Golovkin and Kovalev: This Season’s Breakout Stars

By: Michael Abitabilo

On successive summer weekends, Gennady Golovkin and Sergey Kovalev confirmed for the sports world that they are ready to become the stars we want them to be and that the sport of boxing so desperately needs.

The popularity of boxing in America has plummeted in recent years for a variety of reasons including allegations of corruption, the lack of a unified governing body, the proliferation of meaningless championships across 16 distinct weight classes, and the emergence of mixed martial arts.

Perhaps most significantly, though, boxing has suffered due to its lack of exciting and marketable superstars who appeal to the masses. In the 1990s and early 2000s, boxing could bank on superstars like Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, Lennox Lewis and, to a lesser extent, Oscar De La Hoya and Roy Jones Jr., to name a few. But the next generation of prize fighters has failed to grab the attention of the average American sports fan. Yes, Floyd Mayweather is considered by many to be among the sport’s all-time greats, but he is most revered for his ability not to get hit, hasn’t scored a legitimate knockout victory in almost seven years, and will always face questions as to whether he ever had to fight elite competition. And while Manny Pacquiao became a must-see phenomenon at his peak, the mega-fight with Mayweather never happened, and his legacy was forever tarnished by his devastating “he might be dead” knockout loss to Juan Manuel Márquez.

And that brings us back to Golovkin and Kovalev – a pair of big-time punchers who have been mowing down any and all competitors in recent years in the sport’s most exciting fashion – the knockout.

Gennady Gennadyevich Golovkin, aka “Triple G,” is a 32-year old middleweight who has run his professional record to 30-0 with 27 of those wins coming by knockout. Sergey “the Krusher” Kovalev is a 31-year old light heavyweight who is now 25-0-1, with 23 of those wins coming via the knockout. Golovkin has won 90% of his professional fights via the knockout, which is only slightly ahead of Kovalev’s 88%. To put these numbers in perspective, consider this: only 26 of Floyd Mayweather’s 46 victories have come via the knockout (56%).

Golovkin’s first fight on American soil wasn’t until September of 2012, when he fought Grzegorz Proksa. Things didn’t end well for the Pollack:

2013 was huge year for Triple G. It started with a seventh round TKO of Gabriel Rosado, whose blood Golovkin splattered all over the ring:

golovkin rosario

Before stopping the fight, Rosado’s trainer was overheard yelling “your son’s gonna die, man!” to Rosado’s father.

Only two months later, Golovkin took on Japanese-born Nobuhiro Ishida in a fight that ended with a brutal knockout in the third round:

His legend beginning to grow, Golovkin then took on Matthew Macklin, who was touted as the toughest competitor of Golovkin’s career to that point. Macklin had no answer for Golovkin, who stalked the Brit around the ring for about 2.5 rounds before ending the fight with a crippling body punch:

It took Golovkin longer to win his next two fights, eight and seven rounds against Curtis Stevens and Osumanu Adama, respectively. Heading into his most recent fight with Aussie Daniel Geale, Golovkin had won 16 straight fights by knockout. Golovkin made it 17 when, while absorbing a hard right hand from Geale, he unleashed an off-balanced right hook that ended the fight:

Throughout Golovkin’s rise, Kovalev has been on a similarly destructive tear. Since becoming a professional, Kovalev has never fought past the eighth round. He won his first major title in 2011 by defeating Nathan Cleverly in the fourth round:

His first defense of the WBO light heavyweight championship didn’t even last two rounds:

Cedric Agnew was perhaps Kovalev’s most game challenger in recent years, but was stopped in the seventh round by a liver punch reminiscent of the one Macklin absorbed from Golovkin:

Among a dearth of worthy competitors, Kovalev booked a fight with the unheralded Blake Caparello for August 1st of this year. After Caparello (sort of) knocked him down in Round 1, an apparently ornery Kovalev went ahead and put an abrupt end to the match just one round later:

Of course, it takes more than ability to standout in the American sports landscape. Our star athletes usually have that extra something that draws us to them – perhaps an undeniable charisma, an interesting human-interest backstory, or a flare for the performance aspect of their sport. Despite their eastern European roots, both sluggers seem to have the “it” factor necessary to make it big in the west.

"Did you try pressing control-alt-delete?"
“Did you try pressing control-alt-delete?”

Golovkin has an interesting mystique about him. His appeal lies in the incredible dichotomy between his fighting style and his appearance and personality. How can someone who kind of looks like he could work in your company’s IT department be among the most feared people on the planet?

Until now, the most well-known Kazakh in America might have been Borat. With his broken English and goofy smile, Triple G certainly doesn’t dispel the comparison. Take a look at Golovkin’s most recent post-fight interview following his dismantling of Geale last week:

“This is show. This is big drama show…” I liiiiike!

Kovalev has a more intense aura. With his square jaw and awesome nickname, he is sort of like a real life Ivan Drago. But when asked recently about Adonis Stevenson’s apparent unwillingness to get in the ring with him, Kovalev “accidentally” cursed on live TV then flashed a million dollar smile that Drago could only dream of:

Following their most recent dominant victories, the future is unclear for Kovalev and Golovkin. Both are now surrounded by “no one wants to fight that guy” whispers. While Kovalev is set to fight Bernard Hopkins in November, Hopkins is 49 years old (not a typo), and a mega-fight with Adonis Stevenson might be as hard to orchestrate as the Pacquiao-Mayweather matchup that never was. Golovkin, on the other hand, called out the revitalized Miguel Cotto, but Cotto himself is fighting to rebuild his reputation after two straight losses in 2012.

Questions remain as to whether either or both men will face strong enough competition to establish meaningful legacies, but like Borat and Drago before them, Golovkin and Kovalev have both established themselves as must-see TV stars. Tune in, America.

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Mike Abitabilo is the co-founder of the Read Zone, and will never forget walking into that devastating right hand while sparring with his father on his 12th birthday.