Gennady Golovkin‘s 23-fight knockout streak and aura of menacing invincibility left him mired in a catch-22 with boxing fans: continue to win in dominant, punishing fashion and hear the chorus of “he hasn’t fought elite competition,” or persevere through a competitive contest and have legions of fans and pundits assert, just weeks shy of turning 35, that he’s a declining champion.
Even the prospect of facing and defeating Canelo Alvarez doesn’t come with any assurances. If Golovkin (37-0, 33 KOs) were to pulverize Alvarez, many would eagerly denounce the Mexican’s credentials. If Golovkin were to lose, the reverse would happen, not to mention some revisionists questioning Golovkin’s entire title reign up to that point.
So, what do boxing fans really want from Gennady Golovkin? Triple G’s performances were beginning to fall into the category of reliability alongside death and taxes, and while the Kazakh star was always enthralling to watch and eager to entertain fans at the expense of eating a few flush shots, the public may have gotten complacent without realizing it. How much have we actually revelled in what Golovkin’s accomplished? Have we been perpetually looking ahead at the expense of appreciating what we’ve witnessed since his Stateside debut in 2012?
There are no easy answers to such questions, but the reason they need asking is because of Daniel Jacobs (32-2, 29 KOs), who vastly exceeded expectations in pushing Gennady Golovkin the distance for the first time ever in a championship bout. The way Golovkin-Jacobs unfolded shouldn’t be all about the supposedly superior fighter’s deficiencies; rather, Jacobs, with his crisp boxing, committed punching, and controlled movement, proved that he’s an elite fighter.
And yet, one shouldn’t shy away from critically assessing Gennady Golovkin’s performance. Golovkin seemed overly respectful of Jacobs’ punching power, and he appeared far too content to head-hunt after flooring Jacobs in round four with a pair of right hands. But where was Golovkin’s vaunted left hook to the body? How come there were only fleeting glimpses of him fully committing to his punches? Was his significant dip in volume a natural product of the fight’s tempo, or a more a result of an inability to pull the trigger with total confidence?
All that said, there were things Golovkin did well, and it’s unfortunate that these positives have gotten overshadowed by the fact that he didn’t dominate Jacobs. Golovkin employed his devastating jab to excellent effect, out-landing Jacobs 105-31 and out-throwing him 356-170 with that punch. His movement was as controlled and precise as ever, although his cutting off of the ring proved less effective because of his hesitation to throw body shots and combinations. Also, Golovkin proved sturdy as ever when absorbing Jacobs’ fusillades and was never seriously hurt.
While Jacobs landed more power shots (144-126), Golovkin still connected with the more damaging blows, including the aforementioned knockdown, as well as a sharp, stinging right uppercut. If Golovkin and Jacobs fought on even terms with regards to actually committing to their power punches, Triple G separated himself via his jab and ability to stalk the challenger. The problem with this from a fan’s perspective, however, is that Golovkin’s subtler skills were more prominently displayed against Jacobs than his highlight-reel ones; typically, the opposite is true.
One somewhat disconcerting aspect of the fight was that Gennady Golovkin seemed to lack urgency. Whether that was due to a genuine struggle to solve a more complicated puzzle than expected in Daniel Jacobs, or simply not having a concrete Plan B to rely on, is unclear. What was evident, however, is that Golovkin, for perhaps the first time, was unable to accomplish three characteristic things: completely disarm an opponent’s most effective weapon(s), turn his foe completely reactive, and set a punishing pace.
Golovkin never remotely seem gassed, but the majority of his punches lacked characteristic snap. Indeed, plenty of these off-speed blows were intentional, but his typical sledgehammer effect with his shots was only consistently evident with his jab. Again, much of this was because of the respect owed to Daniel Jacobs (who certainly deserves to be fought with a certain degree of caution), but it was clear that many (definitely not all) of the signals Golovkin’s genius boxing IQ were sending to his fists kept getting scrambled.
Despite these considerations, Golovkin-Jacobs was a compelling fight that warrants a rematch in the near, but not immediate, future. Also, give Golovkin credit for closing strong in a brutal twelfth round and for scoring that early knockdown. While the fight did not approach the scintillating slugfest waged by Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez and Thai banger Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, it was a memorable, tension-filled battle between elite middleweights.
Also, don’t discount the class, sportsmanship, and refreshing honesty Gennady Golovkin showed in his post-fight interview. Even though Golovkin’s victory was a subdued performance by his exceptional standards, nothing that happened Saturday night should dissuade fight fans from following Golovkin regardless of who he can lure into the ring. And that becomes an even more important thing to remember and relish as Golovkin moves onto the second step of what will be his career’s climactic arc.
— Zachary Alapi