On Saturday night, the consensus best middleweight on the planet - a truly destructive puncher who’s forced the best part of three divisions to look the other way - takes on one of the world’s top welterweights.
Gennady Golovkin (35-0, 32 KOs) doesn’t have a true signature win to his name yet, but only the most hardened cynic could argue that he’s looked anything other than an irresistible force since landing on HBO this time four years ago, albeit against, at times, a motley crew of middleweight contenders and ‘well, who else is there?’ sorts after others have gone running. Brook (36-0, 25 KOs) is a man likely about as good as anyone at 147lb, but a man who’s seen his career stall considerably since claiming his IBF strap with a decision nod against Shawn Porter in August 2014.
It’s probably true to say that both men have been capable of much more than we’ve already seen from them. Here, in a fight that nobody wanted, called for, or even saw coming, one born of happy coincidence after Chris Eubank Jr joined the long list of those who’ve decided to sidestep, rather than step up, both Golovkin and Brook get the chance to deliver against their highest-profile opponent to date.
A Brook win, of course, would shake the boxing world to its foundations. The long-hoped-for Canelo-Golovkin superfight would look even less likely than it does now, and Brook would have claimed one of the most impressive wins by any British fighter. Purely in betting terms, though, while Kell Brook (+500, 5/1 best price; +450, 9/2 general) beating Gennady Golovkin (-600, 1/6 general) would certainly be an upset, it wouldn’t be a particularly huge one.
For context, looking at other main events of the past twelve months, the price on the underdog here is a shade bigger than when Tyson Fury beat Wladimir Klitschko. A few notches bigger than if Amir Khan had beaten Canelo Alvarez. Almost identical to those on Lucian Bute, had he toppled James DeGale.
There are at least five fights on the Golovkin-Brook bill, to be staged at London’s O2 Arena, that, boiling down to the numbers, the layers would consider seismic upsets. Paul Smith Jnr, for example, takes on Daniel Regi (28-13, 15 KOs), a man listed on BoxRec as Hungary’s #2-ranked light-heavyweight, no less. Regi is available to back at a price five times bigger (+2500, 25/1) than that of Brook. Sheffield’s ‘Special One’, of course, stands a better chance than Norbert Nemesapati (+2200, 22/1) - Hungary’s premier super-middleweight - does of beating Callum Smith, a man on the cusp of a world title shot at 168lb.
If you've been exposed to the build-up to the main event, you’ll have heard from some that this, actually, is close to a 50-50 fight, seen that a Sky Sports poll has 46% of viewers picking Brook to dethrone the de facto middleweight king. You’ll also have read that Brook beating Golovkin would be one of the biggest upsets of all time. That Golovkin is the pound-for-pound number one, yet doesn’t have an elite win to his name. Much like the match-up itself, the fervour surrounding Golovkin-Brook has never quite established what it wants to be.
For Golovkin, the position of heavy betting favourite isn’t anything new, of course. That’s true even in the fantasy (for now) odds drawn up in the event that he takes on the men who most figure to be his toughest outs. At -400 (1/4), the Kazakh is strongly fancied to beat Canelo Alvarez (+350, 7/2), and similarly so at -300 (1/3) against the still-retired Carl Froch - the latter a fight that will almost certainly now go down as one of the very best that got away in recent years.
The widely-available -600 (1/6) on Golovkin looks to be fairly stable going into fight night, but it’s a stance that’s softened somewhat since the odds first opened. On the shock announcement of the fight - without doubt the best kind of fight announcement - several UK and European firms went up with an initial -1000 on GGG (Bet Victor and Paddy Power among them), with others touching -900 and -800.
Conversely, -500 (1/5) is the most generous quote we’ve seen on the favourite, oddly enough from William Hill on the same opening day that others went up at tens. It’s worth noting that there’s unlikely to be too much movement between time of writing and the opening bell - Brook is a relatively well-liked fighter in the UK, but there’s no Ricky Hatton-esque support likely to bring down the price, and one would expect a late move, if any were to materialise, to be on the Kazakh.
Throughout what’s been a brutally consistent (and, indeed, consistently brutal) streak of stoppages, the -600 on Golovkin here means that the oddsmakers consider Brook to be the toughest opponent he’s come up against since Grzegorz Proksa (Golovkin -500, at worst) in that aforementioned HBO debut in September 2012. Since then, it’s been a path of little resistance, and the bookies have taken few chances: -7000 (1/70) last time out against Dominic Wade, a man who Golovkin was willingly dropping his hands in front of so that Wade could punch him flush in the face; -1600 (1/16) against David Lemieux, arguably the best opponent Golovkin’s seen yet; -6000 (1/60) against Willie Monroe, arguably his most derided choice yet; -3300 (1/33) against Martin Murray. The list goes on.
Similarly, Brook - hampered by injury and a fairly rancid string of mandatory defences conjured up by the ever-reliable IBF - has been a landslide favourite in every bout since Porter, in which the Sheffield man was just shy of a 2/1 underdog. Blowout wins against Jo Jo Dan (Brook -1800, 1/18), Frankie Gavin (Brook -1400, 1/14) and Kevin Bizier (Brook -3000, 1/30) told us nothing other than what we already knew - that Brook was, and is, much, much better than that.
The result, then, is a curiosity that - much like Canelo-Khan, and the achingly predictable outcome that it brought about - is somehow easy to get excited as a spectacle, and very difficult to not look at.
Few would be surprised to learn that the layers don’t agree with the few who are predicting anything other than a Golovkin bloodbath here. A remarkable 33rd stoppage win for the man who holds the WBC, IBF, and fringe IBO belts (in addition to the WBA bauble that’s not up for grabs here - a peculiar decision given the WBA’s capricious track record) is, inevitably, deemed the most likely outcome in the Method of Victory side market, with an industry-best -275 (4/11, Betfair) available for the champion to win inside the distance. Most, however, go a touch shorter, and -350 (2/7) and 1/4 (-400) are more readily available.
A Golovkin decision - which would be his first since 2008 - is +650 (13/2), and with the Kazakh flitting being either being a slow starter, a man who likes to thoroughly scope out his opponent before dissecting them in the mid-rounds, or simply a guy who likes to give the audience a few minutes of entertainment, is a possible approach for those who don’t mind watching 36 minutes of potentially one-way action behind their fingers.
For Brook, the books have no real lean on how he wins, other than to say that they don’t believe he will. There’s plenty of discrepancy in the quotes available on a Brook decision - likely his best chance of finding a route to victory, should he establish what is a very good jab indeed early - with anything from +650 (13/2) to +1000 (10/1) to be had for the Brit to triumph on what is, technically, home field. Those expecting a powder keg atmosphere and a fiercely partisan crowd like those we’ve seen elsewhere in the UK - or even at the O2, for the likes of Anthony Joshua - are likely to be disappointed, though, with Golovkin a draw in his own right for the evening.
Much has been said about Brook growing into middleweight - but, while he looks good from what we’ve seen thus far, it’s difficult to imagine his power will trouble Golovkin any more than, say, murderous punchers like Lemieux and Stevens - fully-fledged at 160lb - did. Nonetheless, there’s +1200 (12/1) available for Brook backers who fancy their man to not only upset the apple cart, but to do so in the most spectacular of fashions. It’s -400 (1/4) that Brook touches the canvas at any point, with Golovkin +900 (9/1) to be forced to do the same.
Golovkin, despite his unerring knack for dispatching of every man put him in front of him, isn’t renowned for ending proceedings too early, and there’s a lingering feeling that his definition of a good night out doesn’t involve sending the paying public home after less than a round or so.
That said, Golovkin patiently working his way through the early going and his opponents being able to handle his power are two very different things. Wade - stopped inside two in April - is more the exception to the rule, however, with most taking Golovkin around midway. In all of Triple G’s 12 knockout wins since, and including Proksa, we’ve seen a mean average of 5.4 rounds, with half of those fights going into the second half. You’ll have to go as high as over 8.5 rounds here in the Over/Under markets to find an even money poke, which that form line would advise against.
For those still keen to employ that stat, there looks to be value in both the Under 5.5 (+180, 9/5) and Under 6.5 (+120, 6/5), or for those settled on the favourite, +125 (5/4) for Golovkin to close his Big Drama Show anywhere before the close of the sixth.
The best fight of the weekend isn’t, on paper, Golovkin-Brook, but it’s one that’s priced up very similarly: Roman Gonzalez (-650, 2/13) is a heavier favourite to step up in weight and see off the very legitimate Carlos Cuadras (+500, 5/1).
Back in London, the pick of the undercard sees IBF bantamweight titlist Lee Haskins at -250 (2/5) to successfully defend his belt in a rematch against Stuart Hall (+275, 11/4), and John Riel Casimero is a trappy-looking -138 (8/11) slight favourite against 8-0 prospect Charlie Edwards (+138) for the IBF strap at 112lb.