Why Gennady Golovkin still isn't a mainstream star (and may never be)

Kevin Iole
Yahoo Sports

Years from now, I suspect, there will be those who will write about what a privilege it was to watch Gennady Golovkin, to cover this nearly perfect fighting machine as he tore through his career nearly unchallenged.

The WBA middleweight champion is 29-0 with 26 knockouts heading into perhaps the toughest match of his career Saturday on HBO against Daniel Geale at Madison Square Garden. As good as Golovkin is in the ring, the hype that surrounds him exceeds it.

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He's got crushing puncher power, surprising agility, a keen understanding of timing, leverage and movement, and he seems to be one of those athletes who's never satisfied with just winning. He's the kind of guy who loves to make a statement and yearns to put on a show.

Those are the kinds of fighters who are typically celebrated far and wide in boxing, who appear in beer commercials, earn eight-figure paydays and sell enormous numbers of pay-per-view.

But Golovkin is 32 years old, struggles to communicate in English, hasn't faced much significant opposition and lacks that potential signature opponent who could make him a breakout star.

There's been much talk about matching Golovkin with Julio Cesar Chavez, a super middleweight who isn't showing a tremendous amount of interest in pursuing his chosen professional much longer.

Gennady Golovkin enters the ring to face before facting Curtis Stevens (not pictured). (USA Today)
Gennady Golovkin enters the ring to face before facting Curtis Stevens (not pictured). (USA Today)

The greatest super middleweight in the world, Andre Ward, sits a division above Golovkin, where it seems he may always be. Ward will some day move to light heavyweight, which may keep him a division ahead of Golovkin.

A fight with WBO middleweight champion Peter Quillin would be interesting, at least for boxing fans, but Golovkin is tied to an HBO deal and Quillin is with Golden Boy, which works almost exclusively with Showtime.

Outside of Ward, there are few fighters who are credible challenges to Golovkin in and around his division. He's better than a 10-1 favorite against Geale, and he'd be 4-1 or better against virtually anyone he could face.

Old pro Miguel Cotto, who recently won the WBC middleweight belt, would give him a proven name to meet, but Golovkin would be a big favorite in that bout. And it's unlikely that Top Rank, Cotto's promoter, would want to put him in with Golovkin at this point of their respective careers.

A bout a year or so down the road that would make a lot of sense and which would generate massive attention would be a title fight between Golovkin and Canelo Alvarez. That, though, brings the whole HBO-Showtime situation into play, making the bout all but impossible to put together.

On top of the limited opposition he has ahead of him, Golovkin still needs a heavy marketing and public relations push to cross him over.

He's big among the converted – he's mobbed by autograph seekers and well wishers when he shows up at a boxing show – but a pay-per-view star needs to be able to attract the very casual fans.

Golovkin is a good-looking guy who smiles easily and freely and who clearly wants to do all he can to help promote himself.

Nothing he can do is more important than learning to speak English and introducing himself to the American audience. Fans who see his athleticism and power and precision will be awed, and undoubtedly come back for more. He's that talented.

He barely can communicate in English, though, and most of his interviews are translated in which much of the meaning and nuance is lost.

Gennady Golovkin (silver trunks) hits Curtis Stevens during their middleweight title fight. (USA Today)
Gennady Golovkin (silver trunks) hits Curtis Stevens during their middleweight title fight. (USA Today)

His team has been extraordinarily careful with him, as well, making it difficult to introduce the man behind the smile. He spent more than a month with his family in his native Kazakhstan earlier this year after his father's death in February.

Upon his return, reporters were barred from asking him about his family and the tragedies he's endured – His older brothers were both killed at war – and how they've impacted him as a man.

So Golovkin stands on the threshold of greatness, but he's not quite there yet. He's got the look, the power and the skill, but he remains very much a work in progress in terms of crossing over to the mainstream.

He can overcome much of it by continuing to be a wrecking ball in the ring, but generally, if a fighter can't communicate well in English, he needs to destroy the world's best fighters on a regular basis. But none of the potential opponents out there for Golovkin, particularly those who are likely, are among the world's best.

If things break the right way, there's a scenario in which Golovkin becomes one of the biggest two or three stars in the sport.

But he's 32, not 22, and time is ticking away.

He's a can't-miss fighter for all boxing fans, but he still has a long way to go to truly become a star.

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