(Main pic courtesy of HBO)
Boxers who present themselves as dangerous opponents early in their careers often find themselves avoided by top-level competitors who may perceive more risk than potential upside.
In this context, "dangerous" is used loosely, but generally means that a fighter possesses unusual size and reach for a particular weight class (e.g. Thomas Hearns, Paul Williams, Antonio Margarito) and/or one-punch, knockout power (e.g. Manny Pacquiao, Lucas Matthysse).
On display this Saturday night, will be the middleweight monster known as Gennady "GGG" Golovkin (27-0), who is riding a 14 fight knockout streak and sports the highest knockout percentage (89%) among active title holders.
In his path, will be Curtis Stevens (25-3) who hails from the same hometown as Mike Tyson, Brownsville, NY, and who has chalked up three first round knockouts in his last four bouts.
That's a lot of knockout theme in the pre-fight for this match-up. Might we be watching two dangerous fighters juxtaposed? The proverbial immovable object and irresistible force? That's certainly how the network (HBO, 10pm) has billed it - But what is the reality?
The truth is that, since moving to middleweight, Curtis Stevens has shown well-above-average power, as evidenced by recent early round stoppages. Stevens is also vulnerable in the same way that his fellow Brownsville native, Mike Tyson was, in that he is more a puncher than a boxer.
A la Floyd Mayweather against Ricky Hatton or Juan Manuel Marquez against Juan Diaz, a technically complete boxer like Golovkin should expose flaws in Stevens' game, by using his opponent's aggression against him.
Stevens' power is certainly a threat, but "GGG" is the triple threat with power, boxing skill and a granite chin. In addition to being, perhaps, the sports most formidable knockout artist, GGG has, reportedly, never met the canvas in 377 bouts as an amateur or professional.
It seems clear that Golovkin is more than just another network hype job, but at some point his reputation may work against him. Stevens, whether or not he has a balanced game, has drawn attention as a power puncher. If Golovkin ends his night early, as many expect him to, GGG will go from avoided to feared.
The perception will be that Gennady met the challenge in looking dominant against an imposing fighter.
History would indicate that, with every passing knockout, the legend of GGG will grow, while the likelihood of a super fight involving the Kazak kingpin diminishes.
The excuses are there for the big names: Sergio Martinez is nearing the end and with only one or two fights left, Golovkin doesn't yet present the payday potential of Miguel Cotto or countless other less intimidating fighters. The same can be argued for Cotto. And Floyd Mayweather has already extended himself in order to fight at 154lbs. Is it reasonable to expect him to elevate to another weight class?
The anticipated avoidance at middleweight will likely lead Golovkin to move to super middleweight, and hopefully before Andre Ward departs the division.
Golovkin vs. Ward would surely be a great spectacle, and if it happens, boxing fans need only look to the stars running scared, in order to give thanks.