Gennadiy Golovkin did what Gennadiy Golovkin does this past weekend, beating a world class middleweight into submission in nine brutal rounds. WBA middleweight champion Ryota Murata was the victim on this occasion, as ‘GGG’ unified his newly-won title with the IBF strap already in his possession. But this fight was far from business as usual for the exhilarating Kazakh.
The DAZN broadcast team were quick to inform viewers that the TKO victory kept Golovkin on course for a trilogy showdown with Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez, should the latter come through his light heavyweight championship contest with Dmitry Bivol next month. But the almighty struggle the 40-year-old had just endured seemed to indicate that fight would be a bad idea for all involved.
Such talk sounds unfair on the surface. Golovkin has just become the first man to stop Murata, and in doing so unified two portions of the middleweight crown. The hard-hitting veteran did so away from home, fighting at the Saitama Super Arena in Japan. By almost any measure it was a good night’s work for ‘GGG’, particularly coming as it did after an enforced 16-month lay-off. So why, with two belts strapped around his waist and another foe decisively vanquished, should Golovkin exercise caution from here?
The reason can be summed up in one word: ‘Canelo’. Golvokin has shared 24 thrilling rounds with the Mexican superstar. Over the course of their 2017 and 2018 battles, ‘GGG’ tested the current undisputed super-middleweight champion more than anyone has since Floyd Mayweather defeated him. Debate continues to rage over whether Golovkin won one or both of their battles, despite Alvarez being awarded a draw and a majority decision victory. But a lot has changed since 2018.
On the surface, all is well on Planet Golovkin. The dominating middleweight has won all four fights since the controversial ‘Canelo’ reverse, stopping three of his opponents and collecting two world titles along the way. But at the age of 40, chinks are beginning to show in the armour of one of this generation’s most indomitable pugilists.
His 2019 title-winning effort against Sergiy Derevyanchenko saw the Kazakh walk through fire to win a close decision. The talented Ukrainian was able to land heavy leather on Golovkin, but as always his incredible chin shone through and he was able to battle back and take the IBF belt. His first title defence was more straightforward, as ‘GGG’ put down Kamil Szeremeta three times on the way to a seventh round retirement. However, Golovkin would be given a damaging test in a Japanese ring this past weekend.
The impressive ending ‘GGG’ enacted on Murata does not tell the full story of a tough night’s work for the new unified champion. The Japanese star mounted a powerful and sustained body attack that stopped the illustrious Golovkin in his tracks. He was slow out of the blocks as Murata imposed his will on the once-imperious warrior. Coming through heavy punishment to win is nothing new for Golovkin, but this fight felt different. The thudding blows of Murata seemed to bother him more than the volleys Derevyanchenko, ‘Canelo’ or previous victims like Daniel Jacobs had thrown. ‘GGG’ seemed to be ageing before the eyes of a packed Saitama Super Arena. The attacks were being met with resignation rather than resistance.
Of course that all changed, and ‘GGG’ punched his way back into proceedings. But his struggle to do so cast a shadow over the idea of a ‘Canelo’ bout. Murata is a talented operator, a former Olympic gold medalist no less. But he also has three losses from 19 professional contests, and his signature win is his status as one of six people to beat Hassan N'Dam N'Jikam. In short, he is not on the same planet as Saul Alvarez. Five years ago, he would not have been on the same planet as Golovkin either. Herein lies the problem. ‘GGG’ was pushed to the limit by a mere mortal, what chance does he stand against the extra-terrestrial ‘Canelo’?
Golovkin is 4-0 since his last meeting with Alvarez, a creditable record. ‘Canelo’ is 7-0 in the same span, and has picked up all four super middleweight titles, the IBF middleweight belt and the WBO light heavyweight strap along the way. That’s enough hardware for a spot in the Hall of Fame, without counting the multiple light middleweight and middleweight crowns the Mexican had accumulated before fighting Golovkin for the first time. To simplify the situation, Golovkin peaked before his two meetings with Alvarez, whereas ‘Canelo’ has reached his peak since those bouts and remains there today. One fighter is 31 and in the form of his life, the other is 40 and beginning to feel the creeping march of Father Time inching up behind him.
Can we reasonably expect this gifted but fading version of Golovkin to beat ‘Canelo’, considering what the super middleweight champion has overcome recently? Will the Kazakh fare better than the young, unbeaten Callum Smith, Billy Joe Saunders and Caleb Plant did? Does ‘GGG’ have more in the tank than Jacobs or Sergey Kovalev could boast? On recent evidence, it seems doubtful. There is a tempting symmetry to the completion of a trilogy, especially one as hotly-contested as ‘GGG’ and ‘Canelo’. But in truth this would not be a third meeting between the same fighters. It would be a clash of one fighter who has faded and another who has improved.
As is often the case in boxing though, money talks louder than even the most vociferously expressed doubts. Golovkin and Alvarez are reigning world champions who have unfinished business. The build-up will see broadcasters, journalists, promoters and the fighters themselves fuel the collective delusion. As the fight clips of their first two bracing battles are replayed and pored over, we will be told we are in for more of the same. Hopefully we are, hopefully ‘GGG’ has one more grandstand finish left in him. But this writer could not shake the feeling, watching Golovkin brilliantly but breathlessly rally to stop his determined foe in Saitama, that we were witnessing the great ‘GGG’ win for the last time. If ‘Canelo’ really is the next step, it is impossible to envisage him having his hand raised in victory again.
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