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Gennadiy Golovkin: Rivalry with Canelo Alvarez Doesn't Define My Career

Lyle Fitzsimmons

None of the midlife crisis signs are there.

Gennadiy Golovkin didn't purchase a new sports car, isn't rolling out a new wardrobe and hasn't been spotted dating someone half his age.

In fact, the uber-decorated—and happily married—middleweight champion gives every indication that he's comfortable in his skin as he approaches his 40th birthday on April 8.

Unless, that is, you ask him about his most celebrated in-ring rival.

That's when, as the kids say these days, "We don't talk about Canelo."

As it turns out, the IBF/IBO middleweight champion prefers to discuss anything other than the cinnamon-haired Mexican, against whom he recorded a split draw and a majority-decision loss across 24 rounds of compelling, razor-thin combat in 2017 and 2018.

Golovkin remains steadfast, though nearly every boxing-centric story containing his name also makes at least some reference to Saul Alvarez, whom he's agreed to meet in a trilogy bout later this year, presuming both men get past interim tests in the meantime.

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Alvarez will face light heavyweight title claimant Dmitry Bivol in Las Vegas on May 7, 28 days after Golovkin ends a 16-month hiatus with the challenge of fellow 160-pound titleholder Ryota Murata.

If all goes as planned, they will likely meet again in mid-September for Canelo-GGG III, with the marquee alone putting it in the company of the sport's signature rivalries like Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier, Arturo Gatti vs. Micky Ward and Riddick Bowe vs. Evander Holyfield.

Nevertheless, the mere suggestion that Golovkin and Alvarez are linked for the long term in the eyes of many sends the Kazakh, who's been a full-fledged middleweight champ for one alphabet organization or another in every calendar year since 2011, into a resume-defending shell.

"Indeed, you're right that many boxers are characterized by the rivalries they had during their professional career," he told Bleacher Report. "But at the same time, I don't think that my rivalry with Canelo Alvarez is the only thing that characterizes my career.

"Just to point out a few things: I am the record-holder for the number of defenses—21 defenses. I have the biggest number of knockouts. And I think there are people who will remember me by that.

"There are people to whom it would matter more."

The numbers may differ depending on one's definition of a legitimate world title. But he's not wrong. They are prodigious by any measure.

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Golovkin earned his first top-tier sanctioning body belt when he stopped Lajuan Simon in Dusseldorf, Germany, in December 2011 and proceeded to stop his next 14 foes inside the distance until he went 12 rounds to win a unanimous-decision over Daniel Jacobs at Madison Square Garden in March 2017.

The first bout with Alvarez came six months later and ended with wildly discordant scorecards, including a 115-113 (7-5 in rounds) in his favor, an even 114-114 tally and a 118-110 count in Alvarez's direction.

Golovkin steamrolled Vanes Martirosyan in a hastily arranged defense in May 2018 after Alvarez was suspended for six months following a positive test for a banned substance. The rematch with Canelo arrived 364 days after the first and was even closer in the eyes of the judges, two of whom saw Alvarez a 115-113 winner to overrule a third who had it 114 apiece.

Wins over the less celebrated likes of Steve Rolls (KO 4), Sergiy Derevyanchenko (UD 12) and Kamil Szeremeta (TKO 7) followed in the subsequent three-plus years as Golovkin has gone about rebuilding his brand, enduring a pandemic and securing the long-discussed Canelo trilogy.

The bout with a 36-year-old Murata makes sense from the brand-building and belt-copping angles because it will take place in his foe's home country—Golovkin has fought in eight countries but never Japan—and the host had two runs as WBA's second-tier titleholder at middleweight before being elevated to the top-tier strap when Alvarez abandoned the division in 2021.

Still, Murata has not fought since a December 2019 defeat of Steven Butler in Yokohama, thanks to the pandemic and its related travel restrictions that KO'd the Golovkin bout's initial December date.

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To hear Golovkin tell it, his foe is the real deal—in spite of being ranked just sixth at 160 pounds by the independent Premier Boxing Organization and having just two career wins over fighters in the top 15.

Golovkin, meanwhile, is 19-1-1 with 17 KOs in top-tier world title bouts alone.

"I know him personally, and at some point in the past we even sparred together," Golovkin said. "He's a boxer of high level, and his achievements speak for him. He's an Olympic champion. He's the current WBA super champion, and it's for a reason. He really earned what he has."

And what he will have this time is home-field advantage, which provides what Golovkin, who's training in Hollywood, Florida, deemed an "interesting challenge." Not to mention the fact that he turns 40 the day before the event and will have fought just four times in the past four years come fight night.

"I had to change quite a few things with age," Golovkin said. "At the same time, I'm trying new things, and everything is being done in order to keep the top level of boxing that I'm able to demonstrate. Quite a few factors can be looked at. Links in a chain.

"Of course it is [the style of life] that I have been leading for a long period of time. That allows me to be active and to continue to be able to step out in the ring. It's the team. It's the people who surround me who also make everything possible for me to continue."

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As for how long it will go post-Murata and post-Alvarez III, who knows?

Either way, Golovkin said, it's all about making sure the perception of his legacy is secure regardless of the permanent connection to Alvarez or what might have happened had fights with other high-profile opponents—Floyd Mayweather Jr., Andre Ward, Miguel Cotto, etc.—come to fruition.

"Of course I pay attention to it, and it's natural," he said. "I think that people who say they don't care what other people are saying about them from the professional standpoint are not telling the truth. And there are also people who say that it matters to them a great deal. They are probably also not correct.

"I think you should find the middle road where you feel comfortable, and at the same time you do pay attention to all those ratings and how it plays out in the eyes of the media and the fans.

"I would say it's difficult for me to give you any names or to try to fantasize about what might have happened [with fights that weren't made]. I'm really happy with my career. I'm very comfortable with my current situation, my current position and I don't have any regrets."

   

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