SANTA MONICA >> Gennady Golovkin is still trying to land the marquee opponents and landmark fights that will catapult him to the top level of boxing stardom.
The unbeaten middleweight champion's own name looks fantastic in lights these days, though.
Golovkin (34-0, 31 KOs) is expected to have a sellout crowd at the Forum in Inglewood, California, on Saturday night to watch his mandatory title defense against unbeaten Dominic Wade. Boxing-savvy Los Angeles has packed an arena three times in 18 months for its adopted champ, who also sold out New York's Madison Square Garden last fall.
So while Golovkin still covets a showdown with Mexican superstar Saul "Canelo" Alvarez later this year, the Kazakh-born knockout machine isn't quite so concerned by opponents ducking him these days. With sold-out arenas and HBO's enthusiastic backing, Golovkin doesn't need help to make his own big fights.
"I love my life, and I know my focus," Golovkin said this week before a workout at the Wild Card West Boxing Club, a short drive from his family's home in Santa Monica. "My goal is always to get all the belts in the middleweight division."
For the third straight time, Golovkin's card is co-headlined by Roman "Chocolatito" Gonzalez, the unbeaten Nicaraguan flyweight champion frequently labeled the top pound-for-pound fighter in the world. Gonzalez (44-0, 38 KOs) takes on Puerto Rico's McWilliams Arroyo (16-2, 14 KOs) in his fourth title defense.
Golovkin and Gonzalez are an irresistible pairing to boxing fans who appreciate their technical brilliance and utter dominance. Golovkin has stopped his last 21 opponents, many in devastating fashion, while Gonzalez is an incredible puncher for a 115-pounder.
"Not just Latinos," Golovkin said of the fighters' combined fan base. "It's more important for people who understand boxing, who like first-class, quality boxing."
Together, Golovkin and Gonzalez have packed the Forum twice and Madison Square Garden once over the past 11 months alone. Even at their promoters' reasonable ticket prices, it's an incredible achievement in a sport with almost no active North American box-office stars who aren't Mexican.
Golovkin hit the promotional circuit this month, throwing out a first pitch at Dodger Stadium and appearing everywhere from TMZ to local morning news shows. The result is a near-sellout even before his usually robust walk-up crowds arrive in Inglewood.
"You can see Gennady growing into not just a draw in the U.S., but a fighter who gets worldwide attention," said Tom Loeffler, Golovkin's promoter. "You see it in the corporate interest from sponsors who want to back him. Gennady wants to fight a lot, and he wants the biggest names in the world."
Indeed, Golovkin has public ties with Apple, Nike's Jordan Brand, Samsung, Tecate beer and several Kazakh companies.
But after turning 34 years old earlier this month, Golovkin craves frequent fights more than ever. He missed an HBO date in February while attempting to cement a deal with Alvarez and promoter Oscar De La Hoya, forcing him to wait six months between fights — a normal stretch for a champion, but too long for Golovkin's taste.
Golovkin will try to fight at least twice more this year after taking on Wade (18-0, 12 KOs), his mandatory challenger and an enormous underdog getting a breakthrough opportunity.
"I remember my situation three, four years ago," Golovkin said. "It was the same (as Wade's situation). He's undefeated. He's maybe more hungry. He wants it. Everything is possible. Every step is very important for me. He beats me, it's a dream fight for him."
If Golovkin handles Wade as easily as expected, Alvarez will be under pressure to agree to a showdown.
Alvarez, who won the WBC's 160-pound belt fighting Miguel Cotto at 155 pounds, has expressed personal interest in fighting Golovkin. Canelo's promoter, Golden Boy's Oscar De La Hoya, instead wanted his biggest-name fighter in a money-making showdown with Britain's Amir Khan next month.
If Alvarez doesn't agree to fight Golovkin shortly after that bout, he will have to surrender his middleweight belt to Golovkin, who would then hold three of the sport's four major versions of the title.
It's a remarkable achievement just four years after Golovkin was a virtual unknown preparing for his U.S. debut with trainer Abel Sanchez, who has shepherded his rise while marveling at the dichotomy inside his fighter. The good-natured family man is a sharp contrast with the ruthless puncher, but Sanchez doesn't see why both sides of Golovkin shouldn't reach the top of boxing.
"This guy here sitting with us is Gennady Golovkin," Sanchez said. "When I start wrapping his hands, he turns into Triple G. You can see the transformation."
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