With his dominant win over David Lemieux, Gennady Golovkin has a lot of buzz as one of boxing's new superstars. But 2016 could find the Kazakh wrecking machine in a bit of a bind as far as finding compelling opposition.
Sure, there are fighters out there -- big names, big challenges -- but will any of the fights happen, or will we see Golovkin scuffle along against the same sort of opposition he's been facing, something that may not be as forgivable now that he's being looked at as one of the sport's leading figures?
You can count out anyone from Al Haymon's Premier Boxing Champions stable, which includes middleweights Daniel Jacobs and Peter QUillin, as well as super middleweight titleholders James DeGale and Badou Jack, and top junior middleweights like Erislandy Lara and Houston twins Jermall and Jermell Charlo.
Let's take a look at who is, or at least could be, a possible opponent next year for GGG.
1. Miguel Cotto or Canelo Alvarez
This is obviously the fight that people want to see in 2016, or at least most people, or at least a lot of people, or at least people who accept Golovkin is staying at middleweight, and that Andre Ward has moved to light heavyweight.
Of the two, it's expected that Canelo Alvarez (45-1-1, 32 KO) would be more likely to take the fight. Promoter Oscar De La Hoya says he'd make it, but he also backed off of saying that he would make it next, even though the WBC has mandated that the winner of this fight must face Golovkin, who is mandatory challenger and the interim champion of the sanctioning body, which doesn't need an interim champion, but that's boxing for you.
Alvarez, 25, is bigger than Cotto (40-4, 33 KO) and closer to being a legitimate middleweight. Cotto, at 5'7", is a former junior welterweight who spent the bulk of his career at 140 and 147, and his middleweight career has thus far amounted to a pair of catchweight fights with an injury-riddled Sergio Martinez and Daniel Geale, a fighter Golovkin had already wiped out in 2014. He's fighting Alvarez at a catchweight of 155, a mere pound north of the junior middleweight division and a full five short of the middleweight limit. I've got no problem with catchweights, but Cotto very clearly is not a middleweight, and does not seem to have any intention of truly fighting as one. He weighed in at 155 for his fight with Martinez, and at 153½ for his fight with Geale.
If Cotto beats Canelo, then Miguel will definitely be the A-side for a potential fight with Golovkin. He's an established star, a real money fighter, and a win over Alvarez would just make him an even hotter property -- in fact, it could potentially be considered a career-best win for the future Hall of Famer, particularly considering that at 34, he's seen as being on the downside of his career.
In other words, Cotto emerging as the winner on November 21 would give the Puerto Rican star and Roc Nation Sports some leverage in any potential negotiation with Golovkin, which would mean that they could attempt to impose a catchweight they think would be beneficial to their chances. Golovkin has said he could still make even 154 pounds, but he said that about fighting Floyd Mayweather, who had no reason to fight Golovkin. Cotto may have a reason -- fight Gennady or be stripped of the WBC belt. Of course, given that Cotto would still be considered lineal champion of the middleweight division, he may or may not care about the WBC belt enough to risk a fight with GGG.
This whole situation may seem to the casual fan like it's easy to figure -- Golovkin won on October 17, so he fights the winner of Cotto-Canelo. Simple, right? Wrong. So very wrong. This is boxing. Nothing is ever truly simple. If you're rooting for the winner of this fight to fight Golovkin, root for Canelo, and even then, don't expect it to come next, no matter what the WBC has said. Sanctioning bodies play favorites, and the Mexico-based WBC has seemingly shown favoritism to Mexican fighters in the past, as well as bankable star fighters. Canelo Alvarez is both.
2. Andy Lee or Billy Joe Saunders
GGG's trainer Abel Sanchez says that ultimately, the goal of Team Golovkin is to unify all four titles at middleweight. They've got the WBA and IBF belts. The Cotto-Canelo winner will have the WBC belt, as well as the lineal championship. And the Lee-Saunders winner will come out of December 19 with the WBO belt, currently held by Lee.
This fight has been postponed twice, originally set for September and then October, before being rescheduled again for December. So it seems that come hell or high water, we're going to see Andy Lee (34-2-1, 24 KO) fight Billy Joe Saunders (22-0, 12 KO) at some point. Hopefully in December. (Knock on wood.)
Neither guy presents a particularly big threat to Golovkin, but title unification is important to GGG, so the fight makes sense on that level. Plus, the winner will be a legitimate top five middleweight, so even if it seems like a mismatch -- Lee is powerful but very easy to hit, and Saunders does not seem like he has anything in his game that would trouble Golovkin at all -- it's a mismatch entirely because Golovkin is so good.
3. Tureano Johnson
Tureano Johnson (19-1, 13 KO) was on the Golovkin-Lemieux undercard for a reason. His one-sided decision win over Eamonn O'Kane was an IBF eliminator, and Golovkin took the IBF belt from Lemieux in the main event.
Johnson, 31, is a good fighter, but this matchup would be akin to Golovkin's fight with Willie Monroe Jr, an opponent who is credible, between legit contender and fringe contender, and realistically has no hope of winning. In his biggest fight to date, Tureano did box very well against Curtis Stevens, but was stopped -- albeit somewhat controversially -- in the 10th and final round, with just 51 seconds to go in the fight. Whether or not you agreed with that stoppage, the reality is that Stevens did eventually get to Johnson and have him in some trouble. Golovkin is a lot better than Stevens, which was proven in 2013 when Golovkin beat the stuffing out of Stevens. He hits harder, is more accurate, and is a vastly superior overall boxer.
This fight could happen in early 2016, though, if Golovkin wants to take his yearly trip to Monte Carlo, where he's beaten Nobuhiro Ishida, Osumanu Adama, and Martin Murray from 2013-15. He makes good money fighting over there, and the opponent doesn't have to be a star for him to fill the ballroom. Plus, HBO isn't going to pass up airing a Golovkin fight anymore, so there would be HBO money in it, too. It's a mandatory so it has to happen at some point so long as both are at 160.
4. Andre Ward
It's not impossible that Ward (28-0, 15 KO) could move back down to super middleweight if Golovkin and his team want the fight and so does Ward, who just signed a new deal with HBO that is meant to lead Ward to a fight with light heavyweight titleholder Sergey Kovalev. If Golovkin-Ward is a hotter topic than Kovalev-Ward, and everyone thinks it's a bigger seller, it could work out. But this is assuming that both sides want it badly enough, and even though neither guy has ever been one to steer away from a challenge, that may not be the case.
That's not to say that either of them would be "ducking" the fight. Golovkin is a middleweight. Ward, for now, is eyeing the light heavyweight division after a triumphant run at super middleweight. At 31, Ward might just be ready to leave that extra handful of pounds he had to drop to make 168 behind him. And it's not like the idea of fighting Sergey Kovalev, in some ways a bigger version of Golovkin, is weak. Maybe this just isn't a fight that's going to work out. But again, not impossible.
5. Bernard Hopkins
Bernard Hopkins turns 51 in January. In interviews both before and after the fight with David Lemieux, Hopkins sounded like he was nearly salivating at the idea of fighting Golovkin, at least if he were a younger man and still a middleweight.
Bernard isn't going to get younger and he's not going to drop to 160 pounds again. However, Hopkins does intend to fight Arthur Abraham for the WBO super middleweight title in early 2016. He's stated he'd like his next fight to be a farewell, but I mean, come on. If Bernard Hopkins were to beat Arthur Abraham, feel good at the weight, and someone offered him a fight at 168 with GGG, do you think he'd turn it down? Or would his curiosity get the best of him?
Sure, Hopkins (55-7, 32 KO) was shut out by Sergey Kovalev in 2014, but Kovalev is a light heavyweight. Golovkin is a middleweight. Bernard is taller than Golovkin and believes in his heart that boxing is a chess match, and that he's the best chess player there is.
Like the fight with Ward, this is not likely, but it's not impossible.
Two Others: Fedor Chudinov and Chris Eubank Jr
Chudinov (14-0, 10 KO) holds the WBA super middleweight title, so if Golovkin wanted to move up in weight and immediately go for a belt, the Russian would make sense as an opponent. He's been solid but not exactly spectacular in wins over Felix Sturm and Frank Buglioni this year, and has a December 5 rematch with Sturm set in Germany.
Eubank (19-1, 14 KO) is a brash, confident young fighter whose father believes that he could beat Golovkin, or at least he's said so publicly. Without fighting anyone of true note, Eubank took a risk and fought Billy Joe Saunders last year. He came up just a bit short with a great rally down the stretch, and has recently signed with Matchroom Boxing. That may complicate matters, as Matchroom has worked pretty closely with Al Haymon this year, but there is no exclusive deal with the two. Eubank has a name, a flashy style, and seemingly a lot of guts. It would seem foolish to rush him into a fight with Golovkin next year, but then it seems foolish for almost anyone at 160 to want to fight Golovkin right now.