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LAS VEGAS – Those who met Gennady Golovkin after he arrived in the United States in 2011 almost instantly felt a personal connection with him, though he spoke precious little English.
He would bow, crack that broad toothy grin, and wrap one in a bear hug that he’d always conclude with a few pats on the back.
He made you feel like an old acquaintance and was so pleased to see you, even though you may have just met. Success hasn’t changed him and even as one of the iconic figures in boxing, he remains affable and approachable.
“He is the kind of person who is hard not to like,” said WBC president Mauricio Sulaiman, who had brought Golovkin to Mexico City for promotional purposes numerous times and wound up being amazed by the love his countrymen would show Golovkin.
It’s no stretch to say that Golovkin, the WBA-WBC middleweight champion, is one of the most popular fighters in Mexico. And even though he’s fighting Canelo Alvarez, a legendary Mexican champion, on Saturday at the T-Mobile Arena in a hotly anticipated rematch, there will be at least some Mexicans who will cheer for Golovkin instead of Alvarez.
Golovkin and trainer Abel Sanchez have perfected an offensive system they fondly refer to as “Mexican style.” It’s made Golovkin one of the biggest stars in the sport and hugely popular in his opponent’s homeland.
He had a streak of 23 consecutive bouts in which he won by knockout that ended in March 2017 when Daniel Jacobs went the distance with him. On top of that, Golovkin has made 20 consecutive successful defenses of the middleweight title he first won in 2010.
“Gennady is the perfect representation of what Mexican boxing is all about: Hard work, dedication to being the best and a fighting style where he always goes forward and tries for the knockout,” Sulaiman said. “He tries hard to give the people what they came to see. The Mexican people love that about him. But he’s also a humble guy and he shows great dedication to the poor and to our youth.”
Golovkin irate at Alvarez’s lack of responsibility for failed PED tests
The smile hasn’t been as prevalent in the last six months when he’s been speaking in public, though.
Alvarez twice tested positive for the banned substance, Clenbuterol, in February, and it led to a suspension by the Nevada Athletic Commission and the cancellation of a May 5 rematch between the two. Alvarez blames the positive tests on having eaten contaminated meat in Guadalajara, Mexico.
Others, including former world champion Juan Francisco Estrada of Mexico, aren’t so sure. Estrada told Lance Pugmire of the Los Angeles Times that he eats meat in Sonora, Mexico, all the time. Pugmire asked Estrada why he didn’t test positive.
“I eat it,” Estrada said. “I don’t inject it.”
Golovkin has publicly questioned the contaminated meat excuse Alvarez has given, leading to a frosty-at-best relationship between the two.
Alvarez isn’t among those who is charmed by Golovkin.
“It’s definitely more personal now and I really don’t like him,” Alvarez said.
While Golovkin remains suspicious of Alvarez’s claim that he ate contaminated meat, he’s irate that Alvarez failed to take responsibility for what happened.
If it was contaminated meat, Golovkin has said he doesn’t understand how Alvarez could have made such a careless mistake. And perhaps more significantly from Golovkin’s point of view, when Alvarez called a news conference in April to announce he was pulling out of the May 5 bout, he offered numerous apologies, but notably did not apologize to Golovkin.
That hasn’t escaped Golovkin’s notice.
“Canelo, he is not a champion,” Golovkin said. “He is a liar who has no respect for the sport of boxing or its fans.”
That is 180 degrees away from the laughing, happy-go-lucky guy that his intimates know and his teammates enjoy.
‘GGG’ takes a stand, earns a larger slice of pie vs. Canelo
His promoter, Tom Loeffler, said that Golovkin hasn’t changed personally, though Alvarez’s doping debacle forced him to change business-wise.
With Loeffler’s promotional acumen and Sanchez’s intuitive feel for how to get the best out of Golovkin in the ring, he has become one of the most iconic and richest athletes in the sport.
He makes more, Loeffler said, than 95 percent of other active professional athletes, and made slightly more than $20 million for his controversial 2017 draw with Alvarez. Loeffler is projecting Golovkin will rake in $48 million from the rematch, which Loeffler said should sell better than the 1.4 million it did on pay-per-view last year.
He makes a comfortable living outside of boxing, earning nearly $4 million a year from endorsements with Chivas Regal, Tecate, Jordan Brand, Hublot and Bijan.
Golovkin, though, isn’t about money. Despite his financial success, he has remained in the same modest three-bedroom home he bought several years ago in Santa Monica, California, where he lives with his wife and two children.
He was on the short end of a 70-30 split for the first fight and settled for 65-35 when the rematch was negotiated for May. But after Alvarez was suspended and the May 5 bout canceled, Golovkin took a stand and said he would not fight for anything other than 45 percent of the total revenues.
Promoter Oscar De La Hoya told Yahoo Sports he came out of his own pocket to cough up the final bit of money to satisfy Golovkin’s demands.
De La Hoya set a deadline for a deal, but Golovkin wouldn’t budge. And Loeffler negotiated a contract with Frank Warren, the promoter of WBO middleweight champion Billy Joe Saunders. Golovkin was prepared to fight Saunders for far less money, Loeffler said, if De La Hoya hadn’t agreed to the 55-45 split.
“Gennady wasn’t happy with the way he was treated the first time, but he just wanted to get the fight,” Loeffler said. “We’d been trying for so long to get that fight and so Gennady sacrificed to get it made when we finally got them to the table. But after everything that happened, I wouldn’t say it changed him personally, but it hardened him from a business standpoint.
“I told him several times that if he didn’t agree, we’d probably lose the fight and he said he understood but didn’t care. He stuck by his principles.”
Golovkin’s quest to be the best lands him in Southern California
Sticking by his principles is how Golovkin wound up being promoted by Loeffler and trained by Sanchez. He was promoted by Universum, a powerful company in Germany, but began to get unhappy when it wasn’t pushing him for title fights.
There was a chance he could have fought Kelly Pavlik for a middleweight title, but the fight would have almost certainly have had to be in the U.S. for that to happen. Golovkin wanted it, but Universum wanted to keep him in Europe. So he turned his attention to Felix Sturm, who was the star of the Universum stable and was big in Germany. But when Universum wouldn’t make that fight, Golovkin began to explore alternatives.
He had a friend who was a security guard in Stuttgart, Germany, who happened to know Loeffler. He recommended to brothers Oleg and Max Hermann, Golovkin’s managers, that they contact Loeffler. They knew of the work Loeffler had done for heavyweight champions Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko and so they reached out.
The Hermanns and Golovkin flew to Southern California to meet Loeffler, and he took them to a Manny Pacquiao fight in Las Vegas.
They hit it off and agreed to a deal. The same thing basically happened with Sanchez. He met Golovkin and watched tapes of fights with him, as he was being auditioned. He saw Golovkin’s natural skills, but told him he felt he needed to adjust his style. Sanchez told Golovkin that if they worked together, he felt in three years that Golovkin would be behind only Muhammad Ali among the all-time greats.
Golovkin left without hiring Sanchez, and Sanchez went about his business. A few months later, Sanchez was called by one of the Hermann brothers, who asked if he could pick up Golovkin at the airport and begin training him. Golovkin and Sanchez made a handshake deal and have been arguably boxing’s best tandem since.
“He’s a great guy and we have a very good relationship and we have a lot of fun together,” Sanchez said. “But the one thing you learn quickly is how serious he is about his work. He comes ready to work, every day, and you never have a day where he disappoints you or isn’t there. And when you have the kind of talent he does with that kind of work ethic, for a trainer, it’s about as good as it gets.”
Golovkin: ‘I will do my job’ vs. Alvarez
Together, Sanchez and Golovkin stand on the precipice of a career-defining victory. For all of his knockouts and his gaudy record and the long streak of title defenses, a win over Alvarez would clearly be the most significant of Golovkin’s career.
But he’ll never forget what Alvarez put him through.
“I did lose all respect for him,” Golovkin said of Alvarez. “Canelo is not the biggest name in boxing, just the biggest scandal.”
He’s looking to begin another knockout streak and said he feels like he’s 25 again.
“I know my job,” Golovkin said. “I know what the people want to see. I know why they come. I will do my job.”