NEW YORK – The name is different. Gennadiy Golovkin. Golovkin isn’t sure why his first name—spelled Gennadiy on his birth certificate—was originally spelled without the i. He noticed, he told me recently. He just didn’t care. The improper spelling was noted before the promotion for Saturday’s fight against Steve Rolls at Madison Square Garden (DAZN, 9 p.m. ET), Golovkin’s promoter, Tom Loeffler, told me, and Golovkin decided he wanted it corrected.
The corner is different. Gone is Abel Sanchez, Golovkin’s trainer since 2011, ousted over a dispute over money or Golovkin’s desire for change, depending on who you ask. In his place, Johnathan Banks, a rising trainer who learned under the wing of Emanuel Steward, who is now charged with squeezing a few more years out of Golovkin’s Hall of Fame career.
Is Golovkin different?
At 37, does he need to be different?
Last September, Golovkin squared off against Saul “Canelo” Alvarez in a rematch of a hotly contested draw in 2017. Robbed by the incompetence of two Nevada judges—Adalaide Byrd infamously scored the fight 118–110 for Canelo while Don Trella confoundingly scored the seventh round, a clear Golovkin round, for Canelo, which if scored properly would have swung the fight to Golovkin—Golovkin wanted revenge. Instead, it was Canelo who took the fight to Golovkin, forcing him to fight backwards en route to a narrow decision win.
It was after that fight, Golovkin said, that he decided he needed something to change.
“I needed a new vision,” Golovkin told SI.com. “I needed new emotions. Last couple of years, I did not change. It was working before last September. After last September, 100% I needed a change. Nobody on my team wanted a change. I did.”
Scapegoating Sanchez is difficult. Golovkin was a promising fighter when he aligned with Sanchez. He was a decorated amateur with a piece of a middleweight world title. Sanchez polished him. He instilled confidence in him. He pushed Golovkin to sit down more on his punches, drawing out more of that crushing power.
But the rematch with Canelo exposed weaknesses in Golovkin. After chasing Canelo around the ring in the first fight, Sanchez all but begged Canelo to trade with Golovkin in the rematch. When Alvarez did … Golovkin didn’t have an answer.
Enter Banks, best known as the man who took over for Steward in Wladimir Klitschko’s corner after Steward passed away. Banks sees similarities in the situations. “Far as I'm concerned, any fighter that has the desire and the [hunger] to love being in the gym and love working, then all of them are easy to work with,” Banks said. “And those two have that same thing in common. So there's really no difference, other than the size.”
“My perception of Triple-G was of someone still very athletic, very hungry. He just has like a young spirit about him. But he loves being in the gym, he’s happy about being in the gym, happy about working out, which, for me, to look at him at this level and still have that hunger, to me, is awesome. So I love it.”
Banks isn’t trying to change Golovkin. Just tweak him. For years, Golovkin has sparred with bigger, more durable fighters. Murat Gassiev. Sergey Kovalev. Ola Afolabi. In this camp, Banks has emphasized quickness, bringing in smaller fighters to better prepare Golovkin for Rolls, a solid athlete who likes to move in the ring. He has pushed Golovkin to work more on speed, to be less reliant on his one-punch power.
“The first workout we had was not so much about me want to change him, because he's a set fighter.” Banks said “He's going to do what he's going to do. It’s not just what I can add, but what natural talent do I see that I can pull out of him that allow him to be a little bit more efficient against any style instead of just some styles.”
On Saturday, Golovkin will face Rolls (19-0), an untested opponent making a steep climb in competition. A week earlier, in the same building, Andy Ruiz shocked the boxing world, knocking out Anthony Joshua, something that has not unnoticed by Team Golovkin. Sitting ringside with Golovkin last week, Banks pointed out how Ruiz was pressing the action.
“Because this [was] his life chance,” Banks said. “He got no other opportunities after this. If he fails this opportunity, who knows when he ever get another opportunity on this big a stage. So with this big stage with Rolls, Rolls is right now about to be the most dangerous guy in New York City, because he have the biggest stage and he have everything to gain and nothing to lose.”
Still—Banks wasn’t brought in for Rolls, who Golovkin will face at a catchweight of 164-pounds. He was brought in for Canelo. If Golovkin wins, the expectation is that he will face Alvarez again in September. At 28, Alvarez continues to improve. He won a decision—and another piece of the 160-pound title—with a decisive win over Daniel Jacobs last month. He has sharpened his defense. His speed is still blinding. It’s not unfair to suggest the two are headed in different directions.
That is Banks’s biggest challenge. Last year, Canelo fought the fight Golovkin wanted. And he lost. It was close, but it wasn’t a robbery. Golovkin isn’t fast enough to match Canelo and for 24 rounds he has been unable to put him down with one shot. To regain his place atop the middleweight rankings, Golovkin needs to be better.
“I want to show my fans that I'm not finished,” Golovkin said. “This is my restart.”