A Futile Waiting Game

“You don’t want the fight, I understand, you’re 100% a businessman. But I wait, I’ve been waiting… let’s go fight.” –Gennady Golovkin

No matter the circumstances surrounding Gennady Golovkin’s professional career, the one constant that his name has always delivered on is his willingness to fight. It doesn’t matter who, it doesn’t matter where or when, every time the “God of War” gets into the ring, he’s proved time and again that he’s always ready to fight.

It’s unfortunate, even unfair, that a fighter who is every bit as charismatic outside the ring as he is dominating while in it, just can’t get the big break he and his fans so fervently believe he deserves: a shot at the lineal title. He never came near to being on the hit-list of Sergio Martinez or Miguel Cotto; Golovkin posed for them too high a risk for too little potential upside. And ever since Canelo Alvarez deposed Miguel Cotto last year, fans and media have been wondering if and when the Mexican and the Kazakh would finally meet in the ring to answer a simple question: Who is the best middleweight on the planet?

The good news is we may all get a definitive answer to that question sooner than we think. The bad news is we won’t get it by watching Canelo and GGG trade leather. Instead, there’s a very real possibility Golovkin will become the de facto king of the middleweights when Canelo vacates his WBC title to avoid taking him on. In the run up to his May 7 fight with Amir Khan, Canelo Alvarez and his promoter Oscar De La Hoya have made it as clear as day that fighting Golovkin is not a priority. They talk of keeping their options open, of how Canelo is not a “real” middleweight, of how Canelo vs Golovkin needs “marinating.” In short, all signs point to Canelo not taking the Golovkin fight in the second half of 2016, even if it means reneging on the promise his team made to both Golovkin and the World Boxing Council earlier this year.

They sparred once; will they ever fight?
They sparred once; will they ever fight?

So now, as last year, and the year before that, Golovkin is stuck in a waiting game, roaming the lower fringes of the division in the hope he eventually gets the chance to go from the uncrowned king of the division to its undisputed boss. Golovkin, good guy that he is, still believes that Canelo will eventually show up, so waited he has, and wait he will. But all that waiting is becoming more and more pointless with each passing fight, GGG’s matchmaking veering so close to the absurd that his career is starting to look as if it’s written by Beckett. Oscar and Saul saying the Golovkin fight will happen, but not yet, is their own version of “Godot will not make it today, but surely tomorrow.” GGG fighting a 70-to-1 underdog while he continues to wait for Canelo is his version of Estragon boringly munching on carrots while waiting for Godot: something done to pass the time, to try and distract yourself from the fact the awaited meeting has been postponed yet again, and that there’s no telling whether it will ever actually take place.

That’s as much as can and should be said about Golovkin vs Wade, a match that will contribute next to nothing to the cause of marinating the Canelo fight. Sure, Gennady may score another highlight reel knockout but Golovkin’s problem is not that he needs to prove himself; it’s that the biggest names in the division deem him too dangerous a fight to take. Seen in this light, another annihilation job against a severely overmatched opponent is borderline morbid, not to mention unnecessary. Then again, munching carrots didn’t bring Estragon one step closer to meeting Godot either.

So if the Canelo fight won’t be available for later in the year, who else could the Kazakh take on? Danny Jacobs and Billy Joe Saunders hold pieces of the middleweight crown, and even though defeating them fits into the narrative Golovkin is pursuing to become the unified champion at 160 pounds, few would give either a chance to upset GGG. Since we’re on the subject, we might as well point out that Canelo himself would be a considerable underdog if he was to fight Golovkin within the next 12 months.

Canelo and Cotto mixed it up and kept Golovkin watching from the sidelines
Canelo and Cotto mixed it up and kept Golovkin watching from the sidelines

So what’s the point, then, of Golovkin staying at middleweight and winning a bunch of fights everyone expects him to win anyway? Sure, becoming the unified, lineal middleweight champ would be an outstanding accomplishment, and the statistics and possible knockouts he could rack up while doing it would be impressive. Then again, the expectation is that he’s supposed to do all that. In a way, Golovkin becoming the unified middleweight champion would be akin to seeing the 1992 basketball Dream Team steamroll the opposition on their way to Olympic gold. Everyone knew Jordan & Co. would eviscerate Angola, so to see the Africans outpointed by an astounding 68 points was more amusing than impressive. Likewise, everyone knows Golovkin will beat Wade, but if GGG can’t come up with his own version of outpointing him by 68 points, the evening will inevitably be labeled a disappointment. Similarly, the question is not whether he can beat Jacobs, Saunders and Alvarez, but rather how impressive he would look doing it.

Is greatness really granted for doing what everyone expects you to do? Golovkin already is a great fighter insofar as his ring performances have proved his physical attributes, tactical execution and strategic thinking are elite. But the only accomplishments that will invest his career with greatness are ones in which he overcomes some sort of challenge in the ring. This train of thought leads us to believe a pivotal time has come in Golovkin’s career. At age 34, time is running out for the middleweight terror to make his mark in the sport; now is the time for the Kazakh to decide whether he wants to keep waiting for the stars to align and grant him what he, his team, and many fight fans believe he deserves, or whether it’s time for him to consider an alternative course of action that could lead him to greatness outside of the middleweight division.

Where there's a 70-to-1 underdog there can't be a Drama Show
Where there’s a 70-to-1 underdog there can’t be a Drama Show

A move to super middleweight could be just such a path for Golovkin, as it’s not hard to see him compete and even defeat some of the best names at 168 pounds. Gilberto Ramirez, James DeGale, and even Badou Jack would assuredly make for more enticing fights than the lower-tier middleweights Golovkin’s been fighting of late. It bears saying that the titlists at super middleweight would also, in theory, be more willing to square up against Golovkin given their perceived size advantage. Were this to happen, fans would finally have a chance to see Golovkin face a real challenge, and perhaps even be treated to a genuine Big Drama Show: not the kind that makes them wonder in which round Golovkin’s opponent will fall, but whether Golovkin has what it takes to take down a larger foe.

Gennady Golovkin not getting a shot at the lineal middleweight title wouldn’t be neither the first nor the worst instance of a fighter not getting a fair shake in boxing. But more important is the fact there are more paths to greatness than just one. Canelo Alvarez may be about to squander all the momentum he accrued with his wins over Trout, Lara, and Cotto by turning down the most worthy challenger to his undeserved crown. There’s nothing Golovkin or his team can do about that; what they can do is figure out a different path to greatness for GGG. The fate of the Kazakh’s career depends on it. Decades from now, will people remember Gennady as a genuinely great fighter who took on risks when everyone around him refused to? Or will his name be lost in the list of those exceptional talents who, for whatever reason, never fulfilled their true potential?

GGG: Too good for his division
GGG: Too good for his division

Perhaps this is one of the lessons to take from Beckett’s play: to be a virtue, patience surely has to lead to something other than nothingness. After all, Vladimir’s and Estragon’s favorite pastime while waiting for a Godot who never arrived was to discuss just how they could carry out their suicides and end their predicament. Golovkin, by refusing to do anything to break the waiting rut he’s in, is inadvertently contributing to his own professional one. For the sake of his career, for the sake of boxing, we hope he realizes this before it’s too late.

–Rafael Garcia

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