Jun 10, 2019
- 2013 BWAA Nat Fleischer Award winner for excellence in boxing journalism
- ESPN.com boxing writer since 2005
- Five years at USA Today
Dan RafaelESPN Senior Writer
Opening Bell: Big Drama Show returns
NEW YORK — Former unified middleweight world champion Gennady Golovkin brought his Big Drama Show back to the ring on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden, and the outcome and post-fight talking points were exactly as expected.
As for the in-ring action, the result could not have gone more to script. Golovkin, in a super middleweight bout contracted at 164 pounds, was boxing for the first time since his controversial majority decision loss to rival Canelo Alvarez in September that cost him his middleweight belts. He took that frustration out on the heretofore unknown Steve Rolls, the designated knockout victim.
Rolls (19-1, 10 KOs), 35, gave a great effort and, in fact, seemed to clearly win the second round (though two judges surprisingly gave the round to GGG) in part thanks to a clean left hand that badly snapped Golovkin’s head back.
But Golovkin (39-1-1, 35 KOs), 37, in his first fight with trainer Johnathon Banks and the first fight of his three-year, six-fight, nine-figure deal with streaming service DAZN, has an all-time-great chin. He took the punch and continued to march toward Rolls before putting him away in highlight-reel fashion with an atomic left hand to the chin for a knockout at 2 minutes, 9 seconds of the fourth round.
As for the post-fight conversation, it also could not have gone more to script. The fight with Rolls was designed for Golovkin to shake off the rust of the layoff and set up a likely third showdown with Alvarez in September, following the massively controversial draw in 2017 (which most thought Golovkin won) and last fall’s exceedingly close loss.
Naturally, talk of a third fight with Alvarez dominated the post-fight discussion. They’re both with DAZN, it’s one of the biggest fights in boxing and they have unfinished business.
“Canelo is his biggest fight, just as the GGG fight is the biggest fight for Canelo,” said Tom Loeffler, the managing director of GGG Promotions. “They fought each other twice. Arguably, GGG won both fights. Fans are demanding to see a third fight, and we’ll do everything on our side to make that third fight. I know DAZN wants to make the third fight. This knockout here made a huge statement that his power hasn’t gone anywhere, so whether Canelo wants to make that third fight, we’ll see.
“It makes financial sense for both guys, it’s a fight fans are demanding, media are demanding. Frankly, it’s one of the biggest fights that can be made in the sport of boxing.”
DAZN has hundreds of millions of dollars tied up in contracts with both fighters and wants the third fight. Frankly, it needs the third fight. It’s likely to happen, but this is boxing, so there is already posturing from the Alvarez side.
Even before Alvarez (52-1-2, 35 KOs) outpointed Daniel Jacobs in a title unification fight on May 4, he said he was open to a third fight with Golovkin — but only as long as Golovkin had a belt to bring to the table for a further unification. Of course, Alvarez knew GGG was fighting Rolls in a nontitle fight and would not have a belt for their proposed September fight.
After Golovkin blew Rolls away, Oscar De La Hoya, the Golden Boy CEO, continued the nonsensical talking point, taking to social media to offer these words to Golovkin: “Nice comeback win. Now fight a real fighter, win a belt, and I’ll consider doing the 3rd fight. #Caneloisyourboss.”
When apprised of De La Hoya’s comment, Golovkin smiled and brushed it off.
“I’m not really interested in what Oscar is doing, in what Oscar is saying,” he said. “I’m not really interested in that at all. What do you think, I should write him back? This is hype. Come on.”
De La Hoya and Alvarez clearly have forgotten something here, and that is when Golovkin faced Alvarez in 2017, Alvarez didn’t have a title to bring into the fight, either. That makes no difference in a fight of this magnitude.
“GGG fought Canelo when he had no belts, and they’re both bigger than whatever belts are around their waists,” Loeffler properly reasoned. “Those are mega events. The second fight was more exciting than the first fight. I think the third fight will be even more exciting. I don’t think there will be a huge issue making the third fight unless Canelo really doesn’t want to get in the ring a third time.”
The fight is likely to happen, and unlike when they were with HBO doing fights on pay-per-view with each other and they argued bitterly over the split of the revenue, there are no such issues with DAZN because both fighters have their money already spelled out. If there is one issue facing the third fight, it’s the site. Golovkin isn’t interested in going back to Las Vegas, where he feels he was twice ripped off by the judges.
“I have some bad feelings,” he admitted.
Golovkin had no say in the site for the first fight or for the second fight. He has more leverage this time around and is interested in going somewhere else, such as Dallas, San Antonio or Madison Square Garden, which has major interest.
“Canelo fought here [in December], Gennady fought here,” Loeffler said. “We met with [Garden owner] James Dolan [during fight week]. He said if there’s a way to bring it here, he’ll do everything he can to bring it here. This is probably the most neutral place. … Ball’s in Canelo’s court.”
Valdez rolls on
Oscar Valdez retained his featherweight world title for the sixth time in a crowd-pleasing scrap with Jason Sanchez in the main event of the Top Rank Boxing on ESPN card on Saturday night in Reno, Nevada. Valdez (26-0, 20 KOs), 28, of Mexico, was in his second fight since suffering a badly broken jaw in against Scott Quigg in March 2018 and was also in his second fight with trainer Eddy Reynoso, best known as Canelo Alvarez’s trainer. Reynoso isn’t trying to change Valdez but is trying him to get him to fight smarter and to be more responsible on defense.
So far, so good as Valdez didn’t take a lot of punishment but still delivered an exciting fight with Sanchez (14-1, 7 KOs), 24, of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Sanchez may have lost by scores of 118-109, 118-109 and 117-110 but acquitted himself well in his first major test. Valdez dropped Sanchez to his rear end with a picture-perfect left hook to the chin in the fifth round and nearly stopped him in the 12th round in which he backed him up with a powerful right hand and doled out punishment in the final round. Valdez, who was clearly winning the fight, didn’t just coast to the final bell, which is another reason to thoroughly enjoy his fights.
The next step: Valdez is soon to move up to junior lightweight as it gets more difficult for him to make 126 pounds, but he probably will stick around featherweight for one more fight later this year. Top Rank recently signed former titlist Carl Frampton (26-2, 15 KOs), 32, of Northern Ireland, who will make his debut for the company in August. After that it’s highly likely we will see a showdown between Valdez and Frampton, a fight Top Rank has had its eye on making for the past couple of years. It would match two of the best in the division and probably deliver great action.
Prospect Watch: Israil Madrimov
There were several quality prospects that notched victories on the Golovkin-Rolls undercard, including super middleweight Ali Akhmedov, welterweight Brian Ceballo, junior middleweight Charles Conwell and middleweight Nikita “White Chocolate” Ababiy. But the best of all of them may be junior middleweight Israil Madrimov (3-0, 3 KOs), 24, a former amateur standout from Uzbekistan.
In March, in only his second pro fight, Madrimov looked awesome destroying Frank Rojas (who was 24-2 at the time) in the second round. On Saturday’s card, Madrimov continued to his fast rise by beating down the experienced Norberto Gonzalez (24-13, 13 KOs), 38, of Mexico, in a one-sided sixth-round knockout. Madrimov, who fights out of Indio, California, where he is trained by Joel Diaz, pounded Gonzalez throughout the bout until referee Shawn Clark stopped it at 49 seconds of the sixth round.
Co-promoted by Matchroom Boxing’s Eddie Hearn and World of Boxing, Madrimov is going to move quickly and he looks very capable of handling it. He wants a big fight now and could probably compete well with anyone in his division even after only three pro bouts.
“I was ready for the title shot. I was asking for it in my professional debut. I’ve been working on it,” Madrimov said. “I asked after my first fight, my second fight, my third fight. I’m going to keep asking, and my promoter knows what to do. As soon as my promoter gives me the chance, I’m ready for the fight.”
Fights you might have missed
Friday at Athens, Greece Lightweight George Kambosos Jr. (17-0, 10 KOs) TKO6 Richard Pena (11-3-1, 9 KOs).
Rising prospect Kambosos, 25, of Australia, is Greek and had his first chance to fight in the homeland of his heritage and did so by disposing of Pena, 19, of Venezuela. Kambosos, who was one of Manny Pacquiao’s chief sparring partners for his January bout against Adrien Broner and had the chance to fight on the undercard in Las Vegas, dropped Pena in the fourth and fifth rounds before referee Giorgos Michailidis stopped the fight after Kambosos landed a barrage of unanswered punches.