The idea that former middleweight kingpin, Gennadiy Golovkin needed a comeback fight is absurd. Golovkin may have just completed the toughest stretch of his professional career, suffering his first draw and loss in the process, but what damage he took over that stretch hardly warranted a soft touch. So how was it that Golovkin returned to the ring in Madison Square Garden against the unknown Steve Rolls?
Perhaps because it marked Golovkin’s first appearance for DAZN, who signed the thirty-seven-year-old to a six-fight deal in March, one that pays him into 2021. The decision to commit to a fighter a blown kiss away from forty seems risible, but DAZN may not be thinking long-term with Golovkin, who appears a designated hitter of sorts for the upstart company, a slugger you add to win in the present regardless of the risk of diminishing returns. Golovkin, 39-1-1 (35), is one of the more recognizable fighters in the world, one who legitimizes whatever platform secures his services; he’s still good for a GIF or two, provided you put him in the likes of Steve Rolls, and he’s still a name that can ratify the future. Golovkin knows it, too. It’s inconceivable that he signed with DAZN without getting assurances of a third fight with Alvarez, and don’t be surprised if DAZN furnishes Golovkin with all the cannon fodder he wants in order to preserve the Alvarez trilogy (and perhaps make a springboard of the Kazakh after that).
Unsurprisingly, that trilogy is safe after Saturday. However fresh the memory of Andy Ruiz Jr.’s knockout of Anthony Joshua, no one willing to subscribe to an app to watch boxing expected anything as remotely earth-shattering as last Saturday’s upset. Nor did he get it, what with Rolls clubbed insensate in four rounds.
There was little if anything to take from the fight, which in itself is an indictment of the matchup since a comeback fight—euphemized as a return, or whatever—should at least tell us something about the winner’s recovery. Rolls, 19-1 (10), landed a handful of stiff punches (as anyone willing to throw earnestly at Golovkin is going to do), and when those punches betrayed the Canadian’s limitations, Golovkin laid him out. That has been Golovkin’s script at least since he perforated Grzegorz Proksa in his 2012 HBO debut.
The only obvious change lay in Golovkin’s corner, where Abel Sanchez has been replaced by Johnathan Banks. The effect of Banks’s presence might have been discernible in footage of the two working mitts, where Golovkin moved his hands and feet more fluidly than usual, or even in the early rounds against Rolls, when Golovkin did what he hadn’t for years under Sanchez: moved his head, employed feints, threw combinations, and dug to the body. But all but the body attack was abandoned when Golovkin assayed the middling threat before him; even his jab was holstered in favor of heavy artillery.
And what could Banks possibly impart on Golovkin at this point? It’s more likely that his influence is revealed in how Golovkin applies what he already knows than in any new tricks. If Banks proves a good fit, he will do so in fights where Golovkin requires his trainer to do more than handle a water bottle and a stool. It’s easy to imagine Banks improving on Sanchez’s empty between-rounds counsel—all that emphasis on effort and force seems better suited for pornography. Will any such improvement translate into the performance of a pressure fighter pushing forty, though? You’d be right to be skeptical. Besides, it’s hard to believe Banks’s addition is the product of anything more than economics and convenience: he likely works for the right price (less than Sanchez would accept after Golovkin inked his DAZN deal), and has ties to K2 through his work with Wladimir Klitschko.
Perhaps the only point of interest in this throwaway main event was this: Golovkin now seems to be fighting both opponents and his age. However stout his chin (and Golovkin is an absorber par excellence), however feeble his opponent, however foregone the fight’s conclusion, a world-class fighter should not take the kind of leather Golovkin took against Rolls. It is time to dispel forever that piece of fanatic lunacy that Golovkin takes punches in the name of drama—he takes them because he can’t help it. And he is open to them now more than ever in part because time has taken from him what Dominic Wade and Vanes Martirosyan and even Jacobs and Alvarez could not.
This isn’t to suggest that Golovkin has slid far from the version of him that kept HBO Boxing’s EKG dancing a few years ago: one could argue he should be undefeated, and both Jacobs and Alvarez were legitimized by how they fared against him. Nor is it to belittle his accomplishments because he was a genuine phenomenon for years, and only really began to lose supporters when it was clear that (1) Alvarez would have to fight him, and (2) that Team Alvarez was delaying that reckoning (forcing his legion to double-down on their allegiance). But Golovkin would now struggle to equal—never mind improve—on his showings against Jacobs and Alvarez, and even Demetrius Andrade could pose a riddle or two for the dethroned king.
Golovkin made millions in his pursuit of #AllTheBelts. It was a masquerade of daring that wrought green and gold, yes, but ultimately insulated him, a fighter of considerable talent and craft, from the peril that comes by the pound. It proved him an excellent fighter, but not a great one because, in compiling his hardware, Golovkin forfeited the opportunity to test himself. Now beltless, he is dependent on his popularity to secure him the fights he needs to regain his standing and mitigate the ennui that hangs over even another Jacobs or Alvarez fight. It’s a testimony to the bewitching power of the knockout and the promotional master class that developed him that even as the vultures circle, drawn by the sight of his resume from a distance, Golovkin maintains the popularity to make any fight he chooses. But he’s had that leverage for years. Considering his losses will stand out because so few of his wins do, you know what to expect of that leverage.