Longtime readers of this observer’s work in covering the sport of Boxing are likely familiar with the various columns I have written over the course of several years that chronicled the rise of Gennady Golovkin. A period of time in which the fighter known as “Triple G” or “GGG” for short in symbolism with the fighter’s three initials, carved out a consecutive knockout streak that I simply referred to as a “Path Of Destruction” through the 160lb. Middleweight division. As this streak continued and each opponent Golovkin had put in front of him fell, the obvious question of who would be able to take the fighter a full twelve round distance began emerging. While that question would eventually be answered in the form of Daniel Jacobs, who took Golovkin the distance in March 2017, the aura that Golovkin had built as one of Boxing’s feared “Knockout Artists” was still there.
This set the stage for what became Golovkin’s two battles with Saul “Canelo” Alvarez in September 2017 and September 2018. Two fights in which there was not a conclusive outcome in either bout. Due to a controversial draw in the first bout, which was followed by a perhaps more controversial majority decision in favor of Alvarez in the rematch. While many within the sport including yours truly felt that Golovkin had done enough to win both of those bouts, the issue remains unresolved, now nearly five years removed from the first encounter.
Although the defeat to Alvarez in the second fight was not conclusive in the sense of there being no debate as to who won the rematch, Golovkin carried on, eventually regaining a portion of the World Middleweight championship and partially unifying it. Despite remaining unbeaten in three bouts since the loss to Alvarez including a successful first title defense of his unified IBF/IBO Middleweight world championship against a “Game,” but overmatched Kamil Szeremeta in December 2020, the question of whether Golovkin is still the fighter he was prior to those two controversial bouts with Alvarez still looms.
Why does it loom? Well, when a fighter that was able to establish themselves as one of the top fighters in the sport due to an ability to end fights quickly and often in devasting fashion, finds themselves not having as easy a time gaining victories against top-tier competition, naturally questions regarding the fighter will follow. It should also not be overlooked that in Golovkin’s bout with Sergiy Derevyanchenko in October 2019, the bout in which he regained the vacated IBF/IBO world championships in a single bout, he did not look as impressive as in previous outings in despite dropping Derevyanchenko early in the bout, he was forced to go the distance in what became a much more grueling and competitive fight than some had anticipated.
Perhaps more so than the difficulty Golovkin had against Derevyanchenko, a bout in which he claimed he was sick in the days prior to the fight, Golovkin has not be aided by the circumstances of the ongoing global COVID-19 epidemic, which like many fighters on every level of the sport saw him sidelined for a lengthy period of time before that bout against Szeremeta in December 2020. With Golovkin still looking for an elusive third bout with Alvarez, now the Undisputed Super-Middleweight world champion, he set his sights on a unification bout against two-time WBA Middleweight world champion Ryota Murata, which was to take place on December 29th of last year in Tokyo, Japan.
As most Boxing fans know, the bout was postponed due to the Japanese government implementing restrictions in an attempt to curve the Omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus. Even though if the fight with Murata had gone on as planned Golovkin would still have been coming off of a year of inactivity, the postponement would keep the thirty-nine year old out of the ring a little longer. Golovkin’s inactivity will come to an end however, when the rescheduled bout with Murata will take place on April 9th at the Saitama Super Arena in Tokyo, Japan. A bout that will take place one day after Golovkin’s fortieth birthday.
Obviously, beyond this bout being to unify three of five world championships in the Middleweight division, the question that many will have going into this fight as it finally takes place will be whether the lengthy period of Golovkin will be a positive or a negative. In terms of how it can be a positive, one does have to factor in how a significant period of time to rest a fighter’s body physically can have a positive impact on the fighter’s ability to recover from any nagging injuries as well as just general physical wear and tear that accumulates for fighters over the course of their careers. The flip side to how a lengthy rest can be a positive for a fighter, it can also negatively affect a fighter in terms of timing and reflexes, what is known within combat sports as “Ring Rust.” In that just inactivity theoretically can cause a fighter to not be as sharp physically and one might argue mentally when that fighter steps back into active competition.
Clearly, we will not know what effect the near year and a half out of the ring will have on Golovkin until he is in the ring on fight night, but what will be standing across the ring from him when that time comes on April 9th? In Ryota Murata, Golovkin will face a fighter who like him, has a come forward pressure style and who also has scored many knockouts in his career in scoring stoppages in thirteen of his sixteen career wins registering a career knockout percentage of over 72% compared to Golovkin’s thirty-six knockouts in forty-one career wins registering a career knockout percentage of over 82%.
Although the Tokyo-based Murata will likely have significant crowd support when he faces Golovkin as the bout will be taking place on his home turf, he has not faced the caliber of opposition that Golovkin has in his career. Despite also having a four year age advantage over Golovkin when they do enter the ring, Murata will also be coming off a lengthy period of inactivity of nearly two years with his last bout, his first defense since regaining the WBA world champion coming in December 2019 against Steven Butler, a fight which Murata ended in five rounds.
In thinking of how this fight might be fought having covered both men’s respective bouts, I believe the focus will be on Murata and whether or not he will be able to get Golovkin’s respect. With few exceptions, Golovkin has always been a come forward pressure fighter that looks to land power shots and this has often led to fights that end quickly. Two fighters were able to deal with this approach in a similar way in that they were able to focus a portion of their offense to Golovkin’s body, which did slow him down. I am referring to the second bout between Saul Alvarez and Sergiy Derevyanchenko. This has led some to form the opinion that Golovkin has a weakness to the body and that the way to fight him is to center an attack to the body. This obviously is easier said than done, particularly due to Golovkin’s punching power, but Murata must find a way to quell Golovkin’s pressure earlier and must get him to not come forward.
It remains to be seen whether Murata has the type of punching power that will be respected by Golovkin. Quite frankly, that is a question that will not be answered until Golovkin takes Murata’s punches. The thing that does not bode well for Murata at least in terms of style is he like Golovkin, is known for a pressure fighting style and has not shown an ability similar to Alvarez in being able to adapt to a more tactical Boxing style as of yet. Nor has he shown the type of elusiveness that has increasingly become part of Alvarez’ approach. While it is unexpected for a fighter to completely follow a blueprint established by another fighter against the opponent they are facing, I do not see the fight lasting long if Murata has intentions of coming straight forward and not implementing a tactical approach.
Although this does not necessarily mean that Murata is not capable of scoring a knockout himself, Golovkin has not been knocked down in his career and with the exception of those two aforementioned fights, has not been really hurt in his career. Perhaps a more strategic approach might be for Murata to try to box Golovkin, look to establish a portion of his offense to the body as Alvarez and Derevyanchenko did, and try to extend the fight into the middle and late rounds where theoretically, fatigue might become an issue.
Ryota Murata is not known for his lateral movement or his hand speed, so the key for Golovkin in my eyes will be whether he can cut the ring off and look to break Murata down as he has done to so many previous opponents. The fight between Golovkin and Murata on its own is intriguing, but as most know there is a slight wrinkle to this fight.
This observer is referring to the recent multi-fight agreement between digital subscription-based sports streaming network DAZN and Saul Alvarez. While the agreement will see the network for a time at least implement a pay-per-view strategy, the wrinkle that was introduced was the stipulation that if Alvarez is successful in his upcoming bout against WBA Light-Heavyweight world champion Dmitry Bivol and if Golovkin is successful in his fight against Murata, it will finally lead to the much anticipated and long overdue third bout between Alvarez and Golovkin in September.
Obviously, this now presents an opportunity for Golovkin to get redemption should he defeat Murata and assuming Alvarez defeats Bivol on May 7th, but it also presents the possibility of Golovkin potentially looking past Murata and towards the fight he has waited several years for. While that possibility will also exist for Alvarez as well in potentially looking past Bivol and towards possibly settling a rivalry that has bad blood, some might say that it is Golovkin that has more pressure on him and obviously, Boxing as a sport of opportunity, if he is looking ahead towards Alvarez, the circumstances could be ideal for Murata to take advantage. To put it in simple terms, Gennady Golovkin has a potential fight ahead of him after this fight, Ryota Murata only has this one fight to concern himself with.
A world championship unification bout on its own is always interesting, the added stakes for Gennady Golovkin, however, makes this particular bout even more intriguing. We will see who emerges victorious in Tokyo on Saturday, April 9th.
“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”
Golovkin vs. Murata takes place on Saturday, April 9th at the Saitama Super Arena in Tokyo, Japan. The bout can be seen globally on digital subscription sports streaming network DAZN beginning at 5AM ET/2AM PT (U.S. Times). For more information about DAZN including schedules, list of compatible streaming devices/platforms/Smart TVs, availability around the world, local start times in your area, and to subscribe please visit: www.DAZN.com.
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