Gennadiy Golovkin, 40, looks every bit his age in 9th-round finish of Ryota Murata

The result was what virtually everyone with a clue imagined it would be: Gennadiy Golovkin broke down Ryota Murata, pummeled him with crushing hooks and finished him when Murata’s corner threw in the towel in a one-sided ninth round of their bout for the IBF and WBA middleweight titles Saturday in Saitama, Japan.

It was how Golovkin got to that result that was unexpected and deserving of a closer look.

Murata simply isn’t an elite middleweight and despite his youth, had few advantages against the 40-year-old Golovkin.

Yet, Murata was giving as good as he got for much of the fight until he wore down from the constant and powerful Golovkin attack.

Murata had great success early in the fight, going to the middle of the ring and trading, a strategy few have even dared to try against Golovkin. He was whipping fast, hard body shots that made Golovkin wince several times.

Golovkin looked every one of his 40 years at stages in the early part of the fight.

But the thing that makes Golovkin who he is, the crushing punching power, bailed him out of what could have been an embarrassing and disastrous defeat.

He blasted Murata with a right to the side of the head in the fifth, which sent Murata’s mouthpiece flying. It was also symbolic of the beginning of the end for Murata, whose ability to take the punches and fire back began to dwindle at that point.

Golovkin is a masterful offensive fighter who not only exerts continuous pressure, but who possesses all of the punches and knows how to put them together. That’s never been an issue and it wasn’t an issue on Saturday.

Once he got his distance correct, he muted much of Murata’s offense and from that point forward, it was a question of how long Murata would be able to withstand the punishment.

It was Golovkin’s 42nd win and his 37th knockout in 44 professional fights, and it likely was enough to arrange a September bout against Canelo Alvarez. Alvarez has a draw and a win in their two fights and has since ascended to the top of the boxing universe as not only the game’s biggest draw, but as its pound-for-pound best fighter.

Could this version of GGG defeat Canelo?

Thinking of Alvarez is when Golovkin’s performance Saturday should be questioned: It simply wasn’t good enough against a guy of Alvarez’s caliber. Murata was a world champion only because of the proliferation of belts that sanctioning bodies give out and not because he was anywhere near the best middleweight in the world.

Yet, he gave Golovkin scary moments, particularly early, with his body work.

Golovkin has a notoriously tough chin, but punches to the body are another matter entirely. Sergiy Derevyanchenko did surprisingly well against Golovkin in a 2019 bout in New York by attacking Golovkin to the body. Murata’s successes Saturday were the same way.

Alvarez is a vicious body puncher and it’s not hard to imagine the fight would have been vastly different Saturday had it been Alvarez, not Murata, landing those body blows.

Golovkin is one of the marquee fighters of his era, and a serious case could be made that he deserved to win both of his fights with Alvarez. The first fight was scored a split draw, with one of the judges seeing it for Golovkin, one for Alvarez and the other a draw. But the score for Alvarez was a laughably inept 10-2 which nobody else on the planet saw. The judge who had it even gave the seventh round, by far Golovkin’s best, to Alvarez.

Gennadiy Golovkin of Kazakhstan hits Ryota Murata of Japan during their WBA/IBF middleweight unification boxing title match in Saitama, near Tokyo, Saturday, April 9, 2022. (AP Photo/Shuji Kajiyama)
Gennadiy Golovkin of Kazakhstan hits Ryota Murata of Japan during their WBA/IBF middleweight unification boxing title match in Saitama, near Tokyo, Saturday, April 9, 2022. (AP Photo/Shuji Kajiyama)

Alvarez was far better in the second fight and the result honestly was a coin flip. If it had been scored for Golovkin, no one with a sense of fairness should have batted an eye. There was a solid case for either man winning.

But that was four years ago and the question Golovkin needs to answer is if he can summon a version of that fighter again despite fighting a collection of mostly B-level opponents for the last four years. He won’t win, period, against Alvarez with what he had Saturday against Murata.

It’s certainly not inconceivable that Golovkin could raise his game in four months. He’s in magnificent condition but Saturday’s fight was his first in 16 months since a Dec. 18, 2020, mauling of overmatched mandatory challenger Kamil Szeremeta.

It takes time to get the feel back when you’ve been away from the ring so long.

The fight has been talked about so much because, even at 40, Golovkin is still great and is one of the few potential Alvarez opponents with the capability of beating him.

But can he at 40 take the pace at which Alvarez goes? Can he endure Alvarez’s withering body attack? Can he deal with the size, as Alvarez has moved up and is now a solid 168-pounder who can fight effectively at 175?

The unknowns are plenty, but the truths about Golovkin are undeniable: He’s a brilliant offensive fighter who hits with a crushing force. When he finds his rhythm in a fight, as he did in the fifth against Murata, it’s like he’s fighting downhill.

That’s why a fight with Alvarez holds so much intrigue. They have gone 24 exciting but largely inconclusive rounds, and another 12 holds much potential.

Golovkin is now 40 and looked like it, but he’s such a superior athlete it was enough on Saturday.

Whether that will be enough in September, though, is another story entirely.