by Hamilton Nolan
The middleweight division -- once you get past its two glamorous box office stars, Sergio Martinez and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. -- is blessed with a large quantity of quality, solid, powerful fighters. And it is cursed by the fact that many of them are Eastern European, making them difficult to market to the North American market. One of these men has the potential to make everyone forget their standard geographic prejudices and take notice: Gennady Golovkin.
At 30 years old, Golovkin (23-0) is too old to be labeled a prospect. He bears a greater honor: the most avoided middleweight fighter in the world. Since medaling in the 2004 Olympics for Kazakhstan, Golovkin has been unable to entice anyone with a bigger name than Kassim Ouma to take him on, despite clearly possessing world class talent and the potential to become a pound-for-pound fighter, should he ever get the chance to prove himself against the division's best. Golovkin carries his hands high, throws straight punches, and is generally fundamentally sound; he is not flashy, at first glance. But a highlight reel of his victims tells the real tale of his talent: He possesses some of the heaviest hands in boxing. Golovkin packs the sort of deceptive power that often causes his opponents to drop from unspectacular shots, as if they've been hit by a cement block. His kind of power can't be taught. He's dangerous in every moment. His deceptively straightforward style makes him all the more dangerous.
Golovkin was originally scheduled to fight the Russian contender Dmitry Pirog, in what would have been a showcase bout for both. Pirog was forced to pull out with a back injury, and Polish prospect Grzegorz Proksa (28-1) took his place. Though less accomplished than Pirog, Proksa offers an equally intriguing matchup. He is an aggressive, combination-punching offensive threat whose style owes much to Sergio Martinez's -- hands low, half crouched, all head movement and bouncing, with punches flying in from above and below at odd and unexpected angles. But Proksa lacks some of the ethereal speed that allows Martinez to survive with such an unorthodox stance. Carrying his hands low against a puncher of Golovkin's quality could prove fatal for Proksa. Or maybe he's better than we think. Thus far Proksa's best opponent has probably been Sebastian Sylvester, whom he thoroughly beat up and dispatched in three rounds.
For Golvkin, this chance to finally carry his own night on HBO means everything, career-wise. Should he drop Proksa, he will be in line for one of the division's top men next: perhaps Felix Sturm, or Peter Quillin, or (one can dream) Sergio Martinez or Chavez Jr. Golovkin is certainly one of the top five middleweights in the world, and he deserves a chance to flourish just as much as the contemporaries against whom he's already proven himself (look up the video of him knocking down Lucian Bute in the amateurs). Proksa is Golovkin's stepping stone to the big time. That's a perilous place to be.
Sergiy Dzinziruk (37-1) has only lost to Sergio Martinez. But that loss was such a thorough domination that it nicely illustrated the yawning gap in talent between prime-time fighters like Martinez and those like Dzinziruk, who's spent most of his career racking up wins against mediocre boxers on his home turf of Germany and Eastern Europe. Dzinziruk is tall, at 6'0, and fights in the classic fists-forward, head-high European style that allows him to effectively use his reach against shorter fighters, at the price of making his face an incredibly tempting target. His opponent, Jonathan Gonzalez (15-0), is a 23 year-old, unpolished but rugged Puerto Rican puncher whose commitment to a sustained body attack could prove useful against this taller, rangier fighter. Gonzalez boasts more power than Dzinziruk, but far less experience.
Dzinziruk, in the twilight of his career, can still fairly be considered an action fighter; Proksa is certainly thrilling to watch, though partly because you wonder how long he can sustain his crazy hands-down style before paying the price; and Golovkin is a top-quality fighter with the potential to join boxing's A-list, if he can only make himself financially attractive enough to overcome potential opponents' fear of his power to humiliate them. Two good fights on this card could do a lot to propel Americans past their struggle pronouncing Eastern European names, and start them talking about overseas skills.