When former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson was in his power-punching prime, it sounded as if gunfire were erupting in the gym as he hit the heavy bag during drills.
There hasn’t been a fighter since with anywhere near that kind of power.
Until now, that is.
Middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin, who defends his WBA belt in a pay-per-view bout against Nobuhiro Ishida on Saturday in Monte Carlo, has the kind of pop that helped make Tyson a Hall of Famer and iconic figure in the sport.
In his successful January 19 title defence at Madison Square Garden in New York, Golovkin continually hurt challenger Gabe Rosado with his jab.
Golovkin punches with a free and easy motion and doesn’t seem to be exerting himself greatly. But when his shots land cleanly, the impact is usually huge.
“I call him the middleweight Mike Tyson,” said trainer Abel Sanchez, whose job it is to help Golovkin channel his power properly. “He hits so, so, so hard, it’s incredible. A coach dreams about having a guy like this once in a lifetime.”
There was an audible gasp from the sell-out crowd on January 19 when Rosado pulled off his robe. Rosado, who had fought most of his career primarily as a super welterweight, was massive in the chest and shoulders and looked as if he were a light heavyweight.
The fight looked like a size mismatch in favor of Rosado, but Golovkin’s power was too much for Rosado to deal with and his corner mercifully stopped the bout in the seventh round.
The victory was the launching point for what Golovkin, 30, and promoter Tom Loeffler hope is a busy and highly successful year.
Golovkin isn’t likely to get near either of the two big names in the division – Sergio Martinez and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. – so he’ll have to feast on secondary, lesser-known opposition.
And given HBO’s recent announcement that it will not work with Golden Boy Promotions, that eliminates Peter Quillin, the WBO champion, as a potential opponent as well.
It’s going to make it harder for Golovkin, a native of Kazakhstan who lives in Germany, to become a star, but Golovkin is one of those rare fighters who make it without a career-defining opponent.
Boxing’s biggest star, Floyd Mayweather Jr., became so only after he defeated Oscar De La Hoya in 2007. Prior to the De La Hoya fight, Mayweather was still widely regarded as the best boxer in the world, but he was just mid-tier as a pay-per-view attraction and ticket seller.
Mayweather’s pay-per-view bouts prior to De La Hoya did 369,000 sales against Arturo Gatti; 378,000 against Zab Judah; and 320,000 against Carlos Baldomir. Things turned massively in the bout against De La Hoya, then the sport’s reigning pay-per-view king. The De La Hoya-Mayweather fight did a record 2.5 million sales.
Since then, Mayweather has sold 920,000 against Ricky Hatton; 1.095 million against Juan Manuel Marquez; 1.38 million against Shane Mosley; 1.2 million against Victor Ortiz and 1.5 million against Miguel Cotto.
Golovkin may never in his career approach those kinds of numbers, but he, along with Chavez, Canelo Alvarez and Adrien Broner are the guys who are most likely to succeed Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao as the sport’s biggest attractions.
Boxing fans historically have favoured heavyweights whenever the division had anything remotely resembling any depth. In large part, that’s because heavyweights – theoretically, anyway – have the most power and produce the biggest knockouts.
But if Golovkin fights four more times in 2013 and puts up the kind of highlight reel knockouts he’s capable of, he might vault past Chavez, Alvarez and Broner to become the pay-per-view star-in-waiting.
When the public gets to know him, they’ll find a friendly, engaging sort who smiles and laughs easily, loves to chat boxing and desperately wants to connect with the American public.
He’s taking great pains to learn English and, in just six months, his language skills have improved dramatically.
“America is where most of the stars are,” he said. “I know this is where I need to be.”
But Golovkin is also a realist. He knows that he has to produce. And while he figures to easily handle Ishida, Golovkin is not so willing to dismiss him as a tune-up opponent.
Ishida has lost two in a row and three of his last five, but he’s still living off the stunning knockout win over James Kirkland in 2011. The fight was designed as a showcase for Kirkland, who had been coming out of prison and ready to hit the big-time.
Instead, Ishida put Kirkland down three times in the first round and forced referee Joe Cortez to call off the carnage in just one minute, 52 seconds.
“The thing about boxing is, you have to have respect for every opponent, because all it takes is one [punch] to change everything,” Golovkin said.
Ishida, though, isn’t likely to want to get into any kind of shootout with Golovkin. Putting power versus power would likely not end well for Ishida.
Before his career got derailed by out-of-the-ring issues, Tyson never let guys like Ishida get off the hook. He dealt with them quickly, ferociously and savagely.
Much the same can be said of Golovkin, who is 25-0 with 22 knockouts. He’s as nice a guy as one could ever hope to meet, except in the centre of a ring with boxing gloves on his hands.
Ishida is likely to be the next to learn that bad news on Saturday.