Is it Time to Reassess Golovkin’s Greatness?

IMG_0697By Alex Beard (@alex_beard17)

To make it clear, this article is not about burying Gennady Golovkin after he escaped with a unanimous decision victory over Daniel Jacobs last night. This isn’t the written version of Max Kellerman’s thinly-veiled post-fight dig at Srisaket Sor Rungvisai. Golovkin’s not suddenly a bad fighter and truly, the fight could have been scored either way. Certainly the punch statistics after the fight supported GGG’s case.

However, this was by some distance the worst Golovkin has looked since he burst onto the mainstream boxing scene several years ago. It was the first time since 2008 that the Kazakh was taken the distance, and for many observers he was fortunate to get the verdict at the end of 12 fascinating rounds at Madison Square Garden.

The conversation is now about whether Golovkin’s greatness was overstated. For a long time now it has simply been assumed that he would steamroll whoever’s put in front of him. Whenever a fight between GGG and another top middleweight failed to materialise it was understood that the reason was because the opponent was reluctant to step in the ring with him.

That still may have been the case, but last night’s sterling effort from Jacobs will surely have increased the interest of the likes of Canelo Alvarez and Billy Joe Saunders in a bout with Golovkin. Not to say that Canelo and Saunders are suddenly candidates to end Golovkin’s unbeaten record, but the blueprint to beat GGG that was first drawn up by Kell Brook last September was laid out in full by Jacobs at MSG.

Golovkin was the clear favourite going into the fight but it was clear that Jacobs was the toughest test of his career to date. The ‘Miracle Man’ had significantly bulked up for the contest, so much so that he decided not to turn up for the IBF’s Saturday morning weigh in that would have needed him to be within 10lbs. of the 160lbs. weight limit from the previous day’s official weigh in.

Jacobs’ increased size did play its part in the contest, but it was the dazzling hand speed and constant movement of the Brooklyn native that gave Golovkin serious problems. We’ve seen in the past that if Golovkin respects your power he will fight more conservatively, utilising his jab and remaining patient until he can figure out the safest way to unleash his own devastating punching power.

But that patient approach that has always been a major positive in Golovkin’s game, while not quite his undoing last night, certainly limited his effectiveness and allowed Jacobs to make a very real case for having won the fight. GGG was constantly stalking his opponent and often got in positions to unload a flurry of hard shots, but it never materialised. It’s easy to recall Jacobs’ moments in the fight, but aside from the knockdown, it’s difficult to recall Golovkin looking good for sustained periods.

The first three rounds really had nothing to speak of, but that in itself was encouraging for Jacobs whose gameplan was clearly to stick and move to a decision. In the fourth Golovkin finally landed a hard right hand and it immediately put Jacobs down. The knockdown looked to be a mixture of a solid shot and an off-balance Jacobs, although Golovkin did a good job of forcing his opponent into an awkward position along the ropes before he unloaded.

The expectation was that GGG would kick on from here, abandoning the safety-first approach that had yielded next to nothing in the opening quarter of the fight. However he continued to find Jacobs an elusive foe, the American moving well and when hit standing up well to Golovkin’s arsenal. The Kazakh also demonstrated his chin in this contest, as Jacobs hit him with some good shots that never really seemed to cause him problems.

Jacobs’ power was enough to keep Golovkin hesitant, though. He would have rounds where he stepped up his output, only to be out-boxed by Jacobs in the following stanza. Ring-cutting has always been a strength of Golovkin’s, but he found it very difficult to pin down Jacobs – whose feet were superb throughout.

Credit must be given to Jacobs’ trainer Andre Rozier, whose instructions in between rounds were always exemplary. He seemed to feel the need to refocus Jacobs during the intervals in order to ensure that his man didn’t get drawn into a firefight, while stressing the need for Jacobs to be constantly on the move. Abel Sanchez, on the other hand, perhaps didn’t generate enough urgency in his fighter. Having said that, Golovkin still won so what do I know?

A scorecard of 114-113 for Golovkin seemed reasonable, but two scores of 115-112 seemed a bit wide. Jacobs clearly felt he’d done enough to win the fight and hopefully he gets his rematch. I for one would much rather see Golovkin-Jacobs II than Golovkin-Saunders.

While the result was by no means a robbery, Golovkin’s performance may have been enough to reduce the assumption that he’ll beat anyone in and around his weightclass with ease. GGG’s been built up into an almost mythical figure, the smiling assassin, but he remains simply a boxer and one with holes in his game at that.

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