Seldom-angered Gennady Golovkin all about business of winning fights
NEW YORK -- The question was simple, but Gennady Golovkin looked at the reporter asking it as if he were being handed a Rubik's cube.
For the last two years Golovkin has been poked and prodded by an inquisitive U.S. press corps anxious to know more about this Kazakhstan-born destroyer laying waste to every opponent put in front of him. He has been asked about his family and his friends, his past and his future. He has answered all questions willingly and honestly, opening a window to his life to anyone who wanted to peek through it.
But sitting in the lobby of the Refinery Hotel, Golovkin struggled to answer this: When was the last time you got angry?
"I really don't know," Golovkin told SI.com. He paused. "The Olympics. Yes, the Olympics. That was it."
The Olympics -- the 2004 Olympics -- are still a sore point for Golovkin. Back then he was a rising young amateur, the reigning world champion in the middleweight division. He steamrolled through the competition early, battering overwhelmed opponents. In the gold medal match, Golovkin took on Russian Gaydarbek Gaydarbekov. Golovkin thought he beat him too, only to have the judges award Gaydarbekov a lopsided decision.
"They took that from me," Golovkin said. "It was political. Kazakhstan already had one gold medal. They didn't want [us] to have two."
It has been nine years since that night, and Golovkin can't recall feeling anger since.
In a sport dominated by surly personalities, he is as affable as the driver of a good humor truck. He walks around with a perpetual smile, glowering and looking menacing only on command. He grins when opponents talk trash to him and he struggles not to break into a smile when face-to-face for photo-ops. He wears baseball caps tilted high on his head, like a lost cast member from The Sandlot. He misses his wife and kids when he is in camp -- they stay at home in Germany while Golovkin trains in Big Bear, Calif. -- but he rarely gets upset about it.
"He's just a very calm, relaxed guy," said Golovkin's trainer, Abel Sanchez. "And he loves what he does."
It's rare to find a fighter with such startlingly different personae in an out of the ring. Between the ropes Golovkin (27-0) is a killer, a versatile middleweight who can knock opponents out with power shots to the head or body. "He's a predator," Sanchez says, a statement Matthew Macklin, Gabriel Rosado and Grzegorz Proksa -- knockout victims all -- will back up. There is no switch Golovkin flips, no dark place he takes himself to in the moments before a fight. Boxing is a job to him, a profession, and when the bell rings he simply does what he has been trained to do.
Outside the ring, Golovkin is, well, dull. His list of preferred activities reads like a Match.com profile. He likes long hikes and walks by the lake. He enjoys comedies and likes to eat out. With the HBO money starting to pour in, Golovkin bought himself a Mercedes. But, he points out, his wife still drives an old Nissan.
What has made Golovkin a star is his awareness -- and willingness -- to give the public what it wants. Twitter has become a tool for frustrated fighters to complain about being unappreciated. They lament the lack of respect fans and media show skilled boxers and chastise them for failing to appreciate craft. It's shouting into the wind, though; fans will always crave wars in the ring more than boxing clinics, with only a select few (Floyd Mayweather, Bernard Hopkins) serving as exceptions.
Golovkin gets that. When he first came to the U.S., Sanchez showed him film of the brutal 1987 battle between Julio Cesar Chavez and Edwin Rosario. It's a morbid society, Sanchez told him. If you want to make money, you have to accept that.
"He understood that he had to go out and put people away," Sanchez said. "If he wanted to be attractive to HBO, he had to be the aggressor. And he took to that right away."
On Saturday, Golovkin will face a similar opponent when he defends his WBA middleweight title against Curtis Stevens at Madison Square Garden (HBO, 10 p.m.). In the weeks leading up to the fight, Stevens (25-3) has shown little respect for Golovkin's accomplishments, publicly disparaging his opponents while hosting -- and posting on Twitter -- a fake funeral for him. Golovkin laughs off Stevens antics. "He's a crazy guy," Golovkin said. Sanchez, though, isn't quite so diplomatic. The trainer insists that this fight will be easier than the three-round whipping Golovkin put on Macklin, citing a conversation with journeyman Derrick Findley -- a Golovkin sparring partner who lost a decision to Stevens last April -- as a reason.
"He told me, 'Curtis is a good fighter,'" Sanchez said. "But he doesn't know what he is getting himself into."