Photos by Tom Hogan
Boxing usually doesn't see many trap games or scheduled losses.
NFL teams are known to be susceptible to an upset in the week before their bye, and the second night of a back-to-back is notorious for tripping up NBA squads. But with boxing's short-sighted, "Choose Your Own Adventure" scheduling, it's not too hard for a fighter to focus on the next opponent.
But if there is such a thing in the world of boxing, unified middleweight champion Gennady "GGG" Golovkin might be walking into a trap Saturday night at Madison Square Garden, when he defends his four titles against Brownsville, Brooklyn's Daniel Jacobs.
That's no slight against Jacobs, who, at 32-1 with 29 knockouts, should definitely not be overlooked. It's just that ever since he became established as boxing's most fearsome fighter, the 34-year-old Golovkin (36-0, 33 knockouts) has been connected with one man: Saul "Canelo" Alvarez.
"Right now I am focused on Daniel," Golovkin said while promoting Saturday's fight. "I don't know—my promoter, he talks with Golden Boy, [Alvarez's promoter]. It might be this year, it might be next year, but right now my focus is on Daniel Jacobs. He is my next fight. Of course I would like to fight Canelo but we'll talk about that later."
This isn't necessarily Golovkin's fault. It's the media that continues to ask him about Alvarez, the WBO light middleweight champion who is scheduled to fight Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. this May.
Tom Loeffler, Golovkin's promoter, maintains that his fighter is willing whenever "Golden Boy is ready and if Canelo is ready to make the deal." But that doesn't mean the two will be getting into the ring anytime soon.
"We are having discussions but there are two big 'ifs' there," Loeffler said. "Gennady has got to win March 18 and Canelo has got to win May 6 and if those two things don't happen there is no fight."
And that's why Saturday's bout will be Golovkin's most important to date.
For all of his success, the coal miner's son from Kazakhstan has never cashed in the way that Floyd "Money" Mayweather did during his career. He's certainly a millionaire many times over. But any fight against Mexico's favorite son, the 26-year-old Alvarez, would mark boxing's biggest matchup since Mayweather beat Manny Pacquiao in 2015—a bout that earned both fighters nine-figure purses. It could even fill AT&T Stadium in Dallas, just as Anthony Joshua's unification bout against heavyweight legend Wladimir Klitschko will likely sell out England's 90,000-seat Wembley Stadium this April.
But Jacobs represents a different challenge for Golovkin, who has practically walked through all 36 challengers he's faced.
Against IBF welterweight champion Kell Brook, who moved up to middleweight to fight Golovkin last September, and Willie Monroe Jr., Triple-G didn't even bother defending himself. In fact, he was actually losing on the cards against Brook, who ultimately had to throw in the towel in the fifth round after Golovkin broke his eye socket.
The point is, Brook is a natural welterweight, and while Monroe is a true middleweight, he has only six career knockouts in 23 fights—nothing that is going to scare someone like Golovkin, who is known to have a strong chin.
"Willie Monroe threw a lot of shots," said former middleweight and junior middleweight champion-turned trainer John David Jackson. "Maybe he couldn't hurt him and maybe Triple-G realized that and just let him. But [against] a boxer, I think, Triple-G would be in a lot more trouble because he's hittable. The defense isn't really good. He's just a strong, good fighter."
"He can [give boxers a lot to hit]," agreed Brook. "He's not the best boxer in the world."
That's not a strategy that Golovkin can afford to repeat against Jacobs, a bigger middleweight with 29 knockouts in 33 career fights. As he proved by annihilating former WBO middleweight champion Peter Quillin in less than a round, the 30-year-old Jacobs has too much power for Golovkin to ignore.
Jacobs is also keenly aware of Golovkin's footwork, which he uses to cut off the ring from his opponents, driving them along the ropes and into the corners where they're ultimately suffocated with a flurry of combinations.
"Come forward," Jacobs said, describing Golovkin's typical fight strategy. "Cut the ring off; wide shots, hooks, body shots, pressure."
If he can use his lateral movement to stay closer to the center of the ring, Jacobs can avoid fighting in tight spaces, where the ambidextrous Golovkin can really uncork his power.
"There's no room for any error," said legendary middleweight and current HBO boxing analyst Bernard Hopkins. "There's no reason to shoot it out or bang it out because you're being forced to fight. Triple-G forces fighters to fight desperately. He cuts off the ring very well. [In fights] that I've watched, nobody has had an answer for it. The only answer is desperation and panic. Danny has got to stay in the center of the ring."
Thanks to his aggressive, advancing approach, Golovkin typically out-punches his opponents. Over his last dozen fights, he's landed an average of 27.5 shots per round, according to CompuBox, compared to just 16.8 for the average middleweight.
But Jacobs is a far more economical fighter than others. He's landed 46.9% of his power shots over his last six fights, which is 9.7% higher than the average middleweight according to CompuBox.
And while Golovkin has yet to show any fear in the ring, Jacobs's opponents have been known to get a little gun shy. His last six opponents connected just 5.8 shots a round while throwing a paltry 37.9 punches, compared to 55.2 per frame for an average middleweight.
That stat is skewed slightly by his early knockouts of Quillin and Sergio Mora, but the point is that challengers have shied away from exposing themselves against Jacobs, likely because of his one-punch power.
Of course, it's usually Golovkin who strikes fear into opponents. Even a heavy hitter like middleweight contender David Lemieux was admittedly too hesitant in his 2015 loss to Golovkin at MSG.
"For a boxer to land the types of shots he wants to land—the way Golovkin fights—he is going to have to expose himself to put himself in a position where he could throw a punch," said Abel Sanchez, Golovkin's trainer.
Jacobs's chin does not have a great reputation, so he can't be too aggressive. But unlike the fighters who came before him—many of whom became timid and ultimately retreated from Golovkin—nobody can accuse Jacobs of being scared.
After surviving a life-threatening form of bone cancer in 2011 that could have left him paralyzed, Jacobs has won 10 consecutive fights, including nine by knockout.
And as of now, Jacobs—also known as "Miracle Man"—isn't eyeing any other matchup. Nobody is pushing for him to fight Alvarez, or any other famous boxer. Saturday night is, according to Jacobs, the night he's been waiting for.
"I don't even think about it because this is that fight," Jacobs said. "For me to think about anyone else or anything else, I can't.
"I have lived for this moment," he continued. "I've been boxing since I was 14 years old—so over half my life for this one moment. I'm not gonna be intimidated. That's the last thing I'm worried about."