A year on from their last encounter, Gennady Golovkin and Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez continue to live separately, monitor each other from a distance and deny they are soul mates destined to one day meet again and give everybody the happy ending they are looking for. On November 2, Alvarez climbs all the way to light-heavyweight to fight WBO champion Sergey Kovalev, but before that Golovkin meets Ukraine’s Sergey Derevyanchenko for the IBF middleweight title this Saturday (October 5).
Though they try to move on, it’s obvious now that the two premier middleweights of the last few years are inextricably linked, defined by the 24 rounds they have so far shared, and that every fight they take behind the other’s back will be considered some sort of betrayal.
If this were a rom-com and not a combat sport, you would be certain they would get together again by the third act. There would be no fear of disappointment. But this is a combat sport, a business built on ego and power, and a reconciliation therefore cannot be guaranteed.
“I don’t think about those guys,” Golovkin said ahead of Saturday’s fight when asked about just one guy. “I don’t really want to discuss this. We had a contract. We were supposed to have a fight on September 14 and he just ran away.”
Something has stung Golovkin, you sense. It’s either the controversial defeat he suffered against Alvarez last September or it is the fact the two have since parted ways and he hasn’t had the opportunity to tell the Mexican what he really thinks of him (or, better still, put right a perceived wrong). Whatever it is, Golovkin must reject Canelo’s existence to maintain his inner peace and, moreover, do so because a loss to Derevyanchenko this weekend will ensure the two never meet again. He must stop living in the past and focus on the future.
Because, if he doesn’t, the future could be just as painful. “I’ve known him for a long time. He’s a very good fighter,” Golovkin said of Derevyanchenko, the IBF’s number one middleweight contender.
At stake when Golovkin and Derevyanchenko clash at Madison Square Garden, New York is the IBF middleweight title, the belt Alvarez snatched from Golovkin last year, the belt the Mexican then relinquished when he decided a fight against Derevyanchenko wasn’t worth his time. Yes, he moved on from him, too.
“I don’t really care who it was taken from,” Golovkin said. “I want to box. I’m a fighter. I want to have huge fights.”
There is an urgency to Golovkin these days and, at 37 years of age, it should come as no surprise. Golovkin, unlike Canelo, doesn’t have time on his side and can’t be wasting the time he has left on controversial decisions, never mind delayed rematches. He needs to be all action if his all-action style is to remain as effective as it was when he first won a middleweight title nearly a decade ago. His rival, eight years his junior, has room to grow and the potential to move on. He, on the other hand, must be content with what he has got.
If it isn’t the defeat, or the annulled September rematch, maybe that’s what irks the Kazakh in 2019. For he knows as well as anyone that Alvarez, 29, is now entering his athletic prime and doing so at a time when everybody is quick to say Golovkin has left his.
For so long feared, opponents and fans now suggest Golovkin is susceptible, there for the taking, despite showing few signs of this being the case. They look at his age and his rich fighting history, as well as the 24 rounds he spent exchanging heavy artillery with Alvarez, and they assume he must be nearing the end. If it isn’t Derevyanchenko who takes him, maybe it will be the next guy, or the guy after that.
It’s up to Golovkin, 39-1-1 (35), to somehow stop time as everyone else, Canelo included, wants it to hurry up. He can do this by applying the fresh ideas of a new coach and by continuing to win fights at a world-class level without showing signs of deterioration. Anything less and it will be presumed he is on the slide. Worse for Golovkin, it will be presumed Alvarez outlasted him and truly did win the war.
“I feel much better. I feel younger and more interested,” he said of hooking up with new coach Johnathon Banks. “Before Johnathon, I started losing interest in developing as a boxer and started getting a little bored.
“Now with Johnathon, and the things he has taught me and showed me, I’m more excited. I want to move forward.”
The two had only limited time to work together before Golovkin’s last fight, a fourth-round knockout of Steve Rolls in June, but will have established more of a bond during this latest training camp.
“What I want to implement is a rhythm, a movement and a strategy, not just going there and (thinking) if all else fails we’ve got this bag of power right here,” Banks said. “I want to see him develop his skill. He’s a very skilled fighter.”
Skills weren’t required against Rolls in June. Or at least no new ones. Instead, Golovkin got by on his formidable reputation and good old punch power and put the unproven but ballsy Canadian to the sword in four rounds. Hardly revealing, it was the sort of fight Golovkin can go on winning for three or four more years, a dramatic step down from Big Drama Shows against the likes of Alvarez.
Derevyanchenko, known as ‘The Technician’, will be different. He has pedigree, both as an amateur and pro, and boasts wins against Jack Culcay, Tureano Johnson and Sam Soliman. Better than that, some felt he was unlucky not to beat Daniel Jacobs when the pair met at Madison Square Garden last October. That fight ended in a split-decision loss for Derevyanchenko, yet he came away with his reputation enhanced after recovering from a first-round knockdown (via a wild right hand to the side of his head) to give Jacobs all he could handle for the remainder of the fight.
Eager to build on the momentum, for this one he has set up base in the Bay Area of California, a world away from his native Ukraine, and will have convinced himself everything people are saying about Golovkin is true. He will believe he is getting older, not better, and that the second man to beat him will not be Canelo Alvarez but someone else. In New York, it’s his job to become that man.
To do so Derevyanchenko will have to go about it the hard way. Which is to say, rather than trying to outbox Golovkin, he will have to stand in range with him, right there in the danger zone, and hope he can chip away at his resolve with aggression and quicker hands thrown in combination.
Initiating attacks behind a sharp jab, Derevyanchenko, 13-1 (10), tends to then maraud forward and go to work with compact hooks, textbook and powerful. If allowed to gain the ascendency, he will take it. If unable to keep him off, you won’t.
Yet the issue for Derevyanchenko, 33, is that it’s in this type of fight, against this type of opponent, Golovkin has often flourished and done damage. With the target in touching distance, he is spared having to go chasing, he can save his legs, he can set his feet, and he can rattle off combinations on autopilot. He can have fun and make bad boys good.
On Saturday, unless it is proven age has caught up with him, or he is caught daydreaming about the wrong opponent at the wrong time, Golovkin should be able to return an IBF middleweight title to what he believes is its rightful place. It might take him 12 hard rounds to do it, but the former champion can show he is not only a better version of Derevyanchenko but still has plenty to offer.
On the MSG undercard former Josh Taylor opponent Ivan Baranchyk looks to get back to winning ways against Gabriel Bracero, a Puerto Rican based in Brooklyn.
Baranchyk, the former IBF super-lightweight champion, gave a great account of himself against Taylor in May but came up short after 12 rounds and left Scotland without his belt and his spot in the World Boxing Super Series. The Russian powerhouse will now be hoping a return to the USA, his fighting home since pro bout number four, will see him return to the win column.
Also on the bill is a 10-round fight between ambitious Uzbek Israil Madrimov, 3-0 (3), and Alejandro Barrera, 29-5 (18), at super-welterweight. Madrimov began his pro career last November with a 10-rounder and isn’t looking to hang around.