Is Gennady Golovkin's air of invincibility gone?

Gennady Golovkin, right, lands against Daniel Jacobs during the 11th round Saturday night. (AP)
Gennady Golovkin, right, lands against Daniel Jacobs during the 11th round Saturday night. (AP)

NEW YORK – Tom Loeffler stood before a group of ringside reporters on Saturday, relief washed over his face. Gennady Golovkin outpointed Daniel Jacobs, preserving a million-buy showdown with Canelo Alvarez and tacking another win onto his perfect record. “Can’t knock out them all,” Loeffler, Golovkin’s promoter, said, though Jacobs became the rare fighter in Golovkin’s pro career to prove it.

Golovkin wins, and yes, he is still the best middleweight in the world. In front of 19,000-plus at Madison Square Garden, Golovkin delivered, outpointing Jacobs and operating behind a stiff jab to survive a Jacobs surge over the final three rounds. A bloodthirsty crowd didn’t get a knockout, but it did get a textbook performance from an elite fighter.

Golovkin wins, but his reign of terror? That could be over. Not since Edwin Valero — remember him? — has a titleholder had such a savage run of knockouts, a potpourri of body shots (Matthew Macklin), head shots (Daniel Geale) and wear-you-down shots (Martin Murray) that left a swollen body count in his wake. The likelihood of a flattened opponent made Golovkin must-see TV, evolving from an HBO attraction into a legitimate pay-per-view draw.

He still is, but in the aftermath of taking a few too many clean shots from an inflated welterweight (Kell Brook) and going the distance with Jacobs, the question is inevitable: Is Golovkin, weeks away from turning 35, starting to slow down?

To be clear: Slowing is a relative term. Jacobs is widely regarded as the second-best middleweight in the world, and all three judges scored it for Golovkin. It was notable, though, that after getting dropped in the fourth round, Jacobs was less rattled than eager for more. It had been 23 fights since an opponent made it to the final bell against Golovkin, yet there was Jacobs, winging combinations over the final three rounds, desperately trying to close the gap.

“[The power] wasn’t what everybody made it out to be,” Jacobs said. “He’s not this boogeyman, this knockout artist. Even when I got dropped … I didn’t get hurt like I thought, like if he landed one of those shots, it would be over. It wasn’t like that.”

To a man, Team Golovkin denies it sees any signs of regression. “For Gennady to go 12, drop him, I don’t look at that as a slip in performance,” Loeffler told Yahoo Sports. “I don’t think that’s a statement of losing skills. When you can win a unanimous decision against a fighter like Jacobs, that’s a good thing.” Added Golovkin’s trainer, Abel Sanchez: “I don’t see any signs of slippage. It’s the opponents that are getting better.”

There’s truth in that. Since beginning his U.S. career in 2012, Golovkin has struggled to attract elite opponents. A European knockout artist who doesn’t bring pay-per-view dollars to the table can have that problem. So Golovkin often had to settle for second-tier middleweights, all of whom fell like bowling pins. Jacobs wasn’t that, and he proved it by giving Golovkin his toughest fight.

Still … there’s Brook. Golovkin was never in trouble against Brook, and literally broke his face in the fight, but industry insiders were quick to point out the surprising punishment Golovkin took. Couple that with a battle against Jacobs, and it’s fair to wonder if we are seeing the first signs of decline.

Again: It’s all relative. Golovkin will be a heavy favorite in his next fight, rumored to be an early summer middleweight unification fight with Billy Joe Saunders, and if Canelo Alvarez, a September target, fights with his heart instead of his head against Golovkin, he could get knocked out. But the days of simply expecting a Golovkin knockout are over.

And maybe that’s a good thing. The fear of Golovkin laying waste to Alvarez has been a significant factor in boxing’s most anticipated fight not happening. Alvarez is Golden Boy’s cash cow, and Golovkin represents an enormous risk. Golden Boy and Loeffler have made significant progress toward a deal, and Golovkin’s mortal performance could be what helps seal it.

“On a big promotion like that, it will generate a lot of money,” Loeffler said. “[Golden Boy’s] Oscar [De La Hoya] likes to say the fight is the biggest payday for GGG, well, it’s the biggest for Canelo as well. He will make more money fighting Gennady than he did to fight [Floyd] Mayweather.”

It will be compelling TV, like every Golovkin fight, including the most recent one. And maybe a more competitive one. Somewhere, Alvarez was watching, studying, right along with De La Hoya, from afar. What they saw was a superb performance. What they didn’t see was a devastating one.

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