Golovkin vs Jacobs preview: GGG blizzard hits NYC

Chris Williamson
17/03/2017 7:33am


Photos: Tom Hogan / K2

Can Daniel 'Miracle Man' Jacobs dethrone middleweight phenomenon Gennady 'GGG' Golovkin on Saturday night at the legendary Madison Square Garden in Manhattan? Chris Williamson previews the big clash ...

"The fighter who had come off the stool at him when the first bell sounded was not a Marvin Hagler anyone had ever seen before. He was a man possessed, the very incarnation of furious hostility, an enemy who shrank the ring with the heat of his malevolent intent." - Hugh McIlvanney on Marvelous Marvin Hagler vs Thomas Hearns, 1985

A blizzard hit the Big Apple on fight week, slowing traffic and placing the city into a forced slumber while a media work-out scheduled for the Madison Square Garden Theatre on Tuesday was cancelled.

Come Saturday night, though, fight enthusiasts anticipate witnessing a different kind of storm at the main arena when Kazakhstan's Gennady Golovkin defends the world middleweight title against American Daniel Jacobs.

Pugilism is steeped in rich history and, outside of the heavyweight division, no weight class has enjoyed more dramatic fights and fascinating characters than those campaigning at middleweight. In a sense the Garden itself - now in its fourth location - can also be regarded as a boxing personality, having entertained New Yorkers by housing many of the great 160lb champions within its marvellous walls.

The first ever issue of The Ring magazine - published in February 1922 - carries on its back cover a full-page advertisement for the Garden, billing itself as "The Largest Amusement Arena in the World" and gently informing readers that two of the greatest pugilists of all time - Gene Tunney and Harry Greb - will meet in May, a famous first contest which would become the only time Tunney was ever bested inside a prize ring.

The Tunney bout was fought at light-heavyweight and Greb would also contest his final middleweight championship fights at the Garden, two fifteen-round reversals to Tiger Flowers. Decades later, two of the savage Sugar Ray Robinson vs Jake LaMotta middleweight battles were settled inside the arena and, in 1975, the great Carlos Monzon defended the middleweight crown at MSG, stopping American contender Tony Licata in ten rounds. Monzon's predecessor as champion, Nino Benvenuti, had himself climbed off the Garden canvas to win a dramatic rubber match with Emile Griffiths in 1968.

Through much of the early 1980s the arena largely took a break from boxing as American casino venues exploded in popularity, but Marvin Hagler did make one inevitably terrorising appearance there, bludgeoning adopted Brooklynite Mustafa Hamsho to third-round defeat in a 1984 championship rematch.

The modern era now has a spiritual heir to the middleweight greats and it's reassuring that champion Gennady Golovkin views the arena with affection and as a familiar and welcome environment. "Madison Square Garden is my home and it will be a great atmosphere," says Golovkin, for whom this is a third appearance at the main arena following two outings in the smaller Theatre.

GGG2Golovkin (36-0, 33 KOs) is in the midst of a reign of terror not seen since Hagler ruled the division with an arrogant dominance. This will be GGG's eighteenth world-title bout and the Kazakh hitman has been sweeping up belts like an enthusiastic collector. In this environment, it's a wonderful coup for both Golovkin and, more broadly, the sport as a whole that a challenger as qualified as Daniel Jacobs is willing to face him. Boxing Monthly ranks Golovkin and Jacobs as the number one and two middleweights in the world respectively.

Where Hagler's "destruct and destroy" mentality was shaped on the streets of New Jersey and the Petronelli brothers' gym in Brockton, Massachusetts, Golovkin's hardness was forged in the tough crucible of the Karaganda province in North-eastern Kazakhstan.

Golovkin was an outstanding amateur who won world amateur gold in 2003 and Olympic silver the following year. His professional career began slowly in the half-empty halls of Germany, Panama, Ukraine and Kazakhstan against a hapless series of victims who, at least, now have the compensation of a terrific story to tell their grandchildren along with memories of sore ribs and thumping heads.

Golovkin's offense primarily comprises unconventional two-handed attacks which vary between vicious blows high on the head along with incredibly nasty body punches. Perhaps the most conspicuous single example was when, in 2013, Matthew Macklin covered up to defend against the champion's uppercuts and was duly sickened with a thudding left to the body which left the Birmingham man writhing in agony.

Golovkin is a master at timing his opponents off the ropes, switching from head to body, and boasts an arsenal of vicious uppercuts. A natural predator, his footwork and ability to close distance is outstanding. Golovkin's straight right is equally as deadly - as former victim Nobuhiro Ishida, flattened in Monaco in 2013 in a KO of the year contender can attest - and he has an excellent jab when he decides to use it, as he did notably in breaking down IBF champ David Lemieux in eight rounds in 2015.

I was present at Golovkin's last defence against welterweight champion Kell Brook last September. Although many of us traditionalists despair at the increasing number of sanctioning bodies, there is something awesome about watching a real champion walk purposefully to the ring while his entourage hold an array of belts aloft. It is an intimidating statement of his championship status.

"I believe Daniel is ready for this fight. I have four belts. This is the dream for everybody," says Golovkin, as though daring Jacobs to come and collect them. "It is very important for us [to see] who is number one in the middleweight division and who is the best."

The champion will be 35-years-old next month, but complacency doesn't seem at risk of infecting his camp. Training at California's Big Bear, Golovkin and head trainer Abel Sanchez seem to thrive on hard work and appear not to underestimate the challenge of Jacobs. "He is a very good fighter and maybe has a little bit more power than me," says Golovkin. "He looks strong and very focussed. I think he is the best that I have been up against in my career."

Charlie Fitch refereed Golovkin's 2012 defence against Grzegorz Proksa in New York and once told me, with an expression on his face not unlike that famous image after GGG floored Curtis Stevens - the face that launched a thousand GIFs - that the Kazakh's punches even sound different.

"Of course I feel that I have power and it is very important to me and I can feel the power in my punches. I get it from hard work and practice," says the champion. "It's not all in the power. It's also the timing and distance. It is not all in the punch."

GGG3Sanchez has enlisted David Benavidez and John Jackson - both 6ft plus - as sparring to get the champion used to fighting taller fighters. Against Brook, Golovkin appeared happy to abandon his boxing skills and invoke what he termed a "street fight", and Sanchez says that this happens when Gennady feels he cannot be hurt and wants to please the fans

"If it gets to a point where Gennady has no respect, that is something he feels in the ring himself and it has never been planned," says Sanchez. "But when he feels the punch that is not at the level where it may hurt him, he will do what he feels he needs to do not only to please his fans, but also to make a fight of it. He wants to make a dramatic fight."

As a mark of respect for Golovkin's achievements, the WBC has added the Kazakh flag to the WBC belt for the first time. The WBA, IBF and IBO championships are also on the line.

As for Jacobs (32-1, 29 KOs), it was interesting that the 30-year-old 'Miracle Man' didn't bring his nominal 'regular' WBA belt to the press conference. He's not the champion here and, to his credit, he seems to know it.

"This is the fight that I have always wanted," he says. "This is the pinnacle that you could possibly reach to consider yourself the best. I have the utmost respect for Gennady and his team. I believe that these guys are the best in the middleweight division and I have to come to prove to the world – and to shock the world – that I am the best. If I am 100 per cent mentally and physically prepared there is going to be a new undisputed middleweight champion of the world."

Jacobs has shown admirable courage in overcoming a rare form of bone cancer and is on a run of twelve wins since a dramatic 2010 fifth-round knockout loss to Dmitry Pirog.

Team Jacobs, led by head-trainer Andre Rozier, set up camp at Virgil Hunter's California gym for this challenge, leaving the temptations of home far behind and finding a fresh vigour training on the west coast.

"Getting away has been great for me. There's a lot less distractions in Oakland than if I stayed in Brooklyn," says Jacobs. "Being around so many world-class fighters at Virgil's gym helps push me and focus. We have smart sparring sessions, not wars."

The Brooklyn man is an accomplished boxer and - like the champion - his own boxing skills have often been largely overlooked as a result of his fight-ending power. Jacobs claims to be unconcerned with those doubting his durability and has mapped out a number of ways to tackle the champion.

"I've been down twice [against Pirog and Sergio Mora] but I'm not worried about my chin. He's a very strong guy but it's up to me to prove I'm quicker and better. I'm really a boxer. I've just became known as a knockout artist with all my stoppages," says Jacobs. "Gennady is a great fighter. We'll have multiple game plans to approach the fight. They can plan ahead or overlook me but I'm coming to be victorious on 18 March."

The pick here is for Jacobs' height and reach advantages - along with a healthy respect for the challenger's power on the part of the champion - to take the fight beyond the midway point.

As Boxing Monthly editor Graham Houston suggests in the latest issue of the magazine, it could be that the Brook fight has served to focus GGG's mind and surely he'll catch up with Jacobs at some point and hurt him badly.

Both Golovkin and Sanchez use the word "touching" as a daunting euphemism for the champion's destructive punching and I expect the point at which GGG's "touching" starts to overwhelm Jacobs to come between rounds seven and ten.

Golovkin likes to refer to pugilism as a "serious business" and I suspect he's taken this challenge seriously enough to produce a stunning performance worthy of both the occasion and the magnificent venue.