NEW YORK – Two rounds into Gennadiy Golovkin’s attempt to regain a piece of the middleweight title on Saturday, and be honest: How many of you were already thinking about Canelo?
I was. The 12,000-plus fans who filed into Madison Square Garden were. The collection of media sitting ringside had to be. DAZN—the subscription based streaming service that has done everything short of magnetizing Golovkin and Canelo Alvarez to bring them together for a third fight—must have been giddy at the prospect of a spectacular Golovkin knockout, one that would goose the chances that they could add that fight to the schedule next May. Sergiy Derevyanchenko had already absorbed a first round knockdown, and in the second a nasty cut opened up over his right eye, a cut caused by a Golovkin left hand—though incorrectly ruled by a headbutt.
The fight was over.
It was on to Canelo.
Until it wasn’t.
Something happened on the way to Golovkin’s ascent back to the top of the middleweight ranks. Derevyanchenko, for one. Derevyanchenko isn’t a household name, but he was a decorated amateur whose lone pro loss came in a narrow decision defeat to Daniel Jacobs a year earlier. He looked bad against Jack Culcay in April but everyone looks bad against Culcay, and Derevyanchenko entered this fight with his longtime trainer, Andre Rozier, back in his corner.
He was ready. And he was desperate. Derevyanchenko, 33, was getting his second shot at a world title, and it easily could have been his last. He fought like it in the third round, hunting Golovkin, winging combinations. He continue to be the aggressor in the fourth round, outlanding Golovkin (20-19, per CompuBox) for the first time in the fight.
For eight more rounds the two went back-and-forth. Golovkin, owner of the one the best jabs in boxing, fired 406 of them, landing 107. Derevyanchenko had a sizeable edge in power shots, throwing 472 (to Golovkin’s 314) and landing 183 (to Golovkin’s 136).
In the end, all three judges scored the fight for Golovkin, with one handing Golovkin the narrowest of decisions (114-113) and two others scoring it slightly wider (115-112). SI.com scored the fight 114-113 for Derevyanchenko, a score mirrored by several other ringside reporters.
Standing in the ring, the crowd booing loudly, Golovkin looked shook. He admitted he underestimated Derevyanchenko. “I lost a little bit of focus,” Golovkin told me. “After the first round, I think this is an easy fight for me. You know, and Sergiy [was] ready. Respect, you know.” And he said that even though he would leave the ring with the title, Derevyanchenko walked away the bigger winner.
“Right now it’s bad day for me, it’s a huge day for Sergiy, his team,” said Golovkin. “This is huge experience for me. Right now I know what I need exactly. I lost a little bit of focus. Sergiy was ready, I really respect him. He showed me such a big heart. I told him, Sergiy, this is best fight for me. It’s a huge experience. It’s maximum destroy. I just respect his team.”
Golovkin fielded a couple of questions about Canelo, his longtime rival who denied him the chance to avenge a close decision defeat last September. But the answers felt halfhearted. Two rounds in and it seemed like a trilogy with Canelo would again have some momentum. Ten rounds later and we were left wondering what, at 37, Golovkin had left.
Was it his health? All week rumors churned about Golovkin being less than full strength. At events he appeared less energetic than usual, and team members made a point to ask people not to shake his hand. In the ring, Golovkin, usually one of boxing’s most pristinely conditioned athletes, looked weary in the middle rounds. By the fourth round he was breathing through his mouth. In the corner after the 11th, he looked exhausted. Golovkin wouldn’t admit to any illness after the fight; his co-promoter, Eddie Hearn, confirmed there was. Johnathan Banks, Golovkin’s trainer, called the illness “horribly bad.”
Was it age? Fighters can fend off Father Time for only so long. Golovkin has had a long career, dating back to the amateur ranks. His toughest fights have come in his mid-30’s, including a decision win over Jacobs and a pair of grueling fights with Alvarez. The CompuBox numbers in recent fights indicate Golovkin is getting hit more (the 230 punches Derevyanchenko landed were the most Golovkin has ever been hit with) and throwing less. His hand speed, never a strength, has diminished and his defense has not improved as much as Banks hoped it would.
“I didn’t like the overall performance,” Banks said. “That’s not what we worked on. I like the fact that he stepped up, opened up and let his hands go. But I don’t like to see my guys get hit like that.”
And what about Banks? You can’t expect Banks, who took over for Abel Sanchez prior to Golovkin’s knockout win over Steve Rolls, to work miracles. But Golovkin’s defense seems to be going backwards. And there wasn’t a counterattack for when Derevyanchenko began exerting the pressure. Golovkin says he is happy with Banks, but remember: the split with Sanchez was about money, not philosophical differences. The Canelo rematch didn’t go as planned, but Sanchez and Golovkin always seemed on the same page.
“This is huge experience for me,” Golovkin said. “Right now, I understand I need more. Focus is boxing. This was a tough fight. I need a little bit more. I need to still get stronger in my camp. Just more serious. I need to work hard. I need a little bit more focus.
Where does Golovkin go from here? Hearn, who is expected to exert more control over Golovkin’s team moving forward, had targeted an early 2020 fight against Kamil Szeremeta, a light hitting middleweight who scored a knockout against an overmatched opponent on the undercard. There will a strong push for a rematch with Derevyanchenko, something Golovkin said he was willing to do.
And Canelo? There will always be interest in a third fight between two of boxing’s biggest stars, but the belief that Golovkin can beat a still-improving Canelo is diminished after Saturday night. A rematch with Derevyanchenko is risky, but a more decisive win could rekindle real interest in a Canelo trilogy, with the first fight chalked up to bad timing and bad bloodwork.
Golovkin proved his mettle, again, on Saturday. He needs to do more to prove he is still one of boxing’s best.