Tom Loeffler (center), who works for the Klitschko brothers, says it’s easier to make fights for heavyweight champ Wladimir Klitschko than it is for Gennady Golovkin (left). The undefeated WBA middleweight titleholder wants to fight the best at 160 pounds but will stay busy against Nobuhiro Ishida (right) on Saturday.
Any boxing fan who follows the sport closely enough to be familiar with Gennady Golovkin is well aware that the undefeated middleweight titleholder’s next opponent – Nobuhiro Ishida – isn’t in his class.
Nobody who has seen both fighters believes for a second that Ishida has any chance of upsetting Golovkin as he did when he shocked the boxing world by stopping then-undefeated James Kirkland in one round in 2011.
Golovkin (25-0, 22 knockouts), who defends his WBA belt against Ishida on Saturday in Monte Carlo, Monaco, gets better work in the gym than he’ll likely receive from the Japanese veteran during their scheduled 12 rounder, which headlines an Integrated Sports Media pay-per-view show that starts at 3:00 p.m. ET/12:00 p.m. PT.
That statement is not meant to disrespect Ishida, a tall and durable boxer who parlayed the Kirkland victory into decent paying 2012 bouts against Paul Williams and Dmitry Pirog, both of which he lost by one-sided 12-round decision. For this camp, Golovkin sparred with undefeated heavyweight prospect Vincent Thompson and cruiserweight contender Ola Afolabi, both of whom are bigger, stronger and more capable than Ishida (24-8-2, 9 KOs)
So why is Golovkin fighting this guy? It’s real simple. The 30-year-old native of Kazakhstan wants to stay active. He and his team – which includes veteran trainer Abel Sanchez and promotional representative Tom Loeffler – have the goal of fighting five times in 2013.
Golovkin has already fought once this year, a bloody seventh-round TKO of Gabriel Rosado in January. To remain on his schedule of five bouts, he needed to fight in March and the top-10 middleweight contenders were either unavailable or not interested, according to Loeffler.
“We reached out to (IBF titleholder) Daniel Geale and Matthew Macklin for this March date,” said Loeffler, the managing director for K2 Promotions, which is the promotional outfit for the Klitschko brothers. “(WBO beltholder) Peter Quillin is fighting in April, so he wasn’t available, but these are the level of fighters we want for Gennady.”
It’s clear that if a world-class fighter, especially one as formidable as the heavy handed Golovkin, wants to fight more than two or three times a year, he’s going to have to face a few mid-level opponents, which is something both Loeffler and Sanchez understand.
Both have been in the boxing business since the 1980s, and in previous decades, it wasn’t uncommon for top-notch boxers to fight four-to-six times a year.
Sanchez trained 2005 hall-of-fame inductee Terry Norris, a former junior middleweight champ who averaged four fights a year during his prime, between 1988 and ’93. Norris’ breakout year was ’91, when he defeated former champs Sugar Ray Leonard and Donald Curry in back-to-back bouts. However, his third and fourth bouts of that year came against fringe contender Brett Lally and rugged-but-then-unknown future middleweight beltholder Jorge Castro.
So mixed in with the big names were guys who were merely perceived as “solid,” which is a description that Golovkin believes applies to Ishida.
“He gave Pirog a good fight,” Golovkin told media during a press luncheon on March 16 in Manhattan Beach, Calif. “Pirog is undefeated, was WBO champ, and is a strong Russian fighter. I think Ishida is a good fighter.”
Ishida, who said he was “satisfied by his effort against Pirog, politely asked the media – in typically humble Japanese fashion – not to count him out.
“The cat chases the mouse,” he said through co-trainer Daisuke Okabe, “but sometimes the mouse attacks the cat.”
Okabe was a little more direct with his comments.
“He’s (almost) 38 years old,” Okabe said. “If he loses he will probably retire. He’s carrying a samurai mentality into this fight.”
That statement makes for good copy but even if Ishida was allowed to bring a samurai sword into the ring on Saturday, he’d still be outgunned by Golovkin, who has stopped his last 12 opponents.
Couldn’t a more formidable middleweight be found than Ishida?
No, according to Loeffler.
“It’s easier to make fights for (heavyweight champ) Wladimir Klitschko than it is for Golovkin,” he said. “Unlike heavyweight contenders, middleweights have other options. They can go after (Sergio) Martinez, Geale or Quillin if they want to go for a world title.”
It’s all a bit frustrating for Loeffler, who cut his teeth in the business managing the likes of Shane Mosley, former featherweight titleholder Kevin Kelley and former welterweight contender Oba Carr during the mid-to-late ’90s. Loeffler says it wasn’t easy to find quality fights for Mosley, who was a monster at lightweight and also had a fearsome gym reputation as Golovkin does now. However, he added that it’s worse for Golovkin.
“Shane was very difficult to match up when he wasn’t a world champ,” Loeffler said, “but once he won a title, people wanted to fight him.”
Those “people” included well-known former beltholders John-John Molina and Jesse James Leija, both of whom Mosley stopped in IBF lightweight title bouts in 1998. Between the HBO-televised fights with Molina and Leija, Mosley fought lesser known challengers, Wilfredo Ruiz and Eduardo Morales, on basic cable.
The Boxing Writers Assoc. of America named Mosley the fighter of the year in ’98, in part because he defended his title five times.
Loeffler would love for Golovkin to earn such accolades, but he knows he needs the middleweight equivalent of a Leija or Molina to challenge his fighter for that to happen.
“Golovkin’s got a major title and dates on HBO, which offers good money, but there’s still nothing but excuses from potential opponents,” he said.
Sanchez echoes Loeffler’s observation about top fighters of previous decades being more willing to fight a dangerous titleholder.
“When Terry was fighting, everyone fought everyone,” Sanchez said of the years when Norris fought, 1986 to ’98. “A loss wasn’t a death sentence back then.”
Obviously, things have changed. Golovkin, a 2004 Olympic silver medalist, may have earned a strong buzz among hardcore fans with his amateur reputation and HBO-televised beatdowns of tough Grzegorz Proksa last September and Rosado, but he’s not a big-enough name to entice the likes of Martinez or Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. to fight him.
The frustrating result is that he hasn’t had an opportunity for his “breakout” fight as Norris has with John “the Beast” Mugabi and Leonard, or as Mosley had with Philip Holiday and later with Oscar De La Hoya.
Golovkin’s critics say he hasn’t fought anyone of note.
“When people say Golovkin hasn’t fought any good fighters, I say name a top middleweight and I’ll bet he could’ve fought Golovkin at some point but avoided him,” said Loeffler.
“(Hasan) N’Jikam was the interim WBA titleholder and Gennady’s mandatory challenger, but he vacated the interim belt so he wouldn’t have to fight Gennady. Same thing with Geale, who gave up the WBA belt rather than fight Gennady. Same thing with (former beltholder Felix) Sturm, who fought a unification with Geale in order to keep his WBA belt, which was going to be stripped from him if he didn’t fight Gennady, who had been his mandatory for years.
“Gennady would never give up or jeopardize his title to avoid a fight. Even if he had a big fight on deck, he would take care of his mandatory obligation first.”
Golovkin’s next mandatory challenger could be a big fight – at least in Germany, where he lives. Sturm, a very popular fighter in Germany, is currently rated No. 2 by the WBA. The organization’s No. 1 contender, Martin Murray, is set to challenge Martinez for THE RING and WBC titles next month.
Golovkin and Sturm have history having both been promoted by Germany’s now-defunct Universum Promotions. Sturm has told members of the media that he has no problem facing his former stablemate now that he is his own promoter.
If the fight could be made, Sturm, who is coming off a close decision loss to Sam Soliman last month, would be the most experienced, talented and well-known fighter Golovkin has faced in the pro ranks.
The fight would be appreciated by diehard American fans but it would do big business in Europe where Golovkin has recently made the cover of a British boxing weekly and a monthly German magazine.
“This fight in Monte Carlo is a chance for Golovkin to reconnect with European fans,” Loeffler said.
Golovkin-Sturm is a quality fight if it can be made. Until then, however, we can expect Golovkin to stay busy against whoever is willing to fight him.
Photos / Sumio Yamada (Golovkin-Ishida), Kevin Levine-Getty Images (Norris-Curry), Al Bello-Getty Images (Mosley-Leija), Lars Baron-Bongarts (Sturm)
Email Fischer at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @dougiefischer