SHORTLY after world middleweight champion Sergio Martínez pounded the resistance out of Matthew Macklin on St Patrick’s Day in 2012, the hands that Gennadiy “GGG” Golovkin would use to terrorise the 160lbs division were being far more polite.
Within them were business cards, emblazoned with his name and face, that he dutifully gave to every member of the media who was inside Madison Square Garden that night. There to both promote himself and watch potential opponents, Golovkin – all smiles and instantly likeable – was a belt-holder of sorts but far from the superstar he would become.
Today, he is bona-fide boxing royalty.
“I don’t think it’s changed me,” he tells Boxing News about his journey to the very top. Sometimes he will talk in English but most of our conversation is conducted through a translator. “Personalities stay the same, it’s just that the person becomes well known, but deep down inside, the person is the same.”
“GGG” is now regarded among the greatest middleweights in history, and the best of the post-Bernard Hopkins era. Aside from the odd crease in his still boyish face, he is identical to how he looked that night in New York.
But he is very nearly 40 years old. It’s a milestone that is a shock to any system. Anyone who has passed it will be able to relate.
“We’re all in the same boat,” Golovkin laughs. “I have the very same feeling like you explained. You can’t quite believe that this age has come to you so fast but you accept it and you live with it.”
For boxers 40 is not just a number, it’s a warning sign. If the end hasn’t already arrived, it’s nigh. Golovkin agrees. “Careers in various professions are different and have different durations,” he says. “But boxing is a very dangerous profession. I am very grateful for the position I am in. I am able to set certain conditions to myself that allow me to continue to be active, continue with my career and get in the ring.
“Without any doubts you have to adjust to your age. And age is something that is very hard to compete against – the key is to be smart and be professional about it. I concentrate on the fact that if something is turning not the way I like, in that if I see that I’m not able to perform to a certain level, I will have to tweak it in some way. I don’t need to prove anything to anyone and I will not make sacrifices to my health just to do that. If we look at Manny Pacquiao when he turned 40, in one fight he looked good and then in the next fight, not so good. The reason for that is age. If I see that I’m not up to speed, or up to the level I want to be at, I will simply stop.”
Stopping has never before been an option for Golovkin. He had to fight hard, and not just in the ring, for every chance that came his way. Golovkin is not a slave to social media nor is he one to run his mouth, but he’s always been adept at self-promotion. Whether at press conferences, during fight weeks, or popping up at ringside, he’s known when to make his presence felt. He was there when Canelo Álvarez beat Miguel Cotto in Las Vegas in 2015. There, too, when the Mexican knocked out Amir Khan the following year. While Team Álvarez stalled on making that contest, Golovkin made it clear from the start that he was raring to go.
They would fight for the first time in September 2017. Golovkin got a raw deal and was forced to settle for a draw after judge Adalaide Byrd handed in an inexplicable card that favoured Álvarez, 118-110. One year later, after Canelo had failed a drug test in the interim, the pair would have a rematch. That ended in a disputable split decision victory for the Mexican.
There is talk they will renew their rivalry later this year. Golovkin isn’t holding his breath. Regardless, it’s natural to presume, given the circumstances of their first two fights, that the prospect of a third fight is a tantalising one for GGG. That Álvarez still keeps him awake at night. What is the first thing he thinks of when he hears his name?
Golovkin doesn’t have to wait for that to be translated. He immediately chuckles.
“It’s hard for me to answer this question,” he says. “You will see me smiling or even laughing because he’s not on my mind, contrary to popular belief. Yes, he is active, he is on the news all the time but to me it is something that has already taken place, it’s in the past. I understand him as a person, he is like an open book to me. Again, he is not somebody I set my mind on. At all.”
He seems sincere when he says this. But it’s clear the rivalry is not yet closed and the business remains unfinished. Because when boxing rivalries are well and truly over, when the punches become handshakes, respect nearly always replaces animosity. And there is no respect to be found here.
Nor is he willing to simply forgive and forget the poor officiating that cost him victory at least once.
“I am a professional boxer and it’s hard for me to judge or to blame in regard to the scoring system,” he says. “Of course I believe I was wronged back then. A situation like that should never happen. Not just in boxing but in any other sport. When your honour, when your business reputation is at stake you should not act in, I won’t say dishonest, but in a way that mars you. People who did that [scored incorrectly] have tainted themselves, they have marred their reputation. Once something like that happens, it is impossible to clean your reputation.”
It’s natural to wonder if what happened in Las Vegas in September 2017 is something that concerns him when he’s in the midst of a fight. Thirteen months after losing the Álvarez rematch he was forced to go 12 hard rounds by Sergiy Derevyanchenko. At the final bell, he looked a worthy winner but some felt the underdog had done enough to win.
The 39-year-old insists he will not be defined by the opinions of judges – or anyone else.
“I don’t worry about it, it is not a concern,” Golovkin stresses. “Whatever I achieve cannot be taken away from me. I will give you the example of Muhammad Ali, and I’m not comparing myself to Muhammad Ali, but he lost some fights and it did not diminish his greatness or his popularity.
“Speaking of my fight against Derevyanchenko, I won that fight. I was not in top form but I won that fight, hands down, judging by any parameter. Whatever people say, it does not change the situation, it just shows that people do not understand and do not want to face the reality.”
“GGG” has had one fight since defeating Derevyanchenko. In December 2020, he hammered the previously unbeaten Kamil Szeremeta to defeat in seven one-sided rounds. For much of last year, a rumble with Ryōta Murata was in the works. Scheduled for December then postponed, again and again, they are now set to meet this weekend in Murata’s home nation. It means Golovkin goes into an intriguing showdown with the dangerous Japanese slugger on DAZN, one day after he turns 40, on the back of the longest period of inactivity of his entire boxing career.
That is not ideal, Golovkin admits.
“I had to peak three or four times as this fight has been postponed several times,” he says. “I believe it would be better for me if I had a chance to get in the ring two or three times [instead of waiting]. In December, I was in top form then it got postponed. Then there were rumours it would take place in February, again I peaked in February and it didn’t take place. Now it’s taking place in April. I think from the way I’m feeling it would have been good for me if I’d had two or three fights before this fight.
“In December and February, I felt great. I have strong belief that had I fought then, and no matter the opponent, those would have been amazing fights. It is all thanks to the fact I felt so great and ready.”
One hopes he’ll feel great and ready again. There’s a lot riding on it. Not just a couple of middleweight belts, a happy birthday, or even a third fight with Canelo. His entire career is on the line. The one he was trying to kickstart that night in New York when he was handing out business cards. Does he remember being that?
“Ah yes,” he laughs, “I remember it well. That was a long, long time ago.”