Time comes for us all. Mind you, it never comes bearing good news. Usually, it shows up hiding a shiv behind its back.
When you’re a teenager, you have no clue how good your body has it. Boundless energy and limitless, pain-free functionality are taken for granted. Physically, your 20s are your best years: the package of speed, agility and strength will never be better — and you even possess a touch of wisdom to take advantage of those gifts. And even your 30s, if you’ve taken care of yourself, ain’t half-bad: peak power and utter mastery over your physical tools.
But 40? Forty is looking up to suddenly find all that in your rear-view window.
Last Saturday at Super Arena in Saitama, Japan, it was Gennadiy Golovkin — one day after his fortieth birthday — who looked up, then bit down and turned in a workmanlike ninth-round stoppage of Ryota Murata in their middleweight title bout. For a man entering his fourth decade, one who hadn’t fought in almost 16 months, Golovkin (42-1-1) looked great. But boxing doesn’t grade on a curve. Compared to the fighter once considered to be the boogeyman of the 160-pound division and an epic foil for Canelo Alvarez, Golovkin at 40 appeared … well, tired.
He connected early and chipped away at Murata, still accurate — and even punishing — with his jab. But this wasn’t the Kazakh wolf of a decade ago, the calculated hunter cutting off all escape angles, exhausting and terrifying his prey before striking the savage finishing blow. Golovkin was something closer to your grizzled, foul-tempered housecat — still not to be trifled with, but a different animal entirely.
That much was clear as Murata (16-3) traded shots with Golovkin in the early rounds, accepting damage to inflict his own — looping left hooks to the body and heavy straight right hands. Seated in their respective corners after the end of the 1st round, Murata grinned confidently while Golovkin took in gulps of air. Whatever was left of the GGG mystique seemed to evaporate into a fine mist.
It’s a testament to just how great Golovkin was only a few years ago, because he was, by any objective standard, quite good on Saturday. He broke down Murata’s guard with jab-uppercut-left hook combinations on multiple occasions, and he skillfully worked around, and sometimes through, the Japanese fighter’s five-inch reach advantage, (Golovkin’s cobalt chin remains his most overlooked asset.)
Murata was equally sturdy initially, and it was his ability to stand and fight with Golovkin — what would have been a death wish not long ago — that likely won him several early rounds. In the 3rd, Murata absorbed several shots to land a handful of combinations, stung Golovkin with another hook to the body and snuck in an uppercut that snapped back the Kazakh’s head.
That, essentially, appears to be the difference between a prime GGG and today’s Golovkin. Although never quite a volume puncher, Golovkin was busier as a younger fighter — and rarely missed an opportunity to pivot and counter an opponent who dared lunge into the pocket to lead. But he left those legs in the 2010s. Not only is Golovkin more hittable in his dotage, but he’s also more inclined to cover up than to move into position for a counterattack. It happens: Age eventually kicks all of us in the balls.
Some of us, though, get a little longer than others. Golovkin appeared to find his second wind in the 5th round, when he let his hands go a bit more — and to good effect. In the 6th, he discovered his old man strength, rattling Murata with a javelin of a jab and then blasting his chin with a right cross that sent the home fighter’s mouthguard sailing across the ring. If it wasn’t quite vintage GGG, you could squint just a bit and see the outline of a boogeyman clutching bombs in his balled-up fists.
By the 7th, Murata, 36, was the fighter fading due to stamina issues. No longer pressing forward, Murata mounted the occasional rally between Golovkin combinations, but he mostly wobbled and walled up. This wasn’t the typical GGG destruction of old. But the old destroyer had found a new way to take the fight out of an opponent: outlasting him.
Murata spent most of the 9th on the back foot or the ropes, just surviving. Golovkin seemed to have him pinned and on the verge of a knockout nearly every moment of the round’s first minute, but Murata found a little something more to give — until Golovkin snuffed that, too. What looked like a standard-grade right hand from GGG with just under a minute left in the round buckled and turned Murata, whose corner immediately tossed a towel onto the canvas to make the finish official.
As gratifying as it is to see Golovkin deliver on a big stage at this stage, the reality is this: He is no longer a match for Canelo, who siphoned off the last of Golovkin’s prime in their 2018 rematch. There’s no shame in that. GGG never received full credit for his middleweight housecleaning and reign, and even if you doubt that he won both fights with Canelo, you’re a fool if you think he didn’t win one.
A third fight with Canelo would prove nothing — other than confirming the numbers on Golovkin’s birth certificate. It would amount to a proper spectacle and make Golovkin a lot of money in a naked cash-out — and he deserves that, if that’s what he’s truly seeking.
But I don’t see a reward that matches the risk. If Golovkin wins, his critics (and there are many) will call it a fluke — an off night for Alvarez. If he loses, it’ll be a big, fat, flaming “I told you so” from the dregs of Boxing Twitter. There’s something about GGG that brings all the dickheads out to the yard.
And if that’s Golovkin’s legacy — pissing people off with his smiling deference, broken English and razing of a flawed middleweight division — I’m OK with it. This sport is chock full of assholes. It stands to reason that Golovkin doesn’t quite fit.