Gennady Golovkin – A Scientific Puncher
(Photo credit: Will Hart, K2 Promotions) By Jay McIntyre: Gennady Gennadyevich Golovkin (also known to his fans as “Triple G”) has slowly risen to become one of the premier boxers of today. While it is true that he is not a major PPV star (as of yet), he does have all of the in-ring ingredients to make him both very marketable and very appealing to the casual and involved fans. With an impressive record of 29 wins (26 by way of knockout) and no losses on his record he has no signs of slowing down.
His three decision wins were during eight round fights, the last of which occurred in 2008 – he hasn’t gone the distance since. The only significant criticism that has been leveraged against him – which is worth noting – is the lack of elite opponents that he has encountered so far. His detractors certainly attribute this to careful planning on the part of his managers. His supporters, on the other hand, understandably believe that he is one of the most avoided boxers out there today.
One thing is certain though – if he keeps knocking down the opponents set up in front of him, he will become too important for people to avoid. With Golovkin’s impending fight against Daniel Geale this Saturday, I thought it an appropriate time to dissect his style and appreciate what he does so well.
Keep in mind that Golovkin really uses a mastery of the fundamentals to make himself very successful in the ring. This mastery allows him to respond the changing rhythm of his opponents, punch with power whenever he chooses, and pace himself for the full length of a fight (however rare that may be). This is not to say that he has a firm mastery of all of the fundamentals, but he clearly has carved out a recipe for success thus far in his career.
b>Utilizing a Subversive Jab
The king of punches, the jab, is a punch that is integral to Golovkin’s success. What makes it subversive is the fact that it Golovkin uses it for every possible scenario: leading, countering, setting up other punches, creating pressure, blinding his opponent and disrupting their rhythm. In other words he uses it to undermine his opponents and leave them at the mercy of his game plan. Later on I will talk about how he pressures his opponent using his control of distance, but his jab is also important in threatening them into backing up. Perhaps what makes his jab most valuable to him, however, is how he uses it to land his other, more powerful punches. His jab is heralded as the second coming of Larry Holmes’ jab, but it is workmanlike and effective. Everyone knows Golovkin for his pressure and power punching, but look at his jab stats for his past four fights:
Osumanu Adama (TKO’d in seven) – Golovkin landed 46/183 jabs to Adama’s 17/228
Curtis Stevens (TKO’d in eight) – Golovkin landed 108/413 jabs to Steven’s 23/113
Matthew Macklin (KO’d in three) – Golovkin landed 25/52 jabs to Macklin’s 6/57
Nobuhiro Ishida (KO’d in three) – Golovkin landed 53/108 jabs to Ishida’s 13/75
What becomes pretty clear as you look at the data is that Golovkin’s jab dictates his success. It doesn’t stand out as a snappy shot, fired from the hip like Muhammad Ali’s, but it does become a focal point for pressuring his opponents and setting up his fight winning combinations.
As a criticism, I must say that defensively, Golovkin seems to rely pretty heavily on his jab to stuff his opponent’s aggression. This can be a wonderful thing, but he doesn’t utilize much movement of his head or feet while doing so. He pretty much jabs at them as they approach, but doesn’t establish a position of superiority by getting off their line of attack. He follows it up with big shots on some occasions, but sometimes he just stands there, waiting on their line.
Control of Distance and Cutting off the Ring
These two notions go hand in hand and show how Golovkin is able to make his opponents uncomfortable and unable to fall into their own rhythm. The fact that he is a brutal puncher makes this easier for him because it’s never safe to chase a puncher. However, his ability to control distance is not simplified to the fact that his opponents are unwilling to engage him because he hits hard (because sometimes they will).
Essentially, what Golovkin does – if his opponent remains tentative – is use the threat of the punch to bully his opponent in order to land an actual punch. If his opponent gives him space, he will take it, but he won’t get greedy. If he doesn’t readily see an opening, then he will pry their guard loose with his aforementioned jab and get to work from that opening. Remember also that Golovkin’s jab is quite useful in backing up his opponents if he feels that he has to. Fearing what might be hiding behind his jab, his opponents have developed a tendency to back up, or shell up when he throws it. This gives him control, and forces them back toward the ropes – the worst possible place for them to be.
The worst place for Golovkin’s opponents to find themselves is along the ropes with GGG poised to attack. He doesn’t usually throw punches for the sake of throwing punches. Instead, he is rather economical and shrewd with his punch output, choosing quality over quantity.
Golovkin is similar to Saul Alvarez in the sense that both men can string together dangerous, powerful combinations that mix up the angles and levels at which they land. The one superiority that Golovkin has over Alvarez, however, is that when he misses he is still poised and balanced to follow-up with either another punch, or appropriate defense. I attribute this to Golovkin’s proficient amateur resume, since he has defeated men of note such as, Andy Lee, Lucian Bute, and Andre Dirrell (in total Golovkin amassed a total of 350 amateur fights, to Alvarez’s 20). In amateur fights, knockdowns aren’t given any credit, instead sharp accurate punching governs the scorecards.
Golovkin uses the same balance, patience, and a varied approach to striking that has allowed him to annihilate durable men like Gabriel Rosado and Matthew Macklin. I will not dispute the power of Golovkin (that would be foolish), but I will emphasize that his punches become particularly more damaging because of their methods of employment. Golovkin uses straight punches to force his opponents to bring their guard close together and this invariably sets them up for hooks that can loop around. If his opponent is too concerned with punches to the head, then they bring up their elbows and leave their body exposed to hooks and uppercuts downstairs.
Cause for Concern
If there are a couple of things that can get Golovkin into trouble it is his lack of head movement when pressuring and his tendency to pull straight back when his opponent leads.
Golovkin is so used to using his punches to set up his punches that he rarely is seen using an angle when leading against his opponent. He also, like I said, doesn’t take an angle when getting away from them.
Remember, just because he is winning fights, doesn’t mean that he is doing everything right to win them.
It’s safe to say that Golovkin has yet to face a really severe puncher that can set up and string together his shots. I think that such a puncher could create a great deal of irritation for Golovkin. Moving forward, Golovkin looks nearly indestructible, but moving backwards he looks average. Imagine the opportunities that Golovkin’s weaknesses would give to a smart aggressor with head movement.
He hasn’t gotten himself into too much trouble yet, but when Golovkin starts to meet some real stiff competition that can exploit these weaknesses, his shroud of invincibility will begin to dissipate. One reason I believe that he hasn’t been fully exploited as of yet is due to the fact that punchers (read: Golovkin) make other boxers afraid to punch (or at least commit to their punches). How that pans out down the road to becoming an undisputed champion is anybody’s guess. There’s always someone out there who won’t back down, and can give as good as they can take – just look at Muhammad Ali’s rubber match in the Thrilla in Manila against his stubborn nemesis, Joe Frazier.
Gennady Golovkin is at his best when patiently pressuring his opponent. While there are, and have been plenty of entertaining pressure fighters in the business over the years, he is a unique in a lot of ways. In appreciating Golovkin’s shrewd patience, let us look at two contrasting pressure fighters of recent memory: Mike Tyson and Antonio Margarito. Both men would assert themselves and intrude on the personal space of their opponents, but Golovkin does so with a bit more subtlety. He isn’t a fighter that blitzes his prey with ‘bad intentions’ like Mike Tyson, nor is he a fighter grinds away at his adversary with reckless abandon like Antonio Margarito. He stalks, waits, finds openings and – in spite of some of the criticisms I have read about him online – doesn’t fall in love with his punching power. While Mike Tyson developed the puncher’s curse of expecting the knockout, and Margarito expected that he could absorb more damage than his opponent was willing to dole out, neither is the case with Golovkin. Golovkin is measured, and uses his control of distance well enough to stifle his opponent – these are two traits that are hard to master as an intelligent pressure fighter.
Looking forward to his fight this Saturday, I don’t see Daniel Geale being the man that can stop, or even outpoint Golovkin. Daniel Geale is a seasoned veteran that is no slouch in the ring, but I just don’t see him having the right style to beat GGG. In a recent interview Geale claimed that he had observed some major flaws in Golovkin’s game that he intends to exploit, and there is probably a lot of truth to his words. But knowing what you want to do, and actually being able to pull it off are two completely different things. I’m not convinced he will be able to uphold his game plan for the entirety of the fight and I’m even more convinced that he won’t be the guy to knock out Golovkin. In the words of Mike Tyson: “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.” These words ring with greater truth when the punch lands with greater authority. Expect the authority of Golovkin to remain intact on Saturday night.
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