Long before most American boxing fans had ever heard of him, Gennady Golovkin had won an Olympic silver medal for his native country of Kazakhstan. Before turning professional in his mid 20s, he fought approximately 350 professional fights. But very few Olympic medalist go on to become pay-per-view superstars in the professional ranks. So GGG’s march to the top was hardly guaranteed.
A big factor in getting him to where he will be on Saturday night, headlining one of this year’s major boxing cards at the sport’s Mecca, Madision Square Garden, has been his trainer, Abel Sanchez. When Sanchez first began to work with Golovkin in 2010, he saw the raw ingredients of greatness, and the materials he could make over in the image of Julio Cesar Chavez Sr, one of the greatest fighters of the past 25 years and an intelligent but aggressive come-forward assassin who electrified crowds.
Golovkin himself, in recent years, has made no secret of the fact that he aims to fight in the “Mexican style.” It’s been a critical in building him into the star he has become in the United States, where the Latin fanbase now dominates the sport.
Sanchez has long been a well respected figure in the sport. But in Golovkin, he has his biggest star in over 20 years, since the days when he handled junior middleweight superstar Terry Norris. In the early 1990s, he beat such champions as John Mugabi, Donald Curry and the legendary Sugar Ray Leonard. Norris is a Hall of Famer now. Golovkin still has a way to go to equal the kind of resume Terrible Terry assembled. But he appears on his way.
Golovkin’s opponent, David Lemieux, is also the product of a smart trainer. Marc Ramsay began working with the current IBF middleweight champion at the low point of his career. In 2011, Lemieux was an undefeated, power-punching phenom. But at 21, he was over-matched against the crafty, experienced Marco Antonio Rubio. The result was a disaster, as Rubio withstood Lemieux’s early onslaught and then dismantled him en route to a Round 7 TKO.
It was the sort of loss a lot of talented young fighters don’t recover from. The fact that Lemieux has rebounded to develop into the kind of champion he was projected to become is a big credit to Ramsay. Although he lacks the credentials of Sanchez, Ramsay is a prominent figure in fight-mad Montreal, and trains former light heavyweight champion Jean Pascal.
I view Lemieux as a big underdog here. But it’s foolish to say he has no chance. If he can pull off this upset on Saturday, Ramsay will suddenly find himself training one of the sport’s hottest fighters and one of Canada’s biggest sports stars.