Despite a detour, Gennady Golovkin is still aiming to tie Bernard Hopkins record

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SANTA MONICA, Calif. — The past two months have been a whirlwind for unified middleweight world champion Gennady Golovkin.

He continued to train at Abel Sanchez’s gym in the mountains of Big Bear Lake, California, despite uncertainty about whether he would still fight on Saturday. His much-anticipated rematch with Canelo Alvarez was canceled because of Alvarez’s two failed drug tests in February, followed by his suspension by the Nevada State Athletic Commission on April 18.

Controversy has swirled around Alvarez since, and Golovkin has been asked repeatedly for his views on the failed tests and whether he will fight Alvarez again in September, after the suspension is lifted on Aug. 17.

More significantly for Golovkin, there is the business at hand. On Saturday, he will indeed fight in a hastily arranged replacement bout against massive underdog Vanes Martirosyan. It will be for a small fraction of the money he would have earned against Alvarez.

GGG’s event was moved from Las Vegas and the HBO PPV platform to HBO (11 p.m. ET) at StubHub Center in Carson, California.

Largely lost in the big drama show of it all is that Golovkin is aiming for a significant piece of boxing history. He is boxing’s longest-reigning current world titleholder, having defended a middleweight title in 19 consecutive fights. One more successful defense would tie him with the great Bernard Hopkins for the division record.

Initially, Golovkin didn’t want to make a big deal out of his opportunity to tie a record that has stood for 13 years. “It will mean a lot, but compared to Bernard Hopkins, my record is much bigger. Stronger and bigger,” he said earlier in the week. “This is a good situation for me and for my fans, and that’s it. It is numbers. Only numbers.”

Asked again on Thursday about the record, Golovkin changed his tune a bit. “It’s very impressive. I know that 19 is a big accomplishment, and I have a 20th title defense ahead of me,” he said.

Golovkin said it wasn’t until recently that he even knew about the record. “Of course, it’s Bernard Hopkins. He’s a great fighter,” Golovkin said of the former two-division world champion, who retired in 2016 at age 51. “I appreciate what he did. There were a lot of good fighters in middleweights. I didn’t realize he had so many defenses, because so many times he was fighting the same opponent. I was going step by step and improving my record, and so now I have a very impressive result.”

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Gennady Golovkin insists he has a punch that can change people’s lives and is ready for his fight with Vanes Martirosyan.

Tom Loeffler, Golovkin’s promoter, said GGG has been more focused on his fight on Saturday than the record. Perhaps, said Loeffler, Golovkin will appreciate his long title reign more in the future.

“I think it’s bigger for everyone on the team, like Abel Sanchez and myself,” Loeffler said. “We understand the historic perspective of what Gennady has accomplished in his career and could potentially accomplish on Saturday and be successful in another title defense. He just wanted to fight. He told me he didn’t care who and he didn’t care where, just, ‘I want to fight on Cinco de Mayo,’ and that was my job.

“He’s just focused on his training and winning on Saturday, and anything else that comes after that is what he feels the fans and the media want to see.”

Hopkins reigned from 1995, when he knocked out Segundo Mercado to win a vacant 160-pound title, until 2005, when he lost a close decision and the undisputed title to Jermain Taylor. In between those two fights, Hopkins made 20 consecutive title defenses, including notable wins against Glen Johnson, Antwun Echols, Keith Holmes (to unify two belts), Felix Trinidad (to become undisputed champion), William Joppy and Oscar De La Hoya. No. 20 came against Howard Eastman at Staples Center in Los Angeles, not far from where GGG will attempt to tie his record.

Hopkins said he views his list of defenses as more impressive than Golovkin’s, but also said GGG is a fighter worthy of sharing his mark.

“Half of his opponents couldn’t probably tie Trinidad’s shoes,” Hopkins told ESPN. “But I think records were made to be broken. I’ve said that over and over. I think when it’s all said and done, everybody’s record will be broken. It’s not like GGG can’t fight or he’s not deserving to be among the best middleweights. He can fight. And he had to fight the guys to get this to this point. I would say in his era he’s the best middleweight, but I don’t think he would have been as successful in my era.”

Golovkin (37-0-1, 33 KOs), 36, a Kazakhstan native fighting out of Santa Monica, held an interim belt before he was elevated to a full titleholder in 2010. He was designated as a secondary titlist at a time when Felix Sturm, the WBA’s so-called super titleholder, refused to face Golovkin, his mandatory opponent, time and again but was not stripped.

Some believe that GGG’s defenses of the secondary title should not count toward the record. Similarly, some think Hopkins’ no-contest in his first fight against Robert Allen in 1998 should not count toward his record.

Regardless, GGG has made 19 defenses — winning 17 by knockout — and unified three major titles along the way against opponents such as Matthew Macklin, Curtis Stevens, former titlist Daniel Geale, Marco Antonio Rubio, Martin Murray, David Lemieux (to unify two belts), Kell Brook, Daniel Jacobs and Alvarez.

Sanchez is very proud to be part of Golovkin’s potential record run. “I think it’s great for his history and for boxing history,” Sanchez said. “If you look at his record, he hasn’t had any rematches in there. Everybody he fought has been a new opponent. The great Bernard Hopkins fought twice against Echols and three times against Robert Allen [in mandatory fights]. We are fighting new guys every time. By tying it, and if he decides to stay at middleweight and break the record in the future, it’s great for boxing history and good for historians to look back upon.”

Golovkin is heavily favored to defeat Martirosyan (36-3-1, 21 KOs), 31, a 2004 U.S. Olympian from Glendale, California. And if he does so, he would be in line to edge past Hopkins in the fall in his next fight. So is that something GGG wants to do? “That would be a new story,” he said. “You know, maybe. Why not?”



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