By Robert Hough
Gennady Gennadyevich Golovkin is from Kazakhstan, home of kokpar, a game described as blood-drenched polo with a headless goat for a ball.
Kazakhstan’s President, Nursultan Nazarbayev, the nation’s only leader in the 36 years since it became independent from Russia, won re-election in 2015 with 97.7 percent of the vote. The capital, Astana, is the second coldest capital city in the world (behind Ulaanbaator, the capital of Mongolia).
Golovkin (37-0, 33 KOs), a man of good cheer and relentless brutality, faces Saul “Canelo” Alvarez (49-1-1, 34 KOs) on September 16 for middleweight supremacy and the Kazakh fighter’s WBA, WBC and IBF belts. The 35-year-old millionaire now living in Southern California with his wife, Alina, and their son, Vadim, says all is fine and good and happy as he gets ready for easily the biggest fight in his career.
“I feel great at this age, seriously,” Golovkin said recently on a conference call to discuss the Las Vegas fight on HBO PPV. “My sparring is the same, like my speed, my power, I don’t lose. I feel like ten years ago. Like right now… I’m 35, but I feel like 25. Maybe inside, maybe right now I’m younger than Canelo. I feel like 25.”
Trainer Abel Sanchez said Golovkin’s high percentage of knockouts and short fights has helped the fighter stay fresh.
“Canelo is the one that has the wear and tear on him, not Golovkin,” Sanchez said on the call. Canelo has got 49 fights. And Golovkin has 36, 37, whatever he has, and his fights have been shorter, and he turned pro in 2006. I believe Canelo’s been a pro a little bit longer than he has.”
The mid-30s mindset is one of mature perspective, not brash arrogance, said Golovkin, whose country’s leadership has been described as authoritarian, with a record of human rights abuses and suppressing political opposition.
“This is boxing,” Golovkin said. “Every day is difficult and dangerous. Right now, I feel great. Everything’s good. My family and my team support me. I feel very comfortable.”
There have been some adjustments in training camp, though the athlete’s skills have increased with age, Sanchez said.
“Obviously as a coach, you take into consideration the years, the age, but he’s doing the same things now, harder now because he’s at a different level than he was four, five years ago,” Sanchez said on the call. “He’s still working as hard as he was before and not slacking off, not — I’m not having to make any concessions for being 35 years old. We’re doing the same things we did in the past, but about five or six fights ago, seven fights ago maybe, I cut down the rounds of sparring.
“That’s really the only thing that I’ve done different, but then I didn’t do it because of age. I did it because he just comes to camp in such a state that I don’t have to abuse him in camp. I can leave a lot in him by working him less because he’s in shape when he comes to camp. We’re not losing 25 pounds.”
Golovkin, whos’ from the city of Karaganda, which has had so many people leave in recent times that it’s gone from being the second-largest city in Kazakhstan to number four, can be disinclined to proceed methodically in the ring, Sanchez said.
“It’s hard to teach a fighter patience that wants to just fight –a natural fighter that just wants to fight,” he said.
There’s real motivation to be patient and smart against Alvarez, said Golovkin, whose hometown’s history includes a World War II-era purge of thousands of people with German heritage, some of whom spent years in labor camps.
“For me this fight is a history fight,” he said. “Canelo, he’s a very special guy and I’m champion.”
How things play out on the 16th will mean a lot, across the years and decades ahead, Sanchez added.
“The 16th is a pivotal day, a pivotal day in Gennady’s career, and I think how people are going to remember it,” he said.
A big win would create the ability to offer more money to – hopefully – attract more high-quality opponents, according to Tom Loeffler, who promotes Golovkin.
“If Gennady looks good against Canelo and performs the way we all believe he’ll perform, then it opens up a lot of doors,” Loeffler said on the call. “Then he’s in a whole different financial realm in terms of the money that we’re able to offer people.”
Golovkin said he’ll fight for at least a few more years more.
“Maybe (until) like 40, five years more,” said the man whose hometown’s coal mines have been operated by prisoners.
Motivation may be the big factor, Sanchez acknowledged.
“The mental part of it is so important because you have to be motivated for a fight,” he said while noting that the fighter needs high-profile fights that motivate him. “Yes, I can see him fighting that long. I think. If there’s an if, that’s a big if.”
Golovkin, who speaks proudly of his deal with Nike’s Jordan brand and of his years of work in Kazakhstan’s acclaimed amateur boxing program, says motivation to fight and earn money most assuredly will not be a problem.
“I like to fight,” he said.