The middleweight division has been synonymous with some of the toughest men ever to grace the squared circle. The prefix of “middle” also denotes something far less flattering in society. Things in the middle are often overlooked, less celebrated. Middle children, for example, rarely get trusted with the leadership and responsibility bestowed to the oldest, or the doting admiration given to the youngest. This can build resentment, or create an unquenchable drive to excellence. The best of among the middleweight champions adopt the latter while also accepting perhaps the most important trait of any middleweight seeking mainstream recognition — patience.
Marvin Hagler and Bernard Hopkins, the most accomplished middleweights of the last 30 years, were both long-reigning champions that still had to wait until their early to mid 30s to find stardom. The next middleweight in that tradition is 33-year-old Gennady Golovkin, who makes his HBO pay-per-view debut against David Lemieux this Saturday (October 17) at a sold-out Madison Square Garden. The jovial but hard-punching slugger from Kazakhstan isn’t a pay-per-view model that boxing has seen before, nor has HBO been able to previously create crossover stars out the American champions that succeeded Bernard Hopkins (Kelly Pavlik, Jermain Taylor). But instead of waiting for a perfect storm, Golovkin’s team and HBO have went about creating one. Combining a focus on media, TV partnerships and a rigorous fight schedule, Gennady Golokvin has put himself in position to the first foreign-born pay-per-view success since Manny Pacquiao.
A NEW PAY-PER-VIEW ERA?
Defining the end of an era can be difficult in any discipline. History doesn’t always lend itself to neat packages. When it comes to boxing, the era-defining has traditionally been jarring and often bloody, with one previously great champion left withering in his own blood at the hands of a younger, hungrier foe. The latest “end of era” moment came not with an explosive fight-ending combination or deafening roar from the crowd. The saga that was Mayweather-Pacquiao took five years to make due to contract and TV network squabbles. It culminated in a May 2 mega event that was largely uneventful in the ring but generated 4 million buys.
The shady backroom dealings of boxing politics have made the business side of the sport as prominent as the in-ring action. Before sizing up any potential matchup, fans and media alike must first do a “Tale of the Tape” when it comes to a fighter’s promoter, manager, and TV network. After the severe backlash for a pay-per-view that cost $100, are fans ready to plunk down more cash for a sport that has a spotty track record delivering on prefight hype?
“When you provide the right fights fans realize tremedous value,” says Mark Taffet, HBO Sports Senior Vice President of Sports Operation and Pay-Per-View. “But we pay close attention that we are fulfilling the consumer’s needs for value. Golovkin vs. Lemieux and Cotto vs. Canelo on November 21 are great examples of fights that provide great value to the consumer. Golovkin vs. Lemieux is guaranteed to be an exciting fight.”
Since 2008, a Golovkin fight ending in a knockout has been one of the most reliable occurences in boxing. His 19-fight KO streak is littered with victims that were Top 10 ranked opponents at the time of their ruin. Golovkin’s latest win, a sixth round TKO over Willie Monroe, happened a few weeks after Mayweather-Pacquiao, potentially giving new fans a glimpse of boxing’s future.
“Mayweather-Pacquiao brought a lot of attention to the sport,” explained Tom Loeffler, managing director of Golovins’s promoter K2. “Gennady fought Willie Monroe two weeks later and fans got to see Gennady’s style compared to those that aren’t that exciting.”
While most serious fight fans can appreciate the technical mastery of an Floyd Mayweather or Andre Ward just as much as they can the brute strength of a George Foreman, the allure of the puncher is especially effective in gathering the attention of casual observers and mainstream media outlets. Including his HBO debut 3 years ago, Golovkin has fought on HBO 8 times with 6 of those fights generating over 1 million viewers, making him one of the biggest boxing attractions on HBO’s subscription service.
“If you look at the Top 5 superstars in pay-per-view history (Mayweather, Tyson, De La Hoya, Holyfield, Pacquiao), all but one have been American,” said Taffet. ” Pacquiao broke that mold and Gennady Golovkin has a chance in his first pay-per-view fight to take a big step in climbing that mountain.”
THE BEST OR RIGHT OPPONENT?
The science behind a good pay-per-view is an intriguing matchup, one where viewers feel there’s a chance either guy can pull it off. Montreal’s David Lemieux is a big underdog, but the savagery of his punching power has been enough to create a buzz around this bout. At 34-2, (31) with 86% of wins coming from KOs, Lemieux is the only fighter in the middleweight division that can match GGG when it comes to sheer power.
Everything else is a different story.
Lemieux has two losses in career. They were bad ones that came back to back and effectively derailed the 26 year old’s career for several years. The first was against contender Marco Antonio Rubio, who took Lemieux’s best shots before wearing him down and forcing Lemieux’s corner to waive the white flag in the middle of round 7. Then came fringe contender Joachim Alcine, who frustrated Lemieux with movement and counter-punching to take a disputed majority decision in front of Lemieux’s hometown fans.
When asked about his setbacks, Lemieux is candid that partying and the arrogance of his youth played roles. However, he places primary blame at the feet of his former trainer Russ Anber, claiming “I finally got a real trainer!” with the addition of Marc Ramsay in 2012.
It’s hard to argue with the results. Since then Lemieux is on a nine fight win streak with seven of them ending in KOs. His last victory was his first world title win where he dropped Hassan N’Dam four times in route to a unanimous decision. Still, questions about Lemieux’s durability has most observers predicting he’ll be lucky to make it to mid-rounds at best in this fight.
And that might be what makes him the perfect opponent to showcase Golovkin’s ability on his first pay-per-view. Equal power, but lesser technical skills and a chin that ultimately will cause GGG to prevail. Lemieux seems bemused by this for two reasons. One, he feels he has an advantage when it comes to inside fighting. Second, he credits himself as having the superior punching technique.
“I love fighting inside. I have an old-school approach,” says Lemieux, “Kill the body and the head will die. I’ve been working on being effective down there. Golovkin has a different approach, he showed a few openings [to the body] against Monroe. I keep my punches more compact than him.”
After being denied a shot at the linear middleweight title from Sergio Martinez and Miguel Cotto (so far), Golovkin’s team has focused on building business leverage for their fighter. That first consisted of addressing the boxing media. Unlike higher profile sports like football and basketball, a significant portion of boxing writers and outlets are not professionally trained journalist, but hardcore fans lucky enough to turn their favorite past time into a business. That brings a passion for coverage that’s rarely seen in other sports, but can also create unethical practices like clear media bias for “favorites.”
Golovin’s media approach has always been accessibility. He makes it a goal to honor every media request possible, which leads to distinct advantages in controlling the narrative during war of words with rivals over the last year like Andre Ward, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and Carl Froch.
“We invested a lot in both opponents and the marketing of his brand,” Loeffler explained. “When he first fought in NY, we held special press lunches in Los Angeles and New York. We took him up to the Empire State Building and shot pictures. All that resonated with the media. Couple that with a fighter that’s likable and grants access, and an exciting in-ring style, that’s a very good combination.”
If there is any concern about Golovkin hitting pay-per-view, it’s the thought of him becoming an exclusive pay-per-view fighter. Floyd Mayweather made the fastest transition in that realm. After destroying Arturo Gatti for his pay-per-view debut in 2005, Mayweather fought once more that same year on cable. For now, Loeffler maintains that isn’t the plan.
“No, this fight had to be pay-per-view because that’s the only way we could make the economics work between two world champions,” said Loeffler. “The goal is to continue to showcase him on regular HBO because of his level of activity. And certainly if he fights internationally, those fights will be on regular HBO as well. He’s one of the unique fighters that can fight on both going forward. With the revenue he generates from ticket sales and sponsorships, there will still be enough money to put on a great show for regular HBO.”
With that said, a regular HBO appearance might be close to a year away. Next month, Miguel Cotto and Canelo Alvarez’s pay-per-view fight is for the linear and WBC middleweight title. Per the WBC, the winner is obligated to face Golovkin next. Cotto and Canelo are both non-committal on facing GGG, but it’s a unification clash that guaranteed to hit pay-per-view and be one of the biggest (and most lucrative) fights of 2016.
“Gennady is now viewed as the best middleweight out there,” says Loeffler. “The biggest excuse other middleweight champions had before was they wouldn’t be compensated for the risk. Now with his commercial success between ticket sales, sponsorships and hopefully a successful pay-per-view, there would be a big reward for anyone that steps in the ring with him. It’ll be easier to add more unification fights.”
All that’s left is to deliver in the ring on Saturday.
Golovkin vs. Lemieux is presented by K2 Promotions and Golden Boy Promotions in association with GGG Promotions and Eye of the Tiger Management and is sponsored by Corona Extra, BI Group and Tsesnabank. The event will take place Saturday, October 17 from Madison Square Garden and will be produced and distributed live by HBO Pay-Per-View beginning at 9:00 p.m. ET/6:00 p.m. PT. Doors will open at 7:00 p.m. ET and the first fight begins at 7:05 p.m. ET.