A Bit of Backstory
Last year, there were two major fighters that made waves in the Middleweight division. One was the resurgent Miguel Cotto, moving up in weight to roughly seize the WBC Middleweight title from the declining Sergio Martinez. The other was a dark force of nature by the name of Gennady Golovkin.
A silver medalist in the 2004 Olympic Games with a stellar 345-5 amateur record, the ever-smiling Golovkin has left a trail of unconscious bodies in the ring since his pro debut in 2006. Drawing comparisons to Mike Tyson in his heyday, Golovkin's legendary knockout power has garnered him legions of new fans in 2014 after he separated both Daniel Geale and Marco Antonio Rubio from their senses within 3 rounds. The Kazakh holds the highest knockout percentage (90%) in Middleweight titleholder history, and looks to extend that against his next challenger.
Martin Murray, the current top ranked UK Middleweight, is a fighter perhaps best known for his lone loss to Sergio Martinez and draw to Felix Strum, both of whom were close contests that many believe that he should have won. Though Martinez was in the twilight of his career, Murray's performance that night was better than anyone could have predicted. He outboxed the then-champion in the middle rounds and even scored a knockdown in the 8th. However, fighting in Argentina, on the defending champ's home turf, Murray walked away with a decision loss. Since then, the scrappy Brit has won four in a row, captured the WBC Silver Middleweight belt, and looks hungry to stake his claim at the top of the division.
Styles: Strengths and Weaknesses
By now, Gennady Golovkin's name is synonymous with brutal knockouts, but the Kazakh's offense leading up to those exciting finishes is actually craftily built around a pressuring counterpunching game. Whereas counterpunching often involves the boxer waiting for the opponent to make the first move, Golovkin forces the opponent to act with his smothering ring cutting and jab to create opportunities for his vicious hooks.
Golovkin's (white trunks) pressure forces Gabe Rosado (blue trunks) to constantly maneuver with his back to ropes.
Gennady has some of the best ring cutting in boxing today. In this sequence, Golovkin, rather than simply following Rosado around the ring, constantly keeps his back foot ahead of Rosado's lead foot. This allows Gennady to constantly remain within trading distance of where Rosado will be, rather than following where his opponent was. Rosado constantly tries to move laterally to create angles of opportunity, but always finds Golovkin's body physically blocking off his escape routes. From here, Rosado is forced to jab to maintain distance, and eats a counter jab for his efforts.
The lynchpin of Golovkin's offense is his heavy jab, most noticeably used to set up Gennady's fight-ending hooks. Typical hook setup combinations, like the 1-2-3, the 1-3, or 2-3 use the jab (1) and the straight right (2) up the center to cause the opponent to narrow their defense, allowing the subsequent hook (3) to travel around the guard. Most recently against the tough Marco Antonio Rubio, Golovkin utilized the jab setup to great effect.
In this sequence, Golovkin twice uses a jab to get Rubio to raise his guard, and then hammers down a looping overhand right over and around Rubio's gloves, his power clearly troubling the challenger. When Rubio recovers, Gennady throws two jab-hook combinations off of his lead hand for the same purpose-to get the challenger to cover up and create openings for his curved punches.
The Kazakh's jab alone is not particularly special. He throws it with more of a pushing motion than a snap, but his jab ridiculously versatile, allowing Golovkin to gauge distance, counter his opponent's jab from the inside angle, engage, start combinations, disengage, and disrupt his opponent. The sheer volume with which Golovkin throws the jab, along with the power he possesses, allows Gennady to bully his opponents and force the fight to remain in his preferred distance.
Here, Golovkin wades in behind his jab to set up brutal overhand rights that drive Rubio back into the ropes. Realizing that he's a too close to effectively get the maximum extension of his punches, Gennady disengages with more two solid jabs, reestablishes his distance, and then dives back in with a blistering 1-2 punctuated by three brutal left hooks targeting both the head and body.
Golovkin's variety in his combination punching is pleasure to watch. When the Kazakh sees a hint of vulnerability in his opponent, he unloads with some of the most creative hook combinations I've ever seen.
Once Gennady forces Rubio on the ropes, it's touch-hook, touch-touch-hook, touch-touch-hook. Lovely stuff.
Gennady rocks Rubio with a slick hook-uppercut combination through his guard, and while the challenger stumbles back, hammers left hooks to the body until Rubio backs into the ropes. Golovkin then goes to work, alternating hooks to both sides and targeting multiple levels of Rubio's body and head. Repeatedly within the combination, Gennady touched with the jab to force Rubio to maintain turtled behind a high guard, allowing Golovkin to continue to load up on his long hooks, eventually breaking down the challenger.
As calculated and creative as his offense is, many critics gripe about Gennady's defense, stating that he lacks head movement. While Golovkin does, on occasion, demonstrate some slick head slips, he typically favors a defensive system centered on using his shoulders and gloves to catch and turn aside blows.
In this match, Gennady (white trunks) faced a very game Daniel Geale (black trunks). From the onset, Geale's game plan was obvious. He pushed a high pace, utilizing quick footwork and volume punching to try to counter Gennady's pressuring, jab-reliant offense. Golovkin preferred to dig his chin behind his upraised shoulders, often flaring out his elbows to catch and slide off the incoming punches.
The most effective offense that's been mounted against Golovkin is when opponents either draw out the jab and counter it, or catch Gennady in the middle of a combination (a very risky gamble). Gennady's bout with the stocky and durable Curtis Stevens was perhaps one of the best examples of an opponent implementing both methods.
Stevens used a tight guard to inch closer to Golovkin, firing his jab as Golovkin probed with his own jab.
Stevens weathered a Golovkin combination and then countered over his hands while Gennady began to load up
When Golovkin is pressured by a puncher with legitimate power (like Stevens), he has a bad tendency to retreat backwards in a straight line, taking more punches than necessary in the process(as seen in the second gif). The instances in which Gennady finds himself pressured are few and far between however, as Golovkin seems to have gotten even more confident with his own power. Several times against Geale and Rubio, Golovkin was tagged during his combinations, but powered through to overwhelm his opponent with his own offense. This reckless mindset may cause Golovkin issues in the future should he ever face a heavy-handed, counterpunching-savvy opponent.
As one of the top middleweights in the world, Martin Murray is remarkably average. A tall boxer that prefers to fight on the outside, Murray is solid in all aspects of the sweet science. He's fast and lanky, with textbook technique, but doesn't seem to possess anything that makes him offensively or defensively extraordinary. Most of the time, Murray's offense looks like this:
Murray (white and blue trunks) has a very active lead hand. He prefers a wide stance and does not throw with much variety; almost exclusively using a busy left jab, straight right, and an occasional left hook. He has a penchant to circle towards the left while firing 3-4 jabs to set up a single right hand, always leaps out directly afterwards, and forces the clinch if his opponent tries to fight at close distance.
Martin Murray's most distinctive feature is perhaps his tight high guard that he constantly maintains and throws punches from no matter the round or situation.
Upon engaging, Murray (white trunks) will paw with his left to gauge distance before rattling off multiple snapping jabs. If Golovkin's jab was a breaching shotgun, Murray's jab would be a .22 hunting rifle. It's fast and accurate, but lacks the same level of power because the Brit does not load up much on these jabs. The purpose of these jabs are to test his opponent's defense and set up his straight right, all the while maintaining the "earmuffs" high guard. It's this calculated offense that frustrated Sergio Martinez in their bout in 2013. Martinez, which his typical hands down style, had a difficult time finding chinks in Murray's tight shell while the Brit peppered him with straight jabs up the middle.
Murray only throws combinations with both hands when he has his opponent covering up or completely on the defensive.
In this sequence, Murray starts of with a clean, straight 1-2 combination, followed by another 1-1-2. His opponent (Domenico Spada) begins to react whenever he sees Murray throw the jab; he expects a straight right to follow soon after and raises a tight guard. However, Murray throws another straight jab, but follows up this time with a long right hook and two shovel hooks to the body. Typically an out fighter, Martin Murray is more than capable of throwing varied combinations and fighting close, as seen in his bout against Sergio Martinez.
Here Murray, holding his distinctive high guard, spears Martinez (red trunks) with a straight right to the body, and as Martinez's body bends forward from the rebound of the ropes, Murray tags him with a lovely double hook combination to the head and body. Martinez waves him forward, to which Murray obliges and lands a powerful 1-2, followed by more hooks to the head and body, and even finishes with a slick uppercut-left hook as Martinez comes forward. If anything, Martin is a very patient fighter. Even when Martinez opened up on the ropes, Murray kept his technique defensively tight and picked his shots well, intelligently targeting different levels and always ready with a counter should Martinez try to retaliate.
Murray has decent footwork when on the offensive, but, like Gennady, he also has the issue of retreating backwards in a straight line if his opponent rushes him.
When Domenico Spada leaps forward winging left hooks, Murray moves straight back into the ropes. He recovers, and resumes peppering Spada with some quick combinations, but gets cut off when circling out, and is pushed to the ropes again. The ease with which Spada was able to bully Murray on the ropes was alarming, and Murray's preference to cover up until he opponent was close enough to force a clinch is potentially dangerous against opponents who don't overcommit on their offense.
Many also criticize Murray for his general lack of power. In his Martinez fight, the ringside announcers, before his knockdown in round 8, repeatedly stated that Murray's punches lack the force to get Martinez to respect him. With only 12 finishes 29 victories, Murray's finishing rate pales in comparison to many of the top boxers in the division, especially to the likes of Gennady Golovkin.
The Matchup and What to Look For
On paper, Martin Murray's jab-reliant, high guard style would make him food for Golovkin. Gennady's entire offense is designed to get his opponent to cover up and loop around their defense with hooks. With Murray's habit of constantly turtling up, Golovkin will have a field day pounding away at the Brit's defense. Murray does have the savvy and the timing to try to catch Golovkin on the way in like Stevens did, but while Stevens is a stocky, powerful puncher, Murray's quick jabs and straight rights do not really seem to have the power to garner respect from the Kazakh. Murray's susceptibility to getting pressured onto the ropes also serves him no favors against someone as good at cutting off the ring as Golovkin. If Murray tries to retreat to the ropes, clinch, and wait out a referee separation, he'll find himself hard pressed to get past Golovkin's versatile jab.
Murray, however, likely holds a slight speed and reach advantage. Look for Murray to maintain distance with his footwork and straight punches, and potshot from the outside. If Murray is to find success on Saturday, he can't afford to let Gennady outmaneuver him and impose his rhythm. Gennady will likely continue to do what's made him so successful-patiently cut off the ring, pressure behind a jab, and create opportunities to unload with his vicious combination punching. In a sport like boxing, anything can happen, but this is Golovkin's fight to lose.