By Rajeev Lewis
Was greatness stolen from the middleweight king?
One can only ask so much from a fighter. While requesting invincibility should be considered nothing short of entirely unreasonable, such is exactly what fans find themselves yearning for when it comes to Gennady “GGG” Golovkin.
With “My House” playing as he began his ring walk to meet his challenger, Golovkin aimed to personify the very dominance that the world came to know him for. A tall order, no doubt, but the kind which nearly any boxing analyst worth his salt could feel comfortable in anticipating.
Golovkin’s persona of being able to do the impossible, as if he’s a greater being among mere men, is in many ways driven by the multifaceted contradictions he exemplifies. A warm smile and respectful demeanor amidst images of him covered in his opponents blood, standing over them as they keeled over. The swinging power punches looking to crush a fighter’s will behind a savvy, accurate, and disciplined jab. Exciting knockouts consistently delivered via a calculated, patient approach and a consistently blank, emotionless expression.
People came to see him as superhuman; a notion which for many was too intoxicating to question, however prudent it would have been to do so. From their prespective, why wouldn’t Golovkin be able to bring his game to the next level ad infinitum, no matter how skilled the foe?
The answer came as the entire conversation was changed thanks to one Danny Jacobs, the “Miracle Man” who performed his greatest (boxing) miracle on March 18th in front of a crowd he couldn’t even call his own despite it being mere miles from his home in Brooklyn. Jacobs did not wilt under Golovkin’s power, and enjoyed respect for his own. He did not tire or get careless, and utilized his considerable advantages in speed and size to score points round after round. In the end Golovkin kept his belts, but lost the regal air that he made into his very own brand.
The “big drama show” was meant to allude to the primal nature of his fights, in which the audience knew that eventually, in some form or the other, Golovkin would deliver another satisfying knockout. On that Saturday night, the drama came in watching the live underdog far exceed expectations and nearly rip the rug, carefully crafted over years of arduous work, from under Golovkin’s feet. As the words “by unanimous decision” rang out, Golovkin’s face betrayed no fear or worry, but one must imagine he was internally reflecting on his performance.
Though his praise of Jacobs was consistent throughout the fight build up, perhaps somewhere in his heart he too believed this step up in competition would result similarly to all those previous. No longer can he be remembered as not having enjoyed the benefit of the doubt in a decision. Fans now have little choice but to accept that he, by his own admission, cannot “destroy” everyone even within his own division.
There are factors involved beyond merely the skill of the two competitors in the outcome of the fight. It’s been no secret that Golovkin was the smaller man in reach and stature, weighing perhaps up to 10 lbs less than the younger, spry Jacobs. The challenger was likely at his absolute physical and emotional peak, and one cannot help but wonder if his chin was underestimated in the champion’s training camp. This is not to say Golovkin was gifted the win. Though losing rounds, he did score a flash knockdown and overall landed several more punches, courtesy of his obtrusive power jab.
One of his more impressive talents on display was the punch resistance he showed in taking Jacobs’ vaunted power, never showing significant signs of hurt or damage. Taking such shots against a bigger man while coming forward adds to Golovkin’s case for having one of the great chins in boxing history.
However, to seek out individual aspects of Golovkin’s boxing which remain unchallenged is not what we must do, and this is precisely the greatest lesson from his fight. Gennady Golovkin is not invincible. However, that fact is not a threat to the greatness he may one day achieve. In judging the boxing greats we do look for their worst performances along with their best, but it is not by any means perfection which defines them.
Even within the middlweight division itself, previous undisputed champions were not exactly untested. Marvin Hagler ended his career with very challenging bouts against John Mugabi, Tommy Hearns and Ray Leonard; great boxers who were smaller or moving up in weight to fight an older Hagler.
Jacobs proved his status as an elite fighter and also taught us a bit about Golovkin’s weaknesses, showing us clearly that the latter should not be considered a man who cannot bleed. A very good, very fast opponent with sufficient advantages in size and possibly youth is able to survive and win rounds against the now former bogeyman of boxing. Something to be ashamed of? Absolutely not. After all, Gennady’s only human.