Gennady Golovkin wasn't fast-tracked to superstardom or hyped as the second coming of anyone else, and he's become an actual star for the sport of boxing.
Even with the announcement of a May 2 fight between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao stealing most of the boxing coverage this weekend, Gennady Golovkin's physically dominant win over Martin Murray yesterday in Monte Carlo attracted a lot of attention. Organically, Golovkin has become a top star in the sport, and it's because he is uniquely marketable. Boasting a pleasant personality plus thunderous power in both hands and vicious precision inside the squared circle, Golovkin (32-0, 29 KO) has become not just a diehard fan favorite, but a favorite of anyone with even a passing interesting in the sport.
Also, his favorite food is meat.
Golovkin, 32, has now won 19 straight fights by stoppage, and only two men -- Murray yesterday and Kassim Ouma in 2010 -- have even gotten past the eighth round. Golovkin hasn't exactly faced murderer's row, to be fair. The modern middleweight division is a little weak, and for a long time he's struggled to get serious contenders into the ring with him.
But after seeing him manhandle solid contenders like Murray, Daniel Geale, Marco Antonio Rubio, and Matthew Macklin, Golovkin has opened up yet another level of opponent that doesn't want to fight him. That level currently consists of Miguel Cotto, and perhaps that's only because Cotto is the recognized lineal champion of the division after picking the bones of Sergio Martinez last June. Add Cotto to the list of names that have pretty purposely been steered (or steered themselves) away from GGG, which already included a prime Martinez and Felix Sturm. And as someone put it earlier on Twitter (I don't remember who it was, so claim your fame if it was you), while we were all pretty upset about Lou DiBella keeping Sergio away from GGG at the time, he might deserve some sort of humanitarian award for that effort now.
Boxing is not a healthy sport, no matter what the people inside the business will tell you, or the superfans who feel the need to point out boxing's handful of yearly financial bonanzas as evidence that it's not a game that has been on life support for many years. For the last decade (at least), boxing has been carried by a few major stars at a time. Oscar De La Hoya was the big box office attraction before he retired, and a few other fighters -- Tito Trinidad, Lennox Lewis, Ricky Hatton in the United Kingdom, even the desperate final days of Mike Tyson's career, etc. -- could be counted on to attract real attention.
After Oscar retired, the reins were passed to Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, the two men who defeated him within his final three fights. Along with those two, Wladimir Klitschko has been a reliable draw in Europe, and the United Kingdom has produced a few national attractions and big fights, too, like the two Froch vs Groves fights, and pretty much any time Ricky Hatton did anything, even his ill-fated comeback attempt. Miguel Cotto isn't the star he once was, but he's still notable, along with Juan Manuel Márquez. Canelo Alvarez is being counted on to carry the sport as the top star in the near future.
Golovkin may not quite be on that level yet, but he's getting there, and he's done it by fighting often, fighting impressively, and charming his way into the hearts and minds of the boxing fan base. Unlike create-a-star hopefuls such as Adrien Broner or someone like Canelo, who was given a leg up out of the boxing hotbed of Mexico, Golovkin has had to get here entirely based on himself. There are no historical advantages, in terms of money or attracting major media attention, to being a Kazakh fighter. It's not one of the traditional fight fan demographics. He couldn't add "Irish" to his name and draw decent houses in the northeast.
Golovkin delivers action, knockouts, and an aura, so far, of invincibility. Mike Tyson, when he was young, delivered a lot of those same things, and became the biggest sports star on the planet. Golovkin is already in his 30s, and boxing, despite being a more global sport than ever, has become even less of a mainstream sport since the days of "Iron" Mike rampaging through the world's overmatched and ill-prepared heavies. So it's not likely that Golovkin becomes a new Tyson. But Golovkin is indeed that sort of fighter, even if not that sort of attraction. And given the paucity of actual sports stars in the boxing world these days, Golovkin's level of stardom is significant anyway.
People watch Gennady Golovkin because they feel like he's a true can't-miss star. In the last decade, maybe only Manny Pacquiao has really made his mark as a major attraction in a similar way. Pacquiao became a fighter you had to see, even before he was the pay-per-view attraction he would later become, because there was really nobody quite like him. He seemed to be one of a kind in the landscape of the day. Golovkin may be that fighter today.
K2 Promotions want to make Golovkin a global brand name, a massive superstar. Maybe he won't get there, but it won't be because he doesn't give it his best shot. He's going to keep fighting -- he plans to be back in May, when the boxing world is going to be buzzing, and the sport getting its most eyeballs in a dog's age. He's going to fight anyone that will dare step foot in the ring with him. And he's always going to come prepared. He takes no opponent lightly, writes off no one. He not only likes to fight and likes to win, he likes to give his Big Drama Show. And every time out, he does it.