“There’s a good jab; that’s what he’s known for.”
During Saturday’s middleweight title fight between Gennadiy Golovkin and Sergiy Derevyanchenko a member of DAZN’s commentary team distinguished one of the most celebrated destroyers of recent years by praising his jab. Golovkin’s jab is sublime, but that’s beside the point. The jab is not, and never has been, what Golovkin is known for—and DAZN did not sign Golovkin to coax subscriptions with his stick.
Golovkin’s reputation is a violent one—the “Mobile Chernobyl,” who at one point scored twenty-three consecutive knockouts, employed a pressure style that left opponents in heaps, and network executives and subscribers alike with heart-shaped pupils. But Golovkin’s US ascension was first delayed because of a poor promotional situation that left him toiling in Europe and then slowed (or saved?) because of an injury to Dmitry Pirog, who was to have welcomed Golovkin to HBO in 2013. This is to say that by the time Golovkin had become a commodity DAZN coveted, he was a thirty-six-year-old pressure fighter, his style and age traditionally incompatible.
Four fights remain on Golovkin’s DAZN deal, and if his attritive twelve-round unanimous decision win over Derevyanchenko is any indicator (a decision that drove the crowd in Madison Square Garden to boo), there’ll be little left of Golovkin right around the time DAZN settles accounts with him.
Because it was Derevyanchenko, 13-2 (10), who carried the action throughout the fight. Dropped in the first round, Derevyanchenko shook off this inauspicious start and responded by looping a right hand over Golovkin’s jab, the impact of which Golovkin wore as he took his stool at the end of the round. Nor did Derevyanchenko fight the second round like a man happy to survive the first. Unlike Danny Jacobs, who came up just short in his 2017 bid to derail Golovkin, Derevyanchenko threw neither out of fear nor out of panic. So many of the men subsumed by Golovkin punched to ward him off; they threw at him, not through him. Not Derevyanchenko, who figured out quickly how much stock he needed to put in his opponent’s mythology. Derevyachenko, his eye filleted by a left hook, was there to hurt Golovkin—and for long stretches, the “Big Drama Show” wanted nothing to do with this invitation to a bloody theater.
Derevyachenko kept asking, though. In the fifth round, he shrunk Golovkin with a left hook to the body. At no point has Golovkin so clearly betrayed his suffering as when Derevyanchenko sunk that left under ribs. Golovkin looked like a flower wilting in time-lapse but was saved when referee Harvey Dock separated the fighters, keeping Derevyanchenko from capitalizing before the round’s end.
For much of the fight, Golovkin, 40-1-1 (35), fought like a man sparring, where the goal isn’t victory but the successful application of a technique or two. It was a sign that Golovkin had no answers beyond the ones he always gives, but also that trainer Johnathan Banks had inherited one of the cushiest gigs in boxing primarily because he came at a bargain. The uppercut-left-hook-to-the-body that deep-sixed Matthew Macklin? Golovkin threw it again and again. As he did the oddly-angled left hook that made a quitter of Marco Rubio, and the double-jab-overhand-right that sent Nobuhiro Ishida through the ropes and out of consciousness. Delivered in the face of genuine defiance. though, these signature moves lacked efficacy.
Paint-by-numbers approach aside, there remains a penalty for letting Golovkin lay his hands on you and Derevyanchenko paid it. That price may be why Derevyanchenko was unable to finish with the force he needed to hang a defeat on the house fighter. Whatever the reason, that he again fell short is a sign that Derevyanchenko is not quite world-class. A world-class fighter beats Golovkin—because Golovkin himself no longer is one, not this past Saturday and on no Saturday in the future. Offer any explanation for this diminished performance you like, Golovkin looked not only battle-worn but battle-weary, and punishment awaits pressure fighters with that mien.
On this night, though, Golovkin was still good enough to have his hand raised. Even in victory, the excuses came flooding in, a sign that a genuinely entertaining prizefight was perhaps not promoter Eddie Hearn’s objective. Golovkin was sick, Hearn told us, which explained why he needed two tries to make the IBF’s second-day weigh-in. He was short on motivation, too, said Hearn. This second excuse was one Roy Jones offered in the aftermath of his knockout loss to Antonio Tarver. It is a piece of necessary self-deception but also an acknowledgment that old routines (and new challenges) cannot produce previous excellence.
To speculate on the veracity of these claims is pointless, and to do so without appreciating Derevyanchenko takes such speculation from pointless to foolish. They are excuses as much for Hearn—caveat emptor, Eddie—as they are excuses for Golovkin, who needs to offer none. Good fighters, even very good fighters, age naturally, and very good is all Golovkin has ever been.
Hand-wringing apologies and blade-twists aside, what Golovkin has left will bear out in the ring because there is zero chance he misses out on his last four DAZN paydays (though his cash-out bout might not wait that long). If the version of him that showed up in MSG is all that’s left, DAZN will be hard-pressed to find saleable opponents he can batter. Golovkin, then, could end his career better approximating the action hero he was supposed to be. It’ll come at a heavy price for him, but only a nominal monthly fee for you.