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

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GGG is back this Saturday, taking on an opponent more unknown than anything.

Tom Hogan/GGG Promotions

This Saturday night live on DAZN, Gennadiy Golovkin returns to action against little-known Steve Rolls in the main event at Madison Square Garden.

What’s at stake?

No belts on the line in this 164-pound catchweight fight — not because it’s a catchweight, but because neither guy has belts — but for Golovkin in particular, there is plenty at stake. GGG is still seen as the No. 2 middleweight in the sport and the biggest threat to Canelo Alvarez at that weight. DAZN figures to be pushing hard for Canelo-GGG III in September, and Golovkin obviously can’t afford a slip-up if he wants that fight (which he does). For Rolls, he’s in a no-lose situation. A win makes him somebody — a possible Canelo opponent, for starters — a loss basically means nothing other than he took a shot.

How did Gennadiy Golovkin get here?

Now 37, GGG was a standout amateur early this century, winning gold at the 2002 Asian Games and 2003 World Championships, where he beat Matt Korobov, Andy Lee, Lucian Bute, Yordanis Despaigne, and Oleg Mahskin. Golovkin then took silver at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, where as a middleweight he lost to Russia’s Gaydarbek Gaydarbekov, who had won silver at Sydney 2000.

Golovkin turned pro in 2006, signing with Universum Box-Promotion. His first notable win came in 2007, when he defeated tough Siarhei Khamitski in what was just Golovkin’s eighth pro bout. Golovkin kept rolling for the next couple of years, then faced Milton Nunez in Aug. 2010 for the interim WBA middleweight title in Panama City. Golovkin knocked Nunez out in 58 seconds.

From there, GGG began his serious run, recognized as WBA “world” champion, secondary to Felix Sturm’s WBA “super world” title. He knocked out Nilson Julio Tapia in three, stopped veteran Kassim Ouma in 10 (Ouma hung around, but the scores were probably closer than they should have been when the stoppage came), Lajuan Simon in one, and Makoto Fuchigami in three. Those fights took place in Kazakhstan, Panama, Germany, and Ukraine.

By this point, Golovkin was a known rising force at 160 whose reputation was spreading worldwide, even though he’d yet to fight in the US. It was felt that Sturm was flat-out avoiding him, and Golovkin flat-out said at the time that Sturm was ducking him.

In 2012, that fight was due, and Tom Loeffler, now promoting Golovkin with K2, made a deal with the WBA that Sturm was allowed one more voluntary defense before a mandatory with GGG had to be enforced. Both of them fought on Sept. 1, 2012, Sturm in Germany against IBF titleholder Daniel Geale, and Golovkin in Verona, New York, making his HBO debut against Grzegorz Proksa.

Sturm lost a split decision to Geale, while Golovkin trounced Proksa in five. The Proksa fight was interesting, too, because the original opponent was supposed to be undefeated Russian Dmitry Pirog, who held the WBO title and had beaten Daniel Jacobs in 2010. Pirog wanted the HBO main event so badly he was even going to give up the WBO belt, which he had been ordered to defend against Hassan N’Dam.

But a back injury forced Proksa to withdraw and eventually retire. It’s always been sort of interesting to wonder what might have happened between Golovkin and the formidable Pirog had Pirog been healthy.

With the Sturm fight dead and HBO ratings for Golovkin-Proksa pretty abysmal (just 685K tuned in, the lowest of the year for HBO at that point), it was a real question if HBO would march forward with Golovkin or possibly be scared off. Luckily, they stuck with the rising star, seeing in him what boxing fans did — a destroyer of a 160-pound fighter who had the in-ring charisma to break out.

Golovkin returned to HBO in Jan. 2013, fighting Gabriel Rosado on the Orlando Salido-Mikey Garcia undercard in New York. He demolished Rosado, who showed his trademark toughness in lasting into the seventh round when his trainer compassionately threw in the towel to stop the assault.

Golovkin took a trip to Monte Carlo next, wiping out Nobuhiro Ishida in three rounds, then returned to the States to face Matthew Macklin, another solid contender. Golovkin blasted Macklin out with a brutal body shot in round three.

American puncher Curtis Stevens was next in Nov. 2013, Golovkin’s fourth fight of the year. Stevens figured to at least have a puncher’s chance, but then in the second round, he was drilled with a left hook, and his reaction went viral:

Golovkin would continue to chip away at Stevens and stopped him in the eighth round.

GGG’s 2014 opened with another trip to Monte Carlo to dominate Osumanu Adama, and then he faced Daniel Geale — no longer a titleholder — in July, finishing the Aussie in three. Marco Antonio Rubio went down in two rounds in October, and it was on to 2015 and another Monaco vacation, this time to face Martin Murray.

Murray wasn’t competitive, necessarily, but he did push it into the 11th round before the fight was stopped, with Murray having gone down three times by then. Three months later, Golovkin manhandled Willie Monroe Jr, then got a chance to headline an HBO pay-per-view in Oct. 2015 against David Lemieux.

Golovkin-Lemieux did lousy pay-per-view numbers, and the fight wasn’t one of GGG’s more exciting, either. Lemieux was and is a seriously dangerous puncher, but also a bit of a one-trick pony. It’s a hell of a trick, mind you, but Lemieux is fairly predictable. Golovkin fought a bit more cautiously than usual, respecting Lemieux’s power — and Lemieux’s only chance to win — but still got an eighth round stoppage and dropped the Canadian in the fifth.

The win over Lemieux gained Golovkin the IBF middleweight title, and he also was recognized as “interim” WBC titleholder by this point, picked up in his 2014 win over Rubio.

Mandatory challenger Dominic Wade faced Golovkin in April 2016 and almost lasted two full rounds. With Golovkin struggling to find opponents — Canelo Alvarez, or at least Canelo’s team, didn’t want to know about GGG at this point — he faced Kell Brook, a welterweight titleholder coming up two divisions, at London’s O2 Arena in Sept. 2016. Brook had a little success, but then Golovkin broke Brook’s face and the British star’s corner threw in the towel in the fifth round.

Gennady Golovkin v Daniel Jacobs Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

In March 2017, Daniel Jacobs was next for GGG. Jacobs had an amazing career story, losing as a prospect to Pirog in 2010, battling cancer that nearly ended his life, let alone his career, and then battling back to become a top contender at 160, as was always the plan for him.

Jacobs went down in the fourth, but battled back and boxed well enough to make it a very close fight. Golovkin got the scores, 114-113, 115-112, and 115-112, but his 23-fight stoppage streak ended at Madison Square Garden, which was something of a happening in itself. Golovkin called Jacobs his “best opponent” after the fight, and made clear that he wanted Canelo Alvarez next.

He got Canelo finally, as the two signed to fight on Sept. 16, 2017, at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. It was a fight that lived up to its hype, more or less, with both men proving they were top-flight middleweights, no question. The judges came back with a draw, which was controversial enough, not to mention Adalaide Byrd’s moronic 118-110 Alvarez card.

Whatever anyone thought of the result, there was still unfinished business and a rematch was signed for May 5, 2018. Then Alvarez failed drug tests for clenbuterol, which he said came from tainted Mexican beef. Before the fight could be canceled, Alvarez bravely bowed out of the fight.

GGG kept the Cinco de Mayo date, now on HBO instead of pay-per-view, and eventually found an opponent in Vanes Martirosyan. The matchup gave us a chance to glimpse the old destroyer version of GGG, as he laid waste to Martirosyan inside of two rounds.

The Canelo rematch came in Sept. 2018. This time, Alvarez won a majority decision, no less controversial than their first meeting. HBO got out of the boxing game at the end of 2018, leaving Golovkin to search for a new broadcast partner. Fielding offers from everyone, he settled on DAZN and the quickest, easiest route to a third fight with the Mexican superstar. He also fired trainer Abel Sanchez, and is now with Johnathon Banks.

How did Steve Rolls get here?

They called him and he said yes. That’s the long and the short of it.

Steve Rolls, 35, is a virtual unknown. Rolls turned pro in 2011, a week before he turned 27. He was a solid amateur, representing Canada at the 2009 World Championships, where he beat Georgia’s Levan Guledan and Italy’s Luca Podda before losing to India’s Vijender Singh in the third round.

As a professional, Rolls just hasn’t done much. He’s fought 13 of his 19 fights in Canada, including his last couple in 2018, beating Damien Ezequiel Bonelli and KeAndrae Leatherwood.

Alex Menendez/Getty Images

He does have two ShoBox appearances to his credit. In 2015, he beat Steed Woodall via fourth round TKO in Houston, and in 2017, he won an eight-round split decision over Demond Nicholson in Verona, New York.

How do the fighters match up?

Despite the fact that Rolls is “a super middleweight,” he’s really a natural middleweight who’s fought his last couple at 168. In terms of dimensions, they’re about the exact same. GGG is 5’10½”, Rolls is 5’10”. Rolls has two inches of reach on GGG, 72” to 70”.

As far as the competition faced, it’s no contest. Rolls’ best opponent was Demond Nicholson, a good fighter but not a world class guy. Gennadiy has faced Canelo twice, Daniel Jacobs, and a host of others who most everyone would rank over Nicholson.

I’m not saying Steve Rolls can’t fight. If anyone is — and I’m sure plenty already are — they’re either intimately familiar with Rolls’ career, which I don’t think anyone in boxing media really is, or much more likely just talking out of their ass based on their expectations. The expectations may very well be true — more likely than not they will be, and frankly speaking I share the expectations.

But there’s really not much on Rolls’ record that’s serious proof either way about his ability. What makes the matchup tough to get up for, as far as a boxing fan is concerned, is the lack of proof that he’s particularly good, let alone that he should be in the ring with Golovkin.

This isn’t even an Andy Ruiz situation, where if you stopped cackling about Ruiz’s boobs long enough you would have remembered — or at least been able to look up the footage — Ruiz going 12 even rounds with Joseph Parker in 2016. Or even Julian Williams, who had some success before Jermall Charlo knocked him out a few years ago, and was still considered top 10 in the division pretty much across the board before he upset Jarrett Hurd on May 11.

But I’m not mad about Steve Rolls, honestly. First of all, I just can’t get frothing about these things anymore. It’s not a new development in boxing. Something akin to this matchup happens pretty much every weekend on some spot on every card we cover.

Rolls got a call for a potential life-changing opportunity. Of course he took it. Who wouldn’t? He has nothing to lose here and everything to gain. In interviews he seems like a good dude who will give his best effort. And in his ShoBox fights, there’s obviously skill there. Is it enough against Golovkin? On paper, probably not. Fighters don’t really spring from nowhere to stardom at age 35.

Let’s put it this way: if Rolls beats GGG, it will be fundamentally a bigger upset than Ruiz over Joshua was. It might not be the level of story that one was — heavyweights are heavyweights, middleweights are middleweights, and the Casual Attention on GGG-Rolls will be lower. But Andy at least had fought OK in one top-level fight before. Rolls has never been in one.

Who’s the favorite?

GGG is, as you would imagine after all that talk, the clear and obvious favorite. He’s listed between -3831 and -10000 as of this writing, with Rolls between +1100 and +3237.

Who will win?

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

Undercard

Boxing - Olympics: Day 4 Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

If you’re hoping for a big undercard fight, there isn’t one, but there are some good prospects in action, and that can make for a fun card, too. Here’s a quick rundown:

  • Super middleweight Ali Akhmedov (14-0, 10 KO) of Kazakhstan will face Marcus McDaniel (15-0, 2 KO) of New Orleans. McDaniel, like Rolls, is a 35-year-old unbeaten unknown, but he did pick up a win over rugged (and shot) veteran Bryan Vera on Feb. 9.
  • Junior middleweight Charles Conwell (9-0, 7 KO), a 21-year-old from Cleveland and a 2016 U.S. Olympian, returns against Courtney Penningon (12-3-3, 5 KO).
  • Junior middleweight Israil Madrimov (2-0, 2 KO) of Uzbekistan is looking to move relatively fast as a pro. He debuted in November, stopping Vladimir Hernandez in six, and beat Frank Rojas in two on March 9. The 24-year-old now faces Norberto Gonzalez (23-12, 13 KO), a 37-year-old Mexican who has lost four straight.
  • Maybe the most interesting of the undercard matchups is an eight-round welterweight fight between New York’s Brian Ceballo (8-0, 4 KO) and Kazakhstan’s Bakhtiyar Eyubov (14-0-1, 12 KO). Ceballo, 25, is that sort of prospect who may or may not be something, he kinda rides the line and it’s hard to gauge his upside right now. He’s not some overwhelming talented, but he does have skills. Eyubov, 32, is old for a prospect and hasn’t always looked great, anyway. He won a split decision over Karim Mayfield back in 2016, and scored a nice stoppage over Nicholas Givan in 2018. But last time out on Feb. 15 in Kansas, he went to a really disappointing draw with journeyman Jose Luis Rodriguez. So this fight with Ceballo is kinda make-or-break for Eyubov.
  • Promising 20-year-old middleweight Nikita Ababiy (4-0, 4 KO) will face an opponent to be named in a six-rounder. We last saw Ababiy on April 20 in London, where he won a TKO-2 on the Allen-Browne card.
  • Johnathan Arroyo (3-0-1, 1 KO) will face Jordan Morales (3-7, 2 KO) in a four-round welterweight bout. Arroyo is 32 and coming off of a draw with a guy who was 1-6, so don’t be fooled by the record, he’s not a prospect.

Bad Left Hook will have live coverage of Golovkin vs Rolls streaming live on DAZN this Saturday, June 8, at 7:00 pm ET