LOS ANGELES (AP) Three years ago, Gennady Golovkin was largely unknown outside hard-core boxing circles. In two months, he’ll take on David Lemieux in an HBO pay-per-view fight for their four combined middleweight title belts at a sold-out Madison Square Garden.
Although the Kazakh star’s charisma and his Canadian counterpart’s passionate fans played roles, Golovkin’s reputation for violent knockouts is the biggest reason these fighters have already sold more than 15,000 tickets. Only the cheap seats are left in New York’s famed arena for the Oct. 17 fight.
Golovkin (33-0, 30 KOs) said he won’t allow his soaring stardom to distract him from the goal of unifying every middleweight championship. He already holds the WBA 160-pound title, the WBC interim title and the IBO belt, while Lemieux (34-2, 31 KOs) is the IBF champion.
“Right now is an interesting time for me,” Golovkin said before a packed news conference in downtown Los Angeles, his adopted hometown. “I don’t lose motivation. My goal is all the middleweight championships. This is a big year for me, and next year will be even bigger.”
It’s tough to get much bigger than a title unification fight at Madison Square Garden, where Golovkin will try for his 21st consecutive stoppage victory. Golovkin’s promoter, Tom Loeffler, deliberately set the ticket prices slightly lower than other high-profile New York fights to entice fans – and they responded even more aggressively than he expected, guaranteeing an eventual sellout.
Golovkin and Lemieux also will make their debuts as HBO pay-per-view headliners on a card featuring vaunted Nicaraguan flyweight champion Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez against Brian Viloria.
The pay-per-view decision rankled some Golovkin fans who have tracked his rise from relative obscurity in Germany to major bouts in New York and Los Angeles in the past two years. Yet Golovkin’s camp made a major financial offer to entice Lemieux into the ring after years of getting turned down by champions and well-known stars wary of Golovkin’s power and skill.
“This is the first time anybody would agree to step in the ring with Gennady when they had something to lose,” said Loeffler. “I figured it would sell out (Madison Square Garden), but the response now, that exceeds whatever we thought. With every fight, he grows.”
Golovkin’s stateside rise also led to a spike in his popularity back home in Kazakhstan, where he’s greeted as a hero whenever he returns.
“I’m not a hero,” Golovkin said. “I’m a regular man. I’m a boxer.”
Sure, GGG. On his last trip home to visit his mother, Golovkin stopped in at a soccer game and got a raucous, lengthy standing ovation from the crowd of 30,000 when it realized he was in the arena.
Golovkin is even getting recognized regularly in Los Angeles, where he moved with his wife and young son. Although the champ doesn’t mind the attention, he doesn’t invite it, either.
“I go to kindergarten, and I go to the gym,” he said with a grin. “That’s it.”
Lemieux said he didn’t hesitate to take the biggest test of his career, and he could land legions of new fans with his brawling, relentless style. He claimed the vacant IBF title in June by knocking down Hassan N’Dam four times in a decision win.
“What’s a better time than now?” Lemieux asked. “He’s at his best. I’m at my best. I’m confident in my abilities. I’m not scared of him. He’s a smart guy. He knows what he’s in against, but he’ll be surprised by my power.”
Golovkin and Lemieux got along well during a three-city publicity tour this week, exchanging compliments on the dais before laughing at each other during the staredowns. Golovkin also enjoyed the chance to be around Bernard Hopkins, a partner in Golden Boy Promotions, which backs Lemieux.
Those good feelings will evaporate in October when Golovkin goes after the victory that would move him to the next level of stardom in his meteoric three-year rise.
“Right now, I more understand Bernard and what he did,” Golovkin said of Hopkins, who famously made 20 consecutive middleweight title defenses. “I promise an amazing show. Everybody understands this is a new step to the story.”