At a rather stuffy press conference inside London’s iconic Landmark Hotel, Gennady Golovkin mulled over a question momentarily before leaning forward and answering in almost perfect English.
“Every fight is different,” he said slowly, upon being asked –a touch optimistically – to provide a comprehensive breakdown of his forthcoming fight with Saul ‘Canelo’ Alavrez.
“Everybody has a chance because this is boxing. I am just a regular guy. I am not superman. So, everybody has a chance.”
It was the type of response Golovkin is known for: thoughtful, polite, perhaps even a little dull. And, in usual circumstances, such an answer would barely have registered; a non-answer to a non-question. Except of course, these were far from normal circumstances.
Because while Golovkin and Canelo were politely taking it in turns to remind everybody of the other man’s ability in the ring, both dressed in immaculate three-piece suits that most certainly didn’t have the words ‘F**k you’ stitched into them, Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor were busy plotting their cross-code super-fight, which had been officially announced just a few days before.
It didn’t take very long for Golden Boy Promotions to adopt a Michelle Obama inspired ‘When they go low, we go high’ approach to promoting their fight, amplifying the prestige and honour of a true lineal championship showdown at every turn.
Canelo and Golovkin speaking at their London press conference (Getty)
‘SUPREMACY’ was settled upon as the slogan. Both men studiously refused to criticise one another. And soon, a short promo film was released, comprised mostly of super-HD montages of the two warriors working out in slow-motion, so pretentious that it would have made even Woody Allen wince.
Oscar De La Hoya may have temporarily forgotten about the business model when, in a fit of envy badly disguised as rage, he misguidedly tweeted “F**K YOU #MayweatherVsMcGregor” but even that wasn’t enough to derail what was by now a carefully constructed campaign.
The message was clear: if Mayweather and McGregor represented everything bad about boxing, Golovkin and Canelo represented everything good.
The Mayweather vs McGregor contest was widely ridiculed (Getty)
In this light, it would be easy to sniff at both Golovkin and Canelo for playing a game. For acting out the role of gentlemen just as Mayweather and McGregor so gleefully starred as duelling villains, before Robert Byrd stopped their contest in the tenth round and the pair shared an embrace in the middle of the squared circle.
But Golovkin isn’t playing any games. The 35-year-old is well known for being as scrupulously polite outside the ring as he is bloodthirsty within it. “He’s a very calm person and a normal guy outside the ring, down to earth and very polite,” one of his managers, Max Hermann, said last year.
“He hasn’t been affected by his success at all. Away from boxing, he’s a big football fan and likes playing football and tries to spend time with family when he is not training for a fight. He has seen Manchester United play and likes AC Milan and Real Madrid as well.”
Golovkin is a popular character (Getty)
Golovkin’s promoter, Tom Loefller, said something similar a year previous when he remarked that the Kazakh was the “perfect person to bring new fans” to the sport of boxing. “When somebody brings excitement to the sport, and is just a likable guy, it’s a great combination,” he added.
He is a popular guy, then – granted. But at this stage of his career, is he popular enough?
With the exception of Daniel Jacobs – who took him the distance – Golovkin’s record contains few big names, with the Kazakh winning the vast majority of his 37 contests without truly leaving second gear. And despite fastidiously remodelling his European point-scoring style of boxing into something far more offensive, his PPV numbers are comparatively underwhelming.
Jacobs took Golovkin the distance in a hard fight (Getty)
All of this contributes to his rather unique standing in the boxing world. More casual boxing fans are rightly wowed by his flawless record of 37-0 and regard him as one of the best champions in the business – although many others would no doubt struggle to recall one of his previous fights.
Meanwhile, more invested fans argue intensely about where he sits in the annals of the sport, with one recent threat on a popular boxing forum boldly declaring that he doesn’t even deserve a place in the 25 greatest middleweights of all-time, owing to the calibre of his previous opponents.
And so to his fight with Canelo. ‘Supremacy’. When the contest was first announced immediately after Canelo’s victory over Julio César Chávez Jr on the Cinco de Mayo weekend, Golovkin was quick to climb into the ring and congratulate his next opponent.
Golovkin puts all of his titles on the line against Canelo (Getty)
“First congrats to Canelo and his team,” he said. “Canelo looked very good tonight, and 100 percent he is the biggest challenge of my career.”
He’s not wrong. Golovkin may be eight years older than Canelo but this is his first genuine super-fight, something he has been eagerly pursuing ever since he first fought in America, stopping Grzegorz Proksa after five rounds in New York.
It is also an opportunity for Golovkin to test himself, and for fight fans to see what happens when the Kazakh is on the back-foot, potentially in trouble. In this, his first Las Vegas fight, Golovkin has a chance to not only defend his clutch of world-titles but to cement his legacy.
The Mexican boasts a professional record of 49-1-1 (Getty)
The talking has intensified just a little with the fight now less than two weeks away, with Canelo daring to suggest “I’m going to do and use whatever I need to be one step ahead of Gennady in the ring” and Golovkin readily acknowledging that his reputation is on the line.
“I want to start and I want to win this fight because maybe for me this win will be like a history fight, like Leonard vs. Hagler,” he told boxing.com. “Like middleweight division, I believe the boxing division will come back. And Canelo, he’s a very special guy.”
Still as respectful as ever, this event could not be more different than the Las Vegas super-fight that preceded it. But despite his good manners, Golovkin is only too aware that his legacy is well and truly on the line against Canelo. Either he will best the Mexican for a career-defining victory, or he will lose his undefeated record on the first night in front of his biggest audience yet.