Gennady Golovkin's legacy on the line against Alvarez

Kevin Iole
Combat columnist

Five years ago, Gennady Golovkin was a virtual unknown in the U.S., a world champion with a glittering record, an Olympic medal and less than zero public profile.

On Sept. 16 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Golovkin will finally get the high-profile type of fight he’s long sought to justify the hype that has surrounded him when he meets Canelo Alvarez in a potential Fight of the Year match.

It’s a pairing avid boxing fans have waited to see for at least two years, and it figures to be such a good bout that it could challenge the April 29 heavyweight title match between Anthony Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko for Fight of the Year honors.

Golovkin, who is minus-145 favorite over Alvarez at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, is 37-0 with 33 knockouts and has largely been unchallenged in his career. This fight, though, is of critical importance to Golovkin, who has carried the tag of the sport’s most avoided fighter the last several years.

Until he shows he can perform against an acknowledged A-level fighter like Alvarez the way he has against B- and C-level opposition like Dominic Wade and Willie Monroe Jr., among others, there will be questions surrounding Golovkin.

He’s yet to face an opponent who was considered a serious threat to defeat him and he’s never before met an opponent who was ranked anywhere near the Pound-for-Pound Top 10.

Yahoo Sports ranks Golovkin fifth on its Top 10, behind Andre Ward, Terence Crawford, Vasyl Lomachenko and Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez and ahead of Guillermo Rigondeaux, Alvarez, Errol Spence Jr., Keith Thurman and Mikey Garcia.

ESPN has Golovkin ranked No. 2, though broadcaster and noted trainer Teddy Atlas left Golovkin off his list entirely, the only one of ESPN’s 10 voters to do so.

Gennady Golovkin is putting his undefeated record on the line against Canelo Alvarez. (AP)

Jacobs is the best opponent Golovkin has faced and many thought Jacobs did enough to win that March 18 bout. Golovkin’s colorful and outspoken trainer, Abel Sanchez, has repeatedly said that Golovkin held back in that fight so as to make Alvarez and Golden Boy Promotions think he was vulnerable and then agree to the fight.

If that’s the case, though, Golovkin will need to perform when he gets the chance against Alvarez. If you’re going to say you held back and didn’t fight as hard as you could have against others so as to more easily land the fight with Alvarez, when it finally arrives, you have to go full throttle and win it decisively.

Most boxers who are 37-0 with 33 knockouts and who have held a world title belt continuously for seven years, as Golovkin has done, are not only considered among the best active pound-for-pound fighters in the world, but they also begin to be discussed as among the greatest in their division.

Because of his lack of high-level opposition, such talk has never come up in regard to Golovkin. Given he’s 35, there isn’t a tremendous amount of time left for him to get there.

It’s almost like it’s now or never.

Harry Greb, who was 107-8-3 with 48 knockouts in a 13-year career from 1913 to 1926, is Yahoo Sports’ pick as the top middleweight ever. Filing out the Top 10 are Carlos Monzon, Sugar Ray Robinson (the greatest welterweight ever and the greatest pound-for-pound fighter ever), Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Stanley Ketchel, Charley Burley, Mickey Walker, Jake La Motta, Bob Fitzsimmons and Dick Tiger.

It would be difficult for Golovkin to get into that kind of territory considering his paucity of signature wins. To put into perspective the type of opponents Golovkin has beaten, consider that none is in the International Boxing Hall of Fame and none is likely to be.

The recently retired Floyd Mayweather, by contrast, has defeated two men (Arturo Gatti and Oscar De La Hoya) who are already enshrined in the IBHOF and has beaten Manny Pacquiao, Miguel Cotto, Shane Mosley and Juan Manuel Marquez, all who are seemingly certainties to make it. He’s also had wins over Diego Corrales, Genaro Hernandez and Alvarez, who have at least an outside shot of earning a place among the sport’s immortals.

Pacquiao, similarly, has a win over De La Hoya, who is already in, and victories over Marquez, Marco Antonio Barrera, Mosley, Erik Morales and Tim Bradley, all of whom at least have a shot at making it.

Against that kind of backdrop, Golovkin’s résumé is thin. It’s obvious by watching him and seeing the power and the speed of his hands that he is a Hall of Fame talent, but to earn a place among the greatest middleweights ever, he’ll need more significant wins.

Alvarez, who has only one bout at middleweight on his record, provides that opposition. But there are few other options out there for Golovkin. There is talk among his team that if he defeats Alvarez he might go chase the WBO belt that is held by Billy Joe Saunders, but that is a match that excites no one and would do little to buoy the public perception of Golovkin.

The good news from his standpoint is that a solid beating of an elite opponent like Alvarez would shift the conversation away from the overall flimsy level of opposition he has faced to the shame it is that he didn’t live in an era for better middleweights.

Golovkin is talented enough to be regarded as, at the very least, one of the Top 20 middleweights ever. The question that sticks out, though, is whether the historians will be able to look past the quality of his opposition and see clear to include him.

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