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Gennady Golovkin isn't a household name, but the middleweight's drive and skills could make him one

Kevin Iole
Yahoo Sports

The middleweight division might add a pair of superstars in September. The stage is set for the sport's most famous 160-pounder, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., to ascend the throne on Sept. 15, when he meets Sergio Martinez in a high-stakes bout in the shadow of the famed Las Vegas Strip.

But on Saturday, in a much less glamorous setting, a young man who was born in the former Soviet Union will get his first legitimate chance to bid for stardom.

Gennady Golovkin, a 2004 Olympic silver medalist, has long been one of boxing's best kept secrets. He's 23-0 with 20 knockouts and has ended 15 of his bouts within four rounds.

He's aggressive, powerful, skilled and has the natural charisma that a star requires.

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WBA champion Gennady Golovkin celebrates his victory against Lajuan Simon in 2011 (AP)

All he's needed has been an opportunity. And on Saturday, at the Turning Stone Casino in Verona, N.Y., he'll get that chance when he meets Pole Grzegorz Proksa in the main event of an HBO-televised doubleheader.

Golovkin craves stardom. He could have made more money had he chosen to fight in Europe, but he knew that if he truly wanted to become a hit, he had to come to the U.S.

"It's a dream for me to fight in Vegas and New York," he said. "You think about boxing and you think of Las Vegas and New York. I want my name up there with all those greats who fought there."

Golovkin, though, isn't waiting for anybody to hand him anything. He's moved to the U.S. and trained with the highly regarded Abel Sanchez in Big Bear, Calif. He's learned to speak English in interviews and has been virtually everywhere in the weeks leading up to Saturday's bout.

There hasn't been a reporter he hasn't chatted up or a radio interview he's bypassed. Promotion is a very important, but often very overlooked part of the game. Fans can't, and won't, buy tickets to see someone fight they've never heard of or know little about.

Golovkin set out to change that.

"He's really a guy we believe is the total package and could do a lot of big things," said Tom Loeffler, the managing director of K2 Promotions. "And Gennady is a bright guy who understands the business inside and outside [the ring]."

In the ring, he's an action-packed fighter with a good hook to the body and a fearless style. He fought more than 350 amateur fights and, though amateur records are notoriously unreliable, admits after some prodding that he won nearly all of them.

[Also: Humanitarian Richard Steele doesn’t regret infamous Chavez-Taylor decision]

As a pro, he hasn't faced much well-known opposition, but he's rarely been challenged. Sanchez said those who don't know Golovkin are in for a treat.

Sanchez isn't normally known for hyperbole, but he raves about Golovkin. He repeatedly refers to him as the best middleweight in the world and believes it won't be long before he's perceived to be one of the elite boxers in any weight class.

Sanchez has trained Hall of Famer Terry Norris, as well as other high-quality fighters such as ex-champions Miguel Angel Gonzalez and Paul Vaden. None, he insists, could match Golovkin.

"I've had the pleasure of working with a lot of great fighters, but this one is by far the best one that I've ever worked with at any period of time in their careers," Sanchez said. "The 350 amateur fights [he's had] and all the international experience has made him such a serene fighter, such a composed fighter. The one thing that he does have is he possesses lethal power in each hand, so to me, he's probably the best I've ever worked with."

Golovkin is a bright, engaging sort who already understands that it's production, not talk, that sells. He said he respects Proksa and proceeded to reel off the requisite superlatives when talking about him.

But Golovkin knows that all eyes are going to be on him on Saturday. If he wins impressively, his dream of becoming a fixture on the American boxing scene won't be so far out of reach.

He was nine when the former Soviet Union collapsed. His family endured extreme poverty and long hardships.

Despite the tribulations, though, he had boxing to look forward to as a diversion from the hard times.

And now, with one more good performance, boxing may turn out to be his ticket to stardom.

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