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Golovkin vs Derevyanchenko preview: What’s at stake, how they got here, and how the fighters match up

Gennadiy Golovkin takes on Sergiy Derevyanchenko this Saturday night in the DAZN main event.

Amanda Westcott/DAZN
Scott Christ is the managing editor of Bad Left Hook and has been covering boxing for SB Nation since 2006.

This Saturday night streaming live on DAZN from Madison Square Garden, Gennadiy Golovkin and Sergiy Derevyanchenko headline in a fight for a vacant 160-pound title, one that may be an even better matchup than you might think.

What’s at stake?

The vacant IBF middleweight title is on the line Saturday, which is a story in and of itself. Golovkin (39-1-1, 35 KO) won this title back in Oct. 2015, when he headlined an HBO pay-per-view card and took the strap from David Lemieux. He defended it against Kell Brook, Daniel Jacobs, and Canelo Alvarez, but was then stripped by the IBF for not fighting Derevyanchenko, his mandatory challenger, in the spring of 2018, when Canelo pulled out late of a scheduled rematch with Golovkin, which was going to feature the IBF belt at stake once again.

So the vacant belt was contested between Derevyanchenko and the aforementioned Jacobs in Oct. 2018, with Jacobs winning a split decision. Then Canelo won the title from Jacobs in May of this year, and then Canelo was ordered to face Derevyanchenko. Negotiations happened, and it looked like the fight would, too, but then terms weren’t reached, Golden Boy said Derevyanchenko’s team operated in bad faith and just wanted the title vacated, Canelo got stripped, and now we’re back to GGG vs Derevyanchenko, the fight the IBF wanted a year-and-a-half ago.

More than the belt, of course, is the potential for a Cinco de Mayo 2020 meeting with Canelo Alvarez, particularly if it’s Golovkin. Alvarez doesn’t seem that keen on facing GGG again, but DAZN want it and depending on what day of the week you ask him and what his last conversation with Canelo was like, Canelo’s promoter Oscar De La Hoya says it has to happen.

How did Gennadiy Golovkin get here?

Here’s a quick run-through of “Early GGG” so that we’re not here all week:

  • He was a standout amateur for Kazakhstan, winning gold at the 2003 World Championships and silver at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, where he was beaten in the final by Russia’s Gaydarbek Gaydarbekov, who was five years older than Golovkin. Gennadiy had a reported amateur record of 345-5.
  • Golovkin signed with Universum Box-Promotion and made his pro debut in 2006, and quickly became a top prospect. But he felt that UBP wouldn’t allow him to fight Felix Sturm, specifically, or Sebastian Zbik, so he left UBP in 2010. Sturm continued to avoid Golovkin despite both of them holding WBA titles, and eventually Golovkin made his way to the US.
  • A very intriguing fight with Dmitry Pirog in 2012, meant to be GGG’s HBO debut, was canceled late due to Pirog’s back issues, which ultimately retired him from the sport. GGG soldiered on and despite early low ratings on HBO, he became an organic rising star with destructive wins over Grzegorz Proksa, Gabriel Rosado, Nobuhiro Ishida, Matthew Macklin, Curtis Stevens, Osumanu Adama, Daniel Geale, Marco Antonio Rubio, Martin Murray, and Willie Monroe Jr.
  • He headlined on HBO pay-per-view (it didn’t sell great) in Oct. 2015, stopping big punching David Lemieux to unify the WBA and IBF middleweight titles. By this point there was demand for Golovkin to face Canelo Alvarez, but Canelo didn’t take the fight, leaving GGG to rout Dominic Wade and a brave but physically overmatched Kell Brook in his next two outings.
BOXING: MAR 18 Golovkin v Jacobs Photo by Williams Paul/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Let’s dig in at 2017, then. Golovkin faced Daniel Jacobs on HBO pay-per-view in Mar. 2017, winning a tight unanimous decision. Jacobs snapped Golovkin’s long stoppage streak, which dated back to 2008, and became the first fighter to go 12 rounds with GGG. It didn’t expose Golovkin or show chinks in the armor so much as it proved the Kazakh was human, which was good to know because he was starting to get a little Terminator-y and it was almost becoming worrisome.

Finally, Golovkin and Canelo Alvarez signed a contract and met in Sept. 2017. It was a true big fight, one that broke through the normal boxing hardcore audience and a bit more into the mainstream. After 12 rounds of nip-and-tuck action, the judges returned split draw scores, including Adalaide Byrd’s absolutely absurd 118-110 Canelo card. It was a fight many thought Golovkin deserved to win, but Canelo didn’t lack supporters, either.

After the rematch for May 2018 was scrapped when Alvarez nobly stepped away from the fight having failed VADA drug tests, blaming contaminated beef in Mexico, Golovkin wanted to keep his Cinco de Mayo date. There was talk of him facing IBF mandatory challenger Sergiy Derevyanchenko, but that didn’t come through. There was talk of him facing a relatively unknown young Mexican named Jaime Munguia, but Nevada refused to sanction that matchup.

In the end, the event moved to California, and Vanes Martirosyan came up from 154 pounds to face Golovkin. Martirosyan was trucked in two. The bigger story for GGG in that time period was that the IBF wouldn’t allow their belt to be defended in that fight, and wound up stripping Golovkin for not facing Derevyanchenko.

In Sept. 2018, Canelo-GGG II came together again, after some intense haggling that put the fight in doubt to the point that Billy Joe Saunders, a fellow middleweight titleholder at the time, scrapped repeated dates claiming injury in order to make himself available for one of them if the fight did not come off. It did, though. This time, in another incredibly competitive fight, Canelo got the majority decision nod. Once again, GGG and his supporters felt he’d done enough to win.

When HBO closed up their boxing shop at the end of 2018, Golovkin became a broadcast free agent. He took his time and weighed a lot of big offers — ESPN, DAZN, Showtime — before eventually signing a lucrative deal with DAZN. He returned at a 164-pound catchweight for a get-well fight against Canadian Steve Rolls on June 8, knocking Rolls out viciously in the fourth round at MSG.

There was a lot of talk about GGG facing Canelo for a third time this fall, but the fight didn’t come together. When the IBF stripped Canelo of their middleweight title, Golovkin got the call to try to regain that piece of the middleweight crown, and now we have Saturday coming up.

How did Sergiy Derevyanchenko get here?

Ukraine’s Derevyanchenko is nicknamed “The Technician,” and with good reason. He’s a fundamentally sound fighter with some pop, doesn’t make many mistakes in the ring, and can be counted on to compete against anyone, at least so far in his pro career.

As an amateur, Derevyanchenko won bronze at the 2007 World Championships, and competed at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. He fought in the World Series of Boxing from 2010-2014, going 23-1, with his only loss coming to Brian Castano, who would go on to win some claim to a junior middleweight world title as a pro, and is still a top contender at 154 pounds.

Derevyanchenko turned full pro in the summer of 2014, and after three fights to get acclimated, started facing competent professionals. In 2015, he scored solid wins over Vladine Biosse, Alan Campa, Elvin Ayala, and Jessie Nicklow. In 2016, he stopped veteran Sam Soliman, a former titleholder, in the second round.

2017 saw Derevyanchenko graduate to the world level in a matchup with Tureano Johnson, an IBF eliminator. The skills of “The Technician” were on full display in that one, as he patiently and methodically outboxed Johnson for 11 rounds, then dropped and stopped him in the 12th and final frame.

Sergiy Derevyanchenko v Daniel Jacobs Photo by Edward Diller/Getty Images

After a win over veteran Dashon Johnson to stay busy in Mar. 2018, Derevyanchenko finally got his crack at a world title that October, facing Daniel Jacobs for the vacant IBF belt. Derevyanchenko went down in the first round, and for a moment it looked like it might be smooth sailing for the American, but Derevyanchenko battled back and wound up losing a split decision over the full 12 rounds. It was a fight where he proved plenty capable of competing at the top level of the 160-pound division.

Derevyanchenko has fought just once since then, and frankly looked a little pedestrian, a little uninspired in an April victory over Jack Culcay, a fight not many people saw as it aired on FS1 on a busy night for televised boxing. But the victory was legit, and it put Derevyanchenko right back in line for another IBF shot, which he has on Saturday.

How do the fighters match up?

Physically, Golovkin has the edge in the dimensions. At 5’10½”, he’s listed an inch-and-a-half taller than the 5’9” Derevyanchenko, and Sergiy’s 67½” reach falls short of Golovkin, who is listed at 70”.

Golovkin has a notable advantage in experience, too, especially in big fights. Derevyanchenko is clearly a good fighter, but he’s only been in with a top middleweight once, when he lost to Jacobs in a good effort that saw him come up short.

But GGG is 37 to Derevyanchenko’s 33, too, and the natural miles on Golovkin can’t be ignored, even if he hasn’t been in a ton of super grueling fights. He’s fought 200 rounds as a pro, with Derevyanchenko at 81, and that’s not counting all the training camps.

Speaking of which, this will be the first legitimate test for Golovkin and trainer Johnathon Banks, who replaced Abel Sanchez in a big, pretty ugly split between GGG and his longtime teacher earlier this year. Banks trained Golovkin for the Steve Rolls fight in June, but not meaning any disrespect to Steve Rolls, really, the feeling is that anyone who knew a damn thing could’ve trained Golovkin to bulldoze Steve Rolls.

Banks has had success as a trainer and learned from a master in Emanuel Steward, but the relationship has to truly gel, even if both fighter and trainer are great at their jobs. And sometimes it just doesn’t work. Derevyanchenko has the ability to test GGG on Saturday, and if he does, then we’ll see what Banks and Golovkin come up with.

Style-wise, look, nobody’s ever really had Golovkin’s number by any means, but the guys who have given him his toughest fights were Canelo and Jacobs, two good boxers with enough pop to keep GGG honest and prevent him from loading up and barreling forward. We saw GGG play it more cautious than normal for several rounds against Lemieux back in 2015, too, because he respected the fact that Lemieux, even if not a great boxer, had the power to do serious damage if he wasn’t careful.

Derevyanchenko isn’t a Lemieux puncher, but he’s far from feather-fisted, and as fundamentally sound as he is, Golovkin probably won’t be able to get him to just walk on to something, either. That’s not saying GGG can’t catch him — Jacobs dropped Sergiy early a year ago — but one figures a lot of Derevyanchenko’s plan will be to avoid getting into firefights with GGG, and to avoid making the sort of mistakes that Golovkin can turn into a knockout.

Golovkin, too, is underrated if anything as a technician and tactician. There’s a good chance this winds up a lot more of a chess match than a fireworks display, but on that token, it could be a really good one.

Who’s the favorite?

As of this writing, Golovkin is the clear but not terribly overwhelming favorite. For a more casual fan, Golovkin is really well-known in the sport the last, oh, four or five years at least, and Derevyanchenko still isn’t a real big name. So you might assume GGG is a huge favorite, but he’s really not.

Golovkin right now is listed between -420 and -527, which, again — good, solid odds in his favor, he’s definitely supposed to win, but they aren’t crazy mismatch odds.

Derevyanchenko is listed between +315 and +384 at the moment. There are clearly some people who believe in his chances here, whether that’s due to Golovkin’s age or whatever.

Who will win?

Check back for our staff picks on Friday at Noon ET!

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