This Saturday night on HBO World Championship boxing, fearsome and avoided middleweight Gennady Golovkin makes his return in the headline bout of a doubleheader that will also feature top flyweight Roman Gonzalez making his HBO debut.
Neither of the two fights, if we're being entirely honest, look to be particularly competitive on paper. For Golovkin, it's another fight against someone who at least has the stones to step up to the plate against him, this time a slick American who is really more prospect than contender, but was offered an opportunity and is going to take it. Gonzalez will face a veteran who has been around the block two times over.
Let's take a look at the four fighters we'll see on Saturday night.
Gennady Golovkin vs Willie Monroe Jr
Middleweights, 12 rounds, for Golovkin's WBA title
Golovkin (32-0, 29 KO) has been a wrecking ball over his nine-year pro career, which began in Germany and has taken him to Denmark, Panama, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Monaco, and the United States, where he's settled into a groove save for a yearly winter trip to Monaco to make some money, and is now living in California.
HBO's Jim Lampley has taken to referring to him by his full name, Gennady Gennadyevich Golovkin, in a way that has begun to drip with the same sort of infatuation most recently reserved for Manny Pacquiao and Bernard Hopkins.
If there is a mark against Golovkin, it is the fact that he doesn't have the resumé against the division's very best, but even that is a bit overstated. The middleweight division has not exactly been bursting with elite fighters recently, and even more than that, guys like Sergio Martinez, Miguel Cotto, and Felix Sturm haven't exactly been beating down GGG's door. If anything, they have completely avoided facing him.
He does have some wins over solid contenders, and he's made those some of his more impressive performances. Matthew Macklin was knocked out in three rounds, not long after taking Martinez into the 11th and arguably getting robbed of a win over Sturm in Germany. He blasted out former titleholder Daniel Geale, Cotto's next opponent, in three rounds last year. And in his last outing in February, he battered England's Martin Murray into the 11th round, when referee Luis Pabon mercifully stepped in to stop the carnage. Murray had given Martinez quite a run in 2013, and had an argument for a win on the road in Argentina.
In lieu of facing the believed-to-be best fighters out there, Golovkin has faced anyone and everyone else who has dared step to the plate. He came to the States in 2012 for his HBO debut and smashed Grzegorz Proksa in five rounds, following that up four months later with a bloody manhandling of Gabriel Rosado in New York. Nobuhiro Ishida, Macklin, and Curtis Stevens followed in 2013, all stopped. Osumanu Adama, Geale, and Marco Antonio Rubio were put down last year. And Murray three months ago.
He's stopped his last 19 opponents, dating back to 2008, when he went the eight-round distance with Amar Amari, who may not have figured that seven years later, he'd be a piece of GGG trivia. (Mehdi Bouadla and Ian Gardner, for the record, are the other two opponents who lasted the distance, both also going eight rounds.)
What makes Golovkin so compelling to watch, even when we all dismiss his opposition? It's the style, and it's his odd charisma. "Good boy" and "big drama show" have become part of the boxing lexicon in 2015. He is sincere, his broken English often betraying any potential attempt to do the usual nice guy show that we get from so many overly PR-trained fighters of the modern era. He doesn't always say the right things, but he says what he means. He doesn't pretend a fight was an amazingly difficult challenge if he doesn't feel that way. Golovkin called his win over the courageous Murray "practice," but he didn't mean it as an insult or trash talk. He was simply telling the truth about his performance, and perhaps explaining, more than Murray's own amazing courage might, why the fight lasted as long as it did.
Willie Monroe Jr, 28, is hoping to shock the world. That's something we say a lot about the opponents who seem hopelessly overmatched on paper, and it's something fighters and their trainers talk about at the press conferences. Monroe's trainer, Tony Morgan, says that when -- not if, but when -- they beat Golovkin, everyone will be surprised except for Team Monroe.
It's a great line, and gives us something to write about ahead of what appears to be a predictable main event on HBO. It may come true one time in 1,000. And when an upset like this would be does happen, there's really no predicting when that one will happen when the other 999 fell as short as anticipated.
Monroe (19-1, 6 KO) has talent. The New Yorker, born in Rochester and living in Ithaca, has speed, moves well, and his southpaw stance makes him naturally a little bit tricky. Monroe has shown above average boxing skills that may be better than that, but it's hard to gauge when we're studying his last four fights for the most part -- two ten-rounders, an eight-rounder, and a six-rounder, none of them against anyone who could be considered a top contender.
In the Boxcino middleweight tournament of 2014, Monroe barely lost a round in outclassing Donatas Bondorovas (UD-6), Vitaliy Kopylenko (UD-8), and Brandon Adams (UD-10), followed by a January win against the tough Texas scrapper Bryan Vera in a Friday Night Fights main event.
Arguably the best win of that lot was Vera, a limited but incredibly determined veteran who had been in the ring with Julio Cesar Chavez Jr (twice, robbed the first time), Serhiy Dzinziruk, Sergio Mora (two wins), Andy Lee (a win and a loss), and James Kirkland, among quality fighters. He's long been used as a gatekeeper sort. Boxers should beat him, and Monroe did, quite clearly, but there have certainly been nights when his style and determination have upset the apple cart. Monroe handled his business.
But Vera is no Golovkin. Vera, for all his toughness and pressure, is not a puncher. Golovkin has withering power in both hands, and his body shot "luckypunch" is a killer.
If Monroe is to have a shot against Golovkin, there are three keys:
- Box out your skin, moving and avoiding Golovkin's power, pressure, and accuracy
- Pepper Golovkin with shots from range and control the tempo
- Hope Golovkin is ill, injured, or otherwise not at 100% somehow
None of this is meant at any sort of insult to Monroe, it's just the reality of how this fight breaks down on paper. When Jim Lampley asked Max Kellerman on the latest episode of HBO's "The Fight Game" if Monroe had a chance at ending Golovkin's streak, Kellerman summed up the feeling of pretty much everyone with a one-word answer: "Nope."
Roman Gonzalez vs Edgar Sosa
Flyweights, 12 rounds, for Gonzalez's WBC title
Nicaragua's Roman "Chocolatito" Gonzalez is a three-weight world champion, one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the sport, and is so good that as a flyweight, he's getting a crack on HBO, a network that last featured a flyweight bout on the main network in 1995.
Gonzalez (42-0, 36 KO) is sort of a flyweight Golovkin with a patient, powerful attack, putting together great combinations when he sees the chance to do so. He is not a defensive virtuoso, but doesn't beat himself in that area, either.
For many American fight fans, this will be the first time they see Gonzalez in action. For many others still, it will be the first time they'll get to see him live in HD, not in a YouTube video or whatever.
Gonzalez, 27, may not be on his way to becoming an HBO headliner, but you never know. If there's a flyweight who can do that, it's "Chocolatito." He'll be making the second defense of his WBC flyweight title in this fight, a belt he won last September against Akira Yaegashi, and defended in November against Rocky Fuentes, stopping both foes. Most recently, Gonzalez took a stay-busy fight at home in Nicaragua, beating journeyman Valentin Leon in a super flyweight bout. Perhaps sooner than later, Gonzalez will be at that weight anyway, not because he needs to be, but perhaps just as an attempt to see if he can go even further.
Edgar Sosa (51-8, 30 KO) has seemingly been around forever. The 35-year-old Mexican fighter held the WBC junior flyweight title from 2007 to 2009, beating Brian Viloria to win the vacant belt before controversially losing it to Rodel Mayol. In between, he made ten successful title defenses.
In 2011, he challenged the all-time great Pongsaklek Wonjongkam for the WBC flyweight belt, but fell short over 12 rounds in Bangkok. He stayed in the mix in 2012, beating Wilbert Uicab for the WBC Silver belt, defending that successfully against Shigetaka Ikehara, Ulises "Archi" Solis, and Giovani Segura, before losing a second WBC title bid against Akira Yaegashi in 2013, once again widely outpointed on the road, this time in Tokyo.
Sosa has won two straight, beating Omar Salado and Carlos Melo, a couple of journeymen types. For Sosa, this is both new ground and well-worn territory. He's fought in 14 world title fights during his 15-year pro career, but it's fair to say he's never faced anyone quite as good as Gonzalez, and given his advanced age and failures at this weight against Pongsaklek and Yaegashi, it seems exceptionally unlikely that he's going to give the pound-for-pound contender significant trouble. In some ways, this figures to be a showcase for Gonzalez, and Sosa a sacrificial lamb, a WBC favorite who is getting another crack at the title that he arguably doesn't deserve -- for the greater good.
HBO World Championship Boxing is live on Saturday night at 10 pm EST from The Forum in Los Angeles.