Over the past three years, Gennady Golovkin has become one of the most talked-about stars in all of boxing. He started small when he came to HBO, facing Grzegorz Proksa in a Boxing After Dark event that drew a mere 685,000 viewers. It was not an encouraging number, but the performance, where he demolished Proksa with swarms of precision punches and devastating power, was something to build on.
That fight didn't do the big business on TV, but it did create some word of mouth buzz. Hardcore fans knew Golovkin from his overseas triumphs, but for most American fight fans, if you're not on their TV, they just don't know you. Golovkin had only just arrived.
Less than a year later, his HBO main event against Matthew Macklin drew 1.1 million viewers. His most recent fight, a win over Willie Monroe Jr, drew 1.338 million, peaking at 1.474 million.
Now, he's headed to pay-per-view. While Golovkin isn't going to become a million seller right off the bat, particularly sandwiched between last month's Mayweather-Berto fight and next month's Cotto-Canelo event. It's a busy pay-per-view season, and expectations for Golovkin's bout with David Lemieux are modest.
But Golovkin (33-0, 30 KO) making it to this point is an achievement, and a reflection of the globalization of the sport. American, Mexican, and Puerto Rican fighters have carried the vast majority of pay-per-view market since its inception, with Filipino Manny Pacquiao's rise to superstardom a major change of pace. It was something that wasn't predicted, but that in retrospect was inevitable -- if not Pacquiao, then someone else was going to break through. Boxing, after all, is an international sport, but the biggest money remains in the United States.
Now, Kazakhstan's Golovkin, with his charming personality and all action style, is in prime position to become a major star. He's become a must-see fighter, and Saturday's matchup might be his most must-see to date.
David Lemieux is not a star in the United States, but he could be. With just one HBO fight under his belt -- a 2014 win over past Golovkin victim Gabriel Rosado -- and a pair of losses in 2011 that still haunt the overall perception of him as a fighter, Lemieux is still doubted. The oddsmakers have him as a massive underdog, and there's plenty of good reason why.
Once, the 26-year-old Canadian slugger was seen as a potential superstar himself. He made himself a hot prospect with big power and a vicious streak, thrashing his opponents. When he met veteran Marco Antonio Rubio in 2011, he found an opponent who didn't break easily, absorbed Lemieux's aggression, and busted up a tired young fighter who wasn't used to being tested. When Lemieux's corner stopped the fight in the seventh round, he was upset, but the damage was done, and there was no real hope for him that night. Rubio was in control and pummeling Lemieux.
A follow-up loss to Joachim Alcine eight months later could have all but finished Lemieux's career. As quickly as he had entered the scene, he could have exited. Instead, Lemieux buckled down, worked with acclaimed trainer Marc Ramsay, and plotted a comeback path that has led him to the biggest fight of his life.
With nine straight wins, Lemieux (34-2, 31 KO) can now call himself "world champion," having beaten Hassan N'Dam for the vacant IBF belt in his last fight. Though N'Dam was resilient, Lemieux beat him with raw power, dropping him four times over the course of 12 rounds. It wasn't an easy night, but that wasn't what Lemieux needed. To prove he could overcome a quality fighter who didn't crumble under his power was something he still needed to do more than once.
Whether or not that prepares him for Golovkin is another story. Golovkin is not N'Dam. Golovkin isn't like anyone else in the middleweight division.
The ferociousness of Golovkin is unmatched, and he's not just a puncher. He's a quality boxer first, an offensive machine who throws a lot of punches and lands with accuracy. There is an idea that maybe he has defensive lapses, but there is another idea that he does that on purpose in order to give himself offensive openings when opponents begin to shy away.
Either way, that could be a much bigger issue against Lemieux than it was against Willie Monroe, a light punching, slick southpaw. We've seen Golovkin take good shots against Curtis Stevens, but that fight was one of the few where there seemed to be at least a little bit of an idea of how to attack Golovkin and give yourself a chance to win. Stevens wasn't good enough, and couldn't handle Golovkin's power. Is Lemieux? Can Lemieux?
That's the biggest question about the fight. Everyone knows that Golovkin is going to tag Lemieux at some point, and how Lemieux reacts to that and handles it will either seal his fate or give him a chance to pull a massive upset. Golovkin takes a good shot, and Lemieux's power, while legitimate, has not shown up in the truly stunning quality against his better opponents, and Golovkin is the best he's faced by a good bit.
How can David Lemieux win this fight, then? The short answer is, he probably can't. Golovkin is better than him. He's proven that he can bust up and tear through good opponents. While Golovkin is a new level for Lemieux, Lemieux is not a new level for Golovkin.
This fight is not attractive because it's even matchmaking. This fight isn't even attractive because it's two titleholders, and two legitimate top five guys in the division. It's attractive because the styles match up in such a way that there's no logical way that this thing sees the final bell of the 12th round. Action will always attract fight fans, and while it can never be truly guaranteed, this is close to a sure bet.
Gennady Golovkin is a fighter that could be a huge star in the very near future. When he came to HBO in 2012, it was step one to raising the profile of an established career. This is the next step up the ladder.