All too often, the best part of a boxing match is the walk-up to the ring, when every fan is on his feet, every nerve ending is tingling, and anything seems possible. And nearly just as often, the best part of a fight promotion is the (usually) manufactured backstory designed to create interest in two athletes who frankly, sometimes aren’t very interesting outside of the ring.
Meet Gennady Golovkin and Daniel Jacobs. The former is the All-American Boy from Kazakhstan, who grew up in a war-torn region, saw two of his brothers die in the Soviet Army and now, as the consensus pound-for-pound best boxer in the world, lives the life of a clean-cut kid from LA.
But the story of Golovkin, known to fight fans as Triple G, pales alongside that of Jacobs, who has beaten one opponent all of us hope never to face: osteosarcoma, or bone cancer, a disease that left him partially-paralyzed and unlikely to walk, let alone fight, ever again just five years ago.
When these two step into the Madison Square Garden ring on March 18 to haggle over the world middleweight title, their fight will have to be a back-alley brawl to live up to their twin backstories.
And incredibly enough, it just might.
OK, so Golovkin-Jacobs is not Golovkin-Canelo Alvarez, the match fight fans really want to see, if only because of name recognition; more than 2 million pay-per-view households saw Canelo lose, somewhat respectably, to Floyd Mayweather in 2013, his only loss in 50 pro fights.
But Golovkin-Jacobs might be the better matchup, if only because Jacobs, at 6-1 is a solid middleweight with a track record of knocking out other solid middleweights while Canelo has been taking his sweet time moving up from 154. And right now Triple G is to the middleweight division what Mike Tyson was to the heavyweights 30 years ago — the guy other fighters in his weight class wake up in a cold sweat over at the very thought of sharing a ring with him.
But while the rest of the division, it seems, amuses itself issuing threats from behind the safety of purse bids and mandatories — “It seems like the people the least likely to fight him are the people that talk the most about fighting him,” said Tom Loeffler, GGG’s manager — it is Jacobs, Brooklyn born and bred, who has stepped up to the plate against Golovkin.
The reason is obvious. As Jacobs’ trainer, Andre Rozier, said, “He has already fought the hardest fight he could ever have in life. Everything after that is just a walk in the park , because he fears no man. And when he gets in the ring March 18, he will show all those who didn’t believe what he’s really about.”
Of course, beating a disease, even one as dreaded as cancer, is not the same as beating an opponent in the ring; each requires a different skill set, and at least against cancer, you get to bring a team of doctors with you.
Jacobs will be facing Golovkin alone, a task not one of the unbeaten GGG’s previous 36 opponents has proven equal to, and while he is a very good puncher — 29 of Jacobs’ 32 wins are by KO, including his last 12 — Golovkin so far has seemed impervious to damage in the ring, never having been off his feet.
“Not yet. Maybe in the future,” Golovkin said when asked if he had ever been hurt by a punch. “Maybe next fight.”
That is the kind of statement promoters dream about, even if Loeffler was moved to say, “This fight sells itself,” at Tuesday’s Manhattan press conference. He was also moved to mention more than once that “Tickets start at $100,” although he did not say where they end. Then again, if you have to ask, you probably don’t want to know.
In any event, between Golovkin’s popularity with the large Russian and Eastern European boxing fan base in New York, and Jacobs’ Brooklyn roots, the Garden is apt to be rocking on fight night, and at $55 a pop, the bout could do good business on pay-per-view, although no one in his or her right mind would expect Mayweather-Canelo type numbers. The bout was so big, we were assured, that the WWE agreed to move its scheduled event out of the building to make room for it, a move that was portrayed as an act of good will but was no doubt accompanied by a payment of good money.
As Golovkin said, this match features “A lot of best. The best matchup. The best opponent. The best arena. The best TV channel.” He even included the Mexican beer that is co-sponsoring the bout.
“Too much best,” he concluded.
No such thing, of course. In boxing, there can never be too much of anything, and from the vantage point of two months away, Golovkin-Jacobs seems to have a lot of everything.
Not the least of which is the compelling story of Jacobs, who currently is an 8-1 underdog. “When you go through the challenges that I went through, with the cancer and everything, learning how to walk again and coming back, I mean, there’s not much else that can scare you,” he said. “I’m a fan of Gennady. I enjoy watching him fight. But when I step in there on March 18 I’m not going in as a fan. You can bet on that.”
Despite the odds, the only sure bet in this one seems to be that it won’t go the distance; Golovkin and Jacobs have combined to stop 35 straight opponents going back to 2010. But despite their violent proclivities inside the ring, both are gentlemen at a podium, and Tuesday’s press conference at times seemed like a meeting of the mutual admiration society.
“These two guys are class acts, true ambassadors of boxing,” Loeffler said. “You won’t see any tables flying at the final press conference.”
Golovkin-Jacobs might be one of those rare sells that doesn’t need that sort of thing. Besides, that kind of action is best saved for after the bell rings.