Middleweight’s version of Perun, Gennady Golovkin, faces his best opponent this Saturday on HBO in Daniel Geale, an opponent who has beaten better foes than he has. Such is the mythological might of the man they call GGG that Geale is viewed as a sizable underdog.
The longer we go, the more the mythology matches the human being. We heard wild tales of Golovkin’s gym feats before he appeared on the major stage, of his beatings of far more well-known and/or acclaimed fighters. He has lived up to the reputation so far, smashing increasingly better competition without much more difficulty than he smashed far inferior opponents.
Yet most every feared/avoided boxer has, at some point, met his match. Antonio Margarito ran into Paul Williams, then Shane Mosley. Paul Williams ran into Sergio Martinez. Most recently, Lucas Matthysse was robbed of his venom by Danny Garcia, then struggled against John Molina. The aura of invincibility never lasts.
Golovkin has yet to face anyone as good as any of the dragon slayers Margarito, Williams or Matthysse ran into, but there are signs he could be better than all of them. Could! Only could. The reason is because he does most things better than all of them, such that he cannot be so easily defeated by the same hand that felled them. He hits harder than Margarito and Williams, and maybe Matthysse; he is better defensively than all of them, the better overall boxer, too, with more nuance and versatility. His chin might be as good as all of them, although he’s shorter than Margarito and Willliams, slower than Williams.
Who beats Golovkin? It could be a fleet-footed, ultra-slick boxer who’s hard to corner and hard to hit, although dancing around Golovkin for 12 rounds sounds about as much fun as a trapeze show carried out between NYC skyscrapers without a net. It could be someone with huge power, except we saw the hugely powerful Curtis Stevens try it, and he didn’t pose much of a threat. Perhaps it’ll just be someone physically larger — perhaps at 168, Golovkin’s power isn’t so elemental, his chin shakier. Perhaps it’s someone who runs into him just as he starts his decline, something that aided Mosley’s conquering of Margarito. Perhaps it’ll take something we haven’t envisioned yet. That’s often the way — few picked Mosley over Margarito.
Here’s what seems to have worked best against Golovkin, when anything has worked at all: getting off first; being faster; making him respect your power. All of them have only worked for a short while. Geale can do two of the three. Geale, in his wins over Felix Sturm and Anthony Mundine and his close decision loss against Darren Barker, effectively employed volume punching with both hands and constant intelligent pressure. We haven’t seen whether he can dance, because it doesn’t seem to be in his DNA.
What we’ve also seen is that he gets hit a good deal by counters between all his flurries, although his defense is solid otherwise. He’s held up pretty well when he does get tagged, save a couple wobbles. His quiet self-belief is real; he doesn’t appear intimidated by Golovkin, and probably could’ve made considerable coin fighting back home in Australia in a big and easier domestic match-up with Sam Soliman, so he took this fight because he wants it. He’s backed up his talk of fearlessness with actual fearlessness.
If only that were enough. Others have come into a fight with Golovkin appearing to be genuinely unafraid, only to get tagged by some punches early and get scared very quickly. Those who stayed unafraid, like Stevens and Gabriel Rosado, succumbed all the same. If Geale had better defense, his chances would be much improved; but he got hit a ton by Barker, who doesn’t hit as hard as Golovkin or punch as much as Golovkin or counter as well as Golovkin. Barker was a bit faster and longer than Golovkin, but not so much that it made a massive difference in how frequently he caught Geale clean compared to how much Golovkin will.
In short, this is Golovkin’s most accomplished opponent. By style, it should be one of his easiest since he started taking on contenders, unless Geale throws a curveball at him and demonstrates a style different than the one he ever has before. In order to win, he has to hit Golovkin a lot, yet doesn’t hit especially hard. The more he has to throw at Golovkin, the more countering opportunities Golovkin will have, and each opportunity Golovkin has to hit you brings you that much closer to your own cataclysmic, lightning-struck doom.
Golovkin by mid-round knockout, possibly sooner but also possibly stretching into as far as round 10. If it goes beyond that, it’ll be because Geale is doing better than he should, or because Geale is taking a career-shortening beating with all that bravery.