LAS VEGAS — On May 6, moments after Canelo Alvarez finished rolling over Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. in a shutout decision that wasn’t competitive for a moment, Gennady Golovkin’s ring walk music — The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” — hit, and the T-Mobile Arena crowd suddenly perked up and erupted in cheers.
In pure WWE style, Alvarez had called Golovkin to the ring to tell him he was next, and GGG made his way to the ring for a joint interview to close the HBO PPV telecast. At long last, the mega match had been made official nearly two years after it had become the next must-see fight in boxing, but put off by Oscar De La Hoya of Golden Boy Promotions, Alvarez’s promoter, who didn’t want to risk his cash cow just yet while allowing him to grow into a true middleweight.
Where: T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas
TV: HBO PPV, 8 p.m. ET
• Middleweights: Gennady Golovkin (37-0, 33 KOs) vs. Canelo Alvarez (49-1-1, 34 KOs), 12 rounds, for Golovkin’s unified world title
• Featherweights: Joseph Diaz (24-0, 13 KOs) vs. Rafael Rivera (25-0-2, 16 KOs), 12 rounds, world title eliminator
• Junior featherweights: Diego De La Hoya (19-0, 9 KOs) vs. Randy Caballero (24-0, 14 KOs), 10 rounds
• Lightweights: Ryan Martin (19-0, 11 KOs) vs. Francisco Rojo (20-2, 13 KOs), 10 rounds
However long it took, Golovkin finally has the big fight he craved and dreamed of for years. Golovkin and Alvarez will meet to determine middleweight supremacy and quite possibly No. 1 on the pound-for-pound list on Saturday (HBO PPV, 8 p.m. ET) at T-Mobile Arena in one of the most anticipated fights in years.
“It is [the] biggest fight for boxing. Two warriors, two big boxers and I think great style,” said Golovkin, who will be making his 19th title defense, one shy of Bernard Hopkins’ division record. “Canelo’s style and my style [are] very close and very similar. [It’s] very interesting. I feel good right now. I think he feels [the] best of his career right now. I think this is the biggest test for us. Who’s stronger? Who is boxing’s No. 1 pound-for-pound in the world?”
A fight of this magnitude has been a long time coming for Golovkin, who finally landed a huge fight at age 35 and after 11 years as a professional.
“We have been talking about this fight for years,” Golovkin said. “The last two years, I lose interest, because after every fight, Golden Boy said, ‘No. OK, maybe next fight.'”
Golovkin was particularly stung when after Alvarez drilled Amir Khan in May 2016, De La Hoya said he would attempt to make the fight next and didn’t. Alvarez even vacated a middleweight world title last year in order to put off a mandatory fight with Golovkin.
“I remember the situation after the Amir Khan fight, when I go into the ring,” GGG said. “Oscar De La Hoya said, ‘This is a good day for us and I will call GGG’s manager tomorrow.’ I think it was hard on the fans, too. The fans are hungry for this fight. After the Julio Cesar Chavez fight, I believed it is possible for us, and in June I see Canelo’s face and it is more serious. He is ready. This was not like Canelo not being ready. It was Golden Boy not being ready.”
Abel Sanchez, Golovkin’s trainer, couldn’t believe how long it took for GGG to get a truly big fight.
“I was surprised a silver medalist (for Kazakhstan in the 2004 Olympics) with 350 amateur fights and five losses, [who] beat the major players at that time in boxing, wasn’t getting recognition,” Sanchez said.
For years, Golovkin, as exciting to watch and as talented as anyone, nonetheless toiled. He was signed to Germany’s Universum Box-Promotions, the now-defunct onetime powerhouse, but he was largely ignored by the company, which was more interested in putting its muscle behind an assortment of German titleholders and ticket sellers. Golovkin was neither German nor a ticket seller and relegated to undercards in nondescript fights.
Even when GGG ascended to the mandatory position for then-middleweight titleholder Felix Sturm, a major star for Universum, he could not get the fight. Universum denied him over and over, prompting him to bolt the promotional company, which sued him and forced Golovkin to hit the road for fights.
Sanchez remembers those days well.
“We had to go to Panama to fight for nothing; we went to Germany and fought for nothing; went to Ukraine – fought for nothing,” Sanchez said. “But it was a way of building his name up, building his reputation up, building everything up. We were willing to do the sacrifice in order to get him to this point now.”
It was a long road but Golovkin (37-0, 33 KOs), who now lives in Santa Monica, California, with his wife, son and an infant daughter who was born on Friday.
Sanchez said there were times where Golovkin was frustrated by not being able to get a major pay-per-view dance partner even after he had unified belts and became an HBO staple.
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“Many times (we talked about it). I’d say that you got to keep winning. Just keep winning, keep doing what you’re doing, keep knocking people out,” Sanchez said. “Eventually those guys are going to have to come to you.”
In 2012 Golovkin hooked up with promoter Tom Loeffler, who went to work trying to get Golovkin a televised fight in the United States.
“The blueprint was, when we met with HBO, we said Gennady will fight anyone,” Loeffler said. “They had a list of 20 fighters, 20 names of different fighters, anywhere from 154 (pounds) to 168, and Abel and Gennady didn’t turn down any one of those. That blew HBO away. They’ve never been used to someone willing to fight everyone. They realized, if there wasn’t a fight that was able to be made, it wasn’t on the GGG side. I was very transparent with all the negotiations, everyone that we reached out to.”
Five years ago this month, Golovkin made his American and HBO debut and absolutely destroyed solid contender Grzegorz Proksa in five one-sided rounds. He had arrived and became a staple on HBO, but still couldn’t get a top opponent to get into the ring with him even though he was developing a big fan base, selling out Madison Square Garden in New York and The Forum and StubHub Center in Southern California.
It was nothing new for top fighters to find reasons not fight Golovkin, he of the recently finished streak of 23 knockouts in a row.
Sturm blatantly ducked him. Sergio Martinez was shielded from him and his handlers didn’t even try to hide it with promoter Lou DiBella saying he would never match his meal ticket “with that beast.” Miguel Cotto was not interested. Titleholder Billy Joe Saunders turned down the fight and career money. Contender Chris Eubank Jr. did the same. It got so bad that Golovkin went to London last September to defend against Kell Brook, a welterweight titlist at the time, who moved up two weight classes because had his own issues getting a marquee opponent.
Instead Golovkin, who will be fighting in Las Vegas for the first time, feasted on solid contenders but not the best of the division, though he was able to unify belts when David Lemieux dared to be great by putting his title on the line in late 2015.
Then it appeared that Alvarez (49-1-1, 34 KOs), 27, of Mexico, was going to avoid him also as De La Hoya made Golovkin wait nearly two years for the fight.
“This is the fight that we’ve been working for,” Loeffler said. “Every fight in Gennady’s career, really since he made his HBO debut September 2012 — this fight is almost five years to the day — and every fight since then, this is really the fight that we’ve been working for. It would have been great if he’d had this type of fight earlier in his career, but the other name opponents, or the champions even, weren’t willing to get in the ring with him.
“All the knockouts, all the training, all the hard work, all the sacrifice that Gennady’s made has been built toward this exact fight in his career.”
For Golovkin, this fight is exactly where he wants to be. It is what he has yearned for years, to prove himself against another one of the best fighters in the world. There is a sense of relief in him that he finally has it.
“All my career I’ve been denied the fights I’ve wanted,” Golovkin said. “That ends Saturday night.”