The odds would suggest that Gennadiy Golovkin versus Steve Rolls is a squash match, one of those bouts designed to rehabilitate the star in the eyes of the public, sell some streaming subscriptions and set up a mega-fight a few months down the road.
Golovkin is minus-7000 and Rolls is plus-1500. For those who aren’t into betting, that means if you want to win $100 by betting on Golovkin, you have to risk $7,000. But if you bet $100 on Rolls, you’d earn a profit of $1,500 if he pulls the upset in their non-title super middleweight fight on Saturday at Madison Square Garden in New York.
In normal circumstances, what those odds would say is that Rolls has no chance.
These, however, are far from normal circumstances. Most significantly, Andy Ruiz Jr. reminded everyone that there is no way to properly measure heart, courage and sheer determination. Ruiz was a massive underdog last week at The Garden in his heavyweight title fight with unbeaten Anthony Joshua.
But Ruiz won three of the four major heavyweight belts, and perhaps a lucrative endorsement with Snickers, by declining to just show up and collect his paycheck against Joshua. He knew this was his shot, and paid no attention to the naysayers.
Boxing has had a long tradition of nurturing fighters who are known in the industry as professional opponents. They’re skilled enough that they can put on a good show, but they know their job is not to win. Like in professional wrestling, their job is to get the star over.
Rolls, though, doesn’t quite fit the bill as a professional opponent. He’s 19-0 with 10 knockouts and is good enough that the late Emanuel Steward, one of boxing’s all-time greatest trainers and a shrewd judge of talent, tried to recruit him out of the amateurs. Steward, though, got ill and eventually died of cancer and was unable to complete a deal with Rolls.
“When DAZN signed Golovkin, they did it with the intention of getting him to [a third] fight with Canelo [Alvarez],” Rolls promoter Lou DiBella said. “So when they were trying to find an opponent for Golovkin, let’s be honest, they weren’t looking for King Kong. But they didn’t want a bum with a propped up record, either.
“Every level he’s been at, he’s won. And he’s not building his record fighting guys with 2-26 records. One of the problems he’s had is that he’s too much risk for a lot of the top guys without enough reward.”
Golovkin is a murderous puncher who has knocked out 34 of the 40 men he’s fought. He’s also fighting with a heightened sense of urgency, not only because of Ruiz’s upset of Joshua, but because he wants to prove in light of his loss to Alvarez in September that he’s still one of the world’s elite middleweights.
If there was ever a chance Golovkin would take Rolls lightly, it ended a little before midnight Eastern time on June 1, when Ruiz knocked Joshua down for the fourth and final time. For years, Golovkin would say, “This is boxing; anything can happen,” and people would smile and wink, knowing he was just selling a fight against an overmatched opponent.
Now, though, things are dramatically different. Golovkin can’t afford a loss and he’s been reminded by Ruiz of just what can happen in a prize fight.
Have no doubt, he’ll be as ready for Rolls as he was for Alvarez.
But if there is pressure on Rolls, it’s hardly showing. He’s been engaging and outgoing almost since the moment the bout was first signed. And though he lives in Toronto, he’s avoided Drake at all costs and there’s no curse on him.
“I don’t think people are considering me just a write-off or a victim like they were before,” Rolls said. “I think now people are starting to think, ‘Hey, listen, you know what? This is a live fight. And I think he’s going to be great.’”
Rolls has not shown even one sign of being intimidated and he hasn’t looked out of place.
And while Golovkin is one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world, Rolls and his team don’t see themselves as hopelessly overmatched and needing a lucky punch to win.
“Well, I think Steve has mostly everything on top of Triple-G,” Rolls trainer Tommy Howat said. “I mean, we really respect Triple-G. But I know [Rolls] is faster than Triple-G. I know he’s got better footwork. But the best thing about Steve is, he’s a very, very, very intelligent fighter. I’ve never seen him be dominated in any situation over the 14 years that I’ve been coaching him.
“So Steve’s timing, footwork and speed [are his advantages]. I think Triple-G maybe has a slight, slight edge on power. But power doesn’t win fights. It’s the intelligence of Steve that’s going to win this fight.”
Rolls has plenty of motivation to win, but wanting to do something positive for Canadian boxing has only added to his desire to spring the upset. Boxing is hugely popular in Montreal and throughout Quebec, but Rolls is from Toronto where it’s not quite as hot of a market.
Toronto is one of the biggest, and finest, cities in the world, but it’s not known for producing boxing stars. That’s inspired Rolls to no end.
“This fight’s bigger than just me,” he said. “Obviously, I have my own goals and aspirations that I want to do in the sport and history I want to leave for myself. But this fight’s bigger than me, man, because we don’t get a lot of cameras and publicity shine down in Canada like a lot of other places. And I think it’s cool because for the young and a lot of these young kids to look up and see somebody from where they’re from actually being able to make it to this stage, it gives them hope and inspires them. So that’s what I want, for this to be inspiration for a lot of people.”
More from Yahoo Sports: