Gennady Golovkin’s return to the ring on July 26 at Madison Square Garden against Daniel Geale should do strong ratings on HBO, which will televise the WBA middleweight title bout live in the U.S.
Golovkin’s numbers on the premium cable network have steadily increased since his U.S. debut against Gregorz Proksa in September 2012. Golovkin’s eighth-round stoppage of Curtis Stevens last November – his fourth and most recent appearance on HBO – averaged 1.41 million viewers, making it the third most watched boxing match on cable in 2013.
There’s no doubt that Golovkin has firmly established himself within the U.S. boxing scene over the past two years. His nickname, “GGG,” is bandied about among American fans via social media almost as much as the names of bona-fide superstars.
However, the Geale fight will let fans and the industry know if Golovkin can increase his fame and credibility without the help of an established name or Latino star, such Miguel Cotto or Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.
The two main questions to be answered on July 26:
1) Can Golovkin generate a higher rating with Geale – an Australian veteran who has only fought on U.S. TV once (his close split-decision loss to Darren Barker last August) – than he did with a well-known American (Stevens)?
2) Can he sell enough tickets to make the event a success? Unlike his title defenses against Gabriel Rosado and Stevens last year, which took place in the 5,000-seat Theater section of Madison Square Garden, the Geale fight is in the arena, which can hold a little over 20,000.
Tom Loeffler, the general director of K2 Promotions, which promotes Golovkin, thinks the undefeated middleweight is ready to make the transition from the little room to the big room.
“It’s a reasonable business risk to go to Madison Square Garden and do the big room,” Loeffler told sports writers at a Los Angeles press conference earlier this week. “We feel he’s ready. He was ready to face Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. in what would have been an HBO Pay Per View event at The Forum (in Inglewood, Calif.), which holds 18,000, this month. Chavez and his management opted to go a different route, so we set out to find a credible opponent to make for as big an event as we could make.
“Daniel Geale was clearly the biggest name, who isn’t a current champion, to step up when the Chavez fight fell out.”
Loeffler is realistic with his ticket-sale expectations. He isn’t predicting Golovkin-Geale to attract anywhere close to the 21,000 that packed Madison Square Garden to witness Cotto win the middleweight title against Sergio Martinez, but he also realizes that Cotto didn’t become a Puerto Rican star overnight.
“Cotto didn’t always sell the arena out. The Martinez fight was Cotto’s ninth fight at Madison Square Garden,” Loeffler said. “I talked to some Madison Square Garden executives and they told me he sold around 7,500 tickets for his first main event in the big arena (versus Muhammad Abdullaev in 2005). So that’s a number that we’ll aim for with Golovkin’s first main event there.”
In other words, Golovkin has to start somewhere. Only the lower bowl, which includes about 9,000 seats, and the suites will be opened up for Golovkin-Geale. If they can fill most of those seats, the good folks at K2 and HBO will consider the event to be a future-building success
Of course, a good fight on July 26 would help Golovkin’s future ratings and ticket sales, but there’s some debate if Geale will be able to do that. Gary Shaw, the U.S. promoter of the 33-year-old former two-belt titleholder, says fans who are counting the Australian out are in for a surprise.
“Geale is going to give Golovkin a different look than he’s used to,” Shaw said during Tuesday’s press conference at the Radisson Hotel at LAX. “He’s a volume puncher who moves around the ring well. He has fast hands and he’s very underrated.”
Golovkin’s trainer Abel Sanchez says he isn’t underestimating Geale, who unified the IBF and WBA middleweight titles by outpointing Sebastian Sylvester and Felix Sturm in 2011 and 2012.
“The fact that he beat Felix Sturm in Germany says a lot,” said Sanchez, who agrees that Geale is Golovkin’s most formidable pro opponent to date.
“Geale is used to being in big fights,” Sanchez told RingTV.com. “He’s used to going 12 rounds and winning titles and defending them, so his mentality is that of a winner.
“My biggest concern is his (high) punch output, but that can be a minus as well as a plus for him because the more you punch the more you open yourself up to be hit back.”
Generally speaking, once Golovkin puts his heavy hands on his opponents, the fights are over. That prodigious punching power (let’s call it GGG’s “PPP”) is a big part of his fan appeal, and it’s begun to take on a mystique in much the same way Mike Tyson’s KO ability did in the 1980s.
“I like my style and people like my style,” said Golovkin (29-0, 26 knockouts), who is currently on a 16-bout knockout streak, which includes 10 title defenses. He’s scored some chilling highlight reel KOs – such as his one-hitter-quitters against Lajuan Simon and Nobuhiro Ishida – on his way to an impressive 89.66 percent knockout ratio (the highest among active world titleholders and the highest in middleweight division history).
Those kinds of stats – and the hype around it – can be intimidating. Sanchez was asked if most of Golovkin’s opponents are scared before they enter the ring with his prize pupil.
“I don’t see fear in his opponents’ eyes,” he said, “but I’ve seen how the fight changes the first time he hits them – even with his jab.”
When asked if any of his opponents have ever intimidated him with their power, Golovkin shook his head, “no, not really, just in my amateur career.”
Golovkin faced – and beat – the best amateur middleweights and super middleweights, including Lucian Bute and Andre Dirrell – en route to winning the 2003 world amateur title and earning a silver medal at the 2004 Olympic Games for his native Kazakhstan.
However, he hasn’t faced anyone near as talented in the pro ranks. Geale (30-2, 16 KOs) has, and he believes that experience gives him an edge.
“I don’t see myself as a challenger,” he said. “I’m confident in my ability and my style, and if I fight my fight I will win.
“My movement is going to present some problems but it’s the experience in hard distance fights that will serve me. I’ve been in 12-round fights where I had to dig deep. If we get there in our fight, I know I’ll be comfortable because I’ve been there. I don’t know if he will be.”
The answer to that question is the best reason for fans to tune in on July 26.
Video by Daniel Morales and Alan Massengale
Email Fischer at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @dougiefischer