This writing appeared on the boxing website ucnlive.com as a 'soapbox' submission to boxing writer Steve Kim. The published version can be found here: http://ucnlive.com/the-soapbox-oct-23-2015/
On January 19th, 2013 I sat about five rows back from ringside as Gennady ‘GGG’ Golovkin took on Gabriel Rosado at The Madison Square Garden Theatre. It was Golovkin’s second fight in the United States. I’m not sure if the Theatre was sold out – but I do remember there being a good crowd. Golovkin-Rosado wasn’t even the main event that night. This guy named Mikey Garcia was taking on Orlando Salido to top off the event. To the best of my recollection it was a mixed crowd: a pocket of Golovkin supporters with ties to his native land (Kazakhstan), hardcore fight fans there to see an HBO card with good matchups, and even some Rosado supporters (key word being ‘some’).
As Golovkin battered Rosado in his (now well known) methodical fashion – I almost began to fall into a kind of trance (which probably also had a lot to do with the Johnnie Walker Black that I had been consuming liberally throughout the evening). It was Golovkin moving, Golovkin smashing, some blood splattering, and repeat – until Rosado’s corner would throw in the towel in the 7th round. Whatever the detractors might say about Golovkin – he fights. He enters the ring with the sole purpose of beating his opponent to the point where the contest will not reach a decision. He moves forward intelligently, cuts off the ring, punches with murderous intentions, and could fight in any era – therefore I liked him immediately.
Yet if you had told me then that in less than three years Golovkin would sell out the ‘big room’ in the Garden I wouldn’t have believed you. Would it have been possible without a perceived ‘dangerous’ opponent like David Lemieux? Maybe not. But whatever the case may be, as I sat in the Garden this past Saturday the vast majority of the crowd was chanting ‘Triple - G!'. And I thought to myself: holy shit - this guy has made it. It seemed to me to be an example of the system ‘working’. A fighter who’s skilled, active, and aggressive being rewarded with the blessing of the masses. An ‘authentic’ item receiving authentic adulation. This is something that has staying power; no sizzle here – just steak.
Who knows how the rest of Golovkin’s rise will play out. But in the age of the PBC, the counter-example it provides is an important one. All my issues with the PBC can be boiled down to one sentence: I don’t think the PBC can ever produce a ‘Golovkin’. I don’t think the PBC will ever produce a fighter whose name gets chanted by 20,000 strong in Madison Square Garden. I might be wrong of course. Maybe one day 20,000 people will chant ‘One Time’ for Keith Thurman, or ‘Showtime’ for Shawn Porter. Or maybe they’ll chant ‘you beat cancer’ for Danny Jacobs, or ‘you’re not that smart but we love you anyway’ for Peter Quillin. I’m joking of course, but I think the point is clear. Feel good stories and quasi celebrity reality show tactics like putting a fighter on the Today Show won’t pack the Garden. Those things are fleeting, tmz-like notions – and have little to do with the creation of an authentic individual draw.
Supposedly the numbers for Golovkin’s PPV debut were less than stellar. Though I was under the impression that the sole purpose for Golovkin-Lemieux going the PPV route was in order to generate enough money to entice Golden Boy to allow their man to take the fight. Whatever the case, the PPV number matters little. The important thing that cannot be denied is that in less than three years Golovkin has gone from an unknown to a bona fide attraction. This sport that we love is a sport of individuals. And whatever the ‘collective brand’ may be, whether it’s the PBC (or the UFC) - individuals are the ‘straws that stir the drinks’. After all, there’s a reason Dana White yearned for the return of Brock Lesnar and revels in the success of Ronda Rousey.
I’ve written before about how the very nature of the PBC undermines the necessary tools that a fighter needs to cultivate in order to become transcendent. How it exalts those without reason to be exalted; and emphasizes the ephemeral rather than the substantive. But whatever you may think of those opinions, now you have a real world example. You’ve seen someone be built from ‘nothing’ into ‘something’. You’ve seen someone who fights a certain way being rewarded despite any adequate challengers. You’ve seen someone who handles their career like a profession instead of a substandard instagram account stuck on repeat. And you’ve seen ‘old-school’ habits and actions paying long term dividends that will begin to write something called a ‘legacy’. Golovkin’s resume needs more names, this is true. Whether or not he was justified in asking Andre Ward for a catch weight can be debated. But it cannot be denied that he is indeed an example of what can be achieved through hard authentic work. Golovkin’s place in history is yet to be written; but at least he will get the chance to write it. As of yet, the only thing PBC fighters have written are bank deposit slips. But hey, money matters most right?