As boxing prepares for the post-Floyd Mayweather/Manny Pacquiao era, the sport is on the prowl for its next wave of superstars. Although the future looked dim a few years back, the current wave of fighters jockeying for position have injected some much-needed energy into the sport.
Leading the charge is a pair of foreign fighters who have burst onto the scene in a major way. Russian Sergey Kovalev (28-0-1, 25 KOs) and Kazakhstan’s Gennady Golovkin (33-0, 30 KOs) have made significant impressions and could be in line to occupy the throne as boxing’s top pound-for-pound fighter once Floyd Mayweather hangs up the gloves.
To the untrained eye, Golovkin and Kovalev are a pair of “Rocky IV” Ivan Drago-types who decimate foes with debilitating punching power. But unlike the steely character Dolph Lundgren portrayed in the Sylvester Stallone-anchored series, both GGG and Kovalev are personalities who do not need Brigitte Nielsen to speak for them.
Nevertheless, the similarities that have forced the comparisons are difficult to ignore.
With both fighters born in countries that are less than a 700 miles apart, it’s easy to point out their foreign flavor. They are both huge draws on HBO thanks to their frightening knockout rates (Kovalev at 89 percent; Golovkin at 91 percent) that have left more than a few opponents violently separated from their senses. They have also made it a point to learn English in order to broaden their American appeal.
Also, neither fighter has ties with promotional heavyweights Top Rank, Golden Boy or Premier Boxing Champions. Golovkin is with Tom Loeffler’s K2 Promotions while Kovalev stands under the umbrella of Kathy Duva’s Main Events. Their respective promoters have done an impressive job of building their fighter’s brand without being bound to a rival promotion that could essentially handicap the prospect of facing certain opponents.
They both have even shared a trainer. At one time, Abel Sanchez trained both fighters, but Kovalev has since split (under far from amicable terms) from Sanchez and is currently trained by John David Jackson. Golovkin remains under the tutelage of Sanchez. There are rumors that Golovkin knocked down Kovalev in a sparring session, but primarily Sanchez, who has a reason to have a personal bias for GGG, substantiates those claims.
But as much as the casual fan may want to compare the two, there are some significant differences that set them apart from one another.
Unlike Kovalev’s recent success, Golovkin didn’t sneak up on anyone. While some may want to suggest that Golovkin is a mere Tyson clone, those that have followed the sport are aware that there is nothing “flash in the pan” about him. A remarkable amateur record of 345-5 was capped off with a silver medal at the 2004 Summer Olympic Games and proved that he was as technically sound as he was powerful. By the time he turned pro, Golovkin already held amateur victories over the likes of Andy Lee, Matvey Korobov, Anthony Dirrell and Lucian Bute. All of the aforementioned names made a splash on the scene once they turned pro.
When GGG made his professional debut in 2006, the expectations were significantly high. And by the time he made his American television debut on HBO against Grzegorz Proska in 2012, there were very few who did not anticipate his arrival. Since his American debut, there have been nothing but broken bodies left in his wake as he has reeled off 20 consecutive knockouts in pursuit of Bernard Hopkins' record 20 title defenses at middleweight. Yet, the criticism that has plagued Golovkin is his lack of a recognizable name on his résumé. Fight fans are clamoring for a marquee name to roll the dice against GGG. An October pay-per-view showdown with IBF middleweight champion David Lemieux may not be the top-tier name fight fans have been yearning for, but it certainly will be GGG’s biggest step up in competition to date.
Kovalev may not possess the highly decorated amateur career that Golovkin does, but a 195-18 record is nothing to sneeze at, either. Despite the lack of amateur hype, Kovalev’s professional career has arguably been better to this point.
Kovalev didn’t catch fire with American audiences as quickly as Golovkin did. He was rough around the edges with crude boxing ability but made up for it with impressive knockout power. But under the tutelage of John David Jackson, the Russian’s ascent up the ladder became a swift one. But a fateful December evening in 2011 is the reason many American audiences became familiar with his name.
Kovalev was pitted against Roman Simakov and ended up stopping him in the seventh round. Although the fight wasn’t a high-profile affair, the aftermath certainly made waves as Simakov passed away from injuries suffered in the bout. It was a dubious way for Kovalev to gain traction, but he has not let the unfortunate event haunt him.
After Golovkin was named Ring Magazine’s Fighter of the Year in 2013 with breakout performances that saw him lay waste to Gabriel Rosado, Nobuhiro Ishida, Matthew Macklin and Curtis Stevens, Kovalev decidedly one-upped GGG the following year, earning Ring’s 2014 honors. After violently putting down both Cedric Agnew and Blake Caparello, the Russian handed ageless wonder Hopkins a thorough beating to claim the IBF and WBO light heavyweight titles with a one-sided unanimous decision victory. Although many scoffed at his July 25 starching of Nadjib Mohammedi on HBO, it was certainly forgivable considering that he had just taken down the aforementioned Hopkins and impressively knocked out former light heavyweight champion Jean Pascal earlier this year.
As impressive as Kovalev has been, one can argue that the Russian hasn’t dispatched his opponents as impressively as Golovkin has. It also can be debated that Golovkin is more fundamentally sound with exceptional footwork and pinpoint accuracy. Conversely, Kovalev has improved tremendously as a boxer under Jackson. No longer is “Krusher” simply a knockout artist with limited technical ability; he is now known for his ever-improving pugilistic skill that has made him even more dangerous than he was before.
More importantly, Kovalev has a victory over a sure Hall of Fame fighter in Hopkins, something that Golovkin has yet to accomplish.
So who is the better fighter? That’s certainly a subjective debate that the likes of Andre Ward, Roman Gonzalez and Terence Crawford have a say in.
Could they potentially cross paths in the near future? Perhaps. Although Kovalev campaigns at light heavyweight and Golovkin at middleweight, there is a chance that GGG could climb a pair of weight classes to challenge Krusher. At this current time, those talks are far too premature considering that there are a number of challenges (including both potentially having to face Ward) that each fighter will need to complete before turning their attention toward one another.
Until then, enjoy the wild ride that is sure to excite as GGG and Krusher continue to stake their claim as the future of boxing.