Abel Sanchez noticed something just a little bit different about his fighter during training camp these past few months.

Gennady Golovkin worked as hard as ever, was in tiptop shape and still launched his balled-up fists like a pair of flying anvils. But there was something new there, too.

“He has a sparkle in his eye,” the veteran trainer said.

For Golovkin, Saturday’s highly anticipated bout against Saul “Canelo” Alvarez is somewhat of a relief. He has struggled to get quality opponents in the ring, which means he has not showcased his abilities against worthy foes and his unblemished record carries an asterisk of sorts. Most fight aficionados regard him as one of boxing’s top pound-for-pound fighters — perhaps the best — but Saturday offers his biggest chance to validate such a claim.

“He’s just been a little frustrated the last couple years that he hasn’t had that marquee name to step up and want to fight him,” said Sanchez, who has trained the Kazakhstan-born boxer since 2010.

Win or lose, Saturday’s bout in Las Vegas stands to define Golovkin (37-0, 33 knockouts) more than anything that has preceded it. Alvarez is the kind of opponent the knockout specialist has sought for years, and the fight is the kind of mega-matchup the sport has been demanding.

There is good reason fight fans have been so bullish about Golovkin, known casually as “Triple G.” The 35-year-old holds three of the four world titles. Until a unanimous decision over Daniel Jacobs in March, he had knocked out 23 straight opponents, and his knockout percentage is the highest the middleweight division has ever seen, at nearly 90 percent.

But there is also good reason for others to say, yeah, but …

Each of Golovkin’s 37 victories was impressive — and the full collection even more so — but he finally has the opportunity to answer the oft-asked question: “Yeah, but how would he fare against a quality opponent?”

“As Gennady said, it’s a legacy fight for him,” said his promoter, Tom Loeffler. “If there’s any criticism that people have of Gennady, it’s the level of competition. But they have to look at the opponents, not at Gennady. We’ve had a terrible time getting people in the ring with him.”

While he has never faced a foe quite like Alvarez (49-1-1, 34 knockouts), if Golovkin can get past the 27-year-old Mexican on Saturday, he will have defended his middleweight title 19 times, putting him within jabbing distance of a record many thought would stand for years. Bernard Hopkins defended his middleweight belt 20 consecutive times, a virtual eternity in the rough-and-tumble division.

“Hopefully this era will be Golovkin’s era as Roy (Jones Jr.) and Bernard had theirs,” Sanchez said.

GGG vs Canelo
GGG vs Canelo
But the difference, again, is the quality of those title defenses. Hopkins beat Felix Trinidad and Oscar De La Hoya. Golovkin defeated challengers such as David Lemieux, Kell Brook and Marco Antonio Rubio — hardly household names. Great champions are judged on the quality of their challengers and the period in which they fought, particularly for middleweights, whose division has traditionally been packed with talent. Marvin Hagler had Thomas Hearns, Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran — and they all fought each other. More recently, stars such as Hopkins, De La Hoya, Trinidad and Shane Mosley were all willing to step in the ring against each other.

Loeffler said his fighter has never sidestepped anyone. When they first talked to HBO, the cable giant had a list of 20 fighters, the promoter said. Golovkin said he would fight any of them. They say when it came time to negotiate, though, opponents were not always eager to sacrifice their ring record against an Olympic silver medalist who fought some 350 times as an amateur and has never been knocked down.

Even still, a win Saturday provides Golovkin with the first notch of any real fame. And as his profile grows, challengers might be able to earn purses big enough to entice them to step in the ring. Golovkin’s dominance has created a Catch-22 of sorts: fighters want to be paid a premium for the risk they are taking by setting foot in the ring with him. A big payday makes it a lot easier to fight as a big underdog.

“If Gennady looks good against Canelo and performs the way we all believe he’ll perform, then it opens up a lot of doors,” Loeffler said. “Then he’s in a whole different financial realm in terms of the money that we’re able to offer people.”

But it all depends on answering the call and doing to Alvarez what he has managed to do to all the lesser fighters who came before. Golovkin has enjoyed a great career, but Loeffler knows as well as anyone that the fighter will be defined by what happens Saturday and beyond.

“All the knockouts, all the training, all the hard work, all the sacrifice that Gennady’s made has been built toward this exact fight in his career,” Loeffler said.

Source: Rick Maese| Washington Post