paltry, 12,357 showed up to cheer on the man who had captured the prizefighting imagination not too long ago. Much of that has to do with his choice of opponent. But with a third fight against Alvarez looming next, there was no way his braintrust was going to let him take a risky fight.
“The fans know who they want me to fight next,” Golovkin said post-fight. “I’m ready for September, I’m ready for ‘Canelo’. Just bring him, just ask him, I’m ready.”
After two uneventful rounds in a matchup (10 rounds) between undefeated super-middleweights (GGG Promotions), Kazakh prospect Ali Akhmedov shook things up in the third with a straight right that wobbled New Orleans’ Marcus McDaniel and proceeded to tee off on him until he went down.
McDaniel got back up on unsteady legs and just as referee Benji Esteves Jr. was ready to resume the action, McDaniel began drifting away to the opposite corner, giving Esteves no choice but to stop the bout at 1-41.
Blue-chip Dominican prospect Brian Ceballo, of Brooklyn, New York, earned a hard-fought unanimous decision (eight rounds) over Bakhityar Eyubov in a battle of undefeated super-welterweights. Judges Mark Consentino (79-73), Waleska Roldan (78-74), and Alan Rubenstein (80-72) all had it for the hometown kid.
Ceballo kept the relentless pressure fighter at bay with the jab while circling away and mixing in hard rights. Most importantly, Ceballo kept his right guard high to block Eyubov’s go-to punch, the left hook. By the end of the third round, Eyubov’s face was bright as a tomato. Arthur Mercante Jr. officiated.
Highly-regarded Uzbek prospect Israil Madrimov added another stoppage win to his nascent ledger with a sixth-round technical knockout of shopworn, 38-year-old Mexican journeyman Norberto Gonzalez in a super-welterweight contest (set for 10).
Madrimov, considered by many in the industry to be the best talent to come out of Uzbekistan in recent years, showcased his diverse skillset, pummelling his poor, overmatched opponent with a slew of crushing left hooks and stiff rights to the body.
It was a drawn-out butchering session, as most mismatches tend to be, and referee Shawn Clark finally called it off at 0-49 in the sixth round, just as Madrimov began to unload on Gonzalez with a furious combination.
The Verdict Golovkin keeps busy.
Gennadiy Golovkin (163lbs), 39-1-1 (35), w ko 4 Steve Rolls (163 3/4lbs), 19-1 (10); Ali Akhmedov (167 1/4lbs), 15-0 (11), w rsf 3 Marcus McDaniel (168lbs), 15-1 (2); Brian Ceballo (147 1/2lbs), 9-0 (4), w pts 8 Bakhtiyar Eyubov (148lbs), 14-1-1 (12); Israil Madrimov (153 1/4lbs), 3-0 (3), w rsf 6 Norberto Gonzalez (152 3/4lbs), 24-13 (13); Charles Conwell (153 1/2lbs) w pts 10 Courtney Pennington (152lbs), 12-4-3 (5); Nikita Ababiy (162 1/4lbs), 5-0 (5), w ko 1 Juan Barajas (157 1/4lbs), 5-1 (3).