Monday, July 28, 2014

Golovkin: The Making Of An International Superstar

After Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao recede from their positions atop the boxing box office, Gennady Golovkin is uniquely situated to become one of the top-two faces of the sport (Canelo Alvarez being the other). With only a handful of appearances in the U.S. market, Golovkin has already become one of HBO's top fighters in terms of ratings. He has a large following in Europe, getting paid very good money to headline shows in Monaco. All of his fights are broadcast live in England and he retains a significant presence in Germany, where he resides (Golovkin is originally from Kazakhstan).
Behind Golovkin is Tom Loeffler, the managing director of K2 Promotions, an innovative thinker who helped make the Klitschko brothers international boxing stars. In particular, Loeffler has exhibited two winning attributes that will help Golovkin: he thinks big and he understands the sport's global marketplace. It was Loeffler who moved the Klitschkos into soccer/football stadiums and helped to garner massive TV commitments in Germany. He also wisely positioned the Klitschkos around Europe and America to expand their fanbases, staging fights not just in Germany, but in Switzerland, Russia, Poland, Los Angeles and New York.  

Keep in mind; the Klitschkos haven't necessarily been an easy sell from an entertainment standpoint. Although they amassed myriad highlight-reel knockouts, many of their fights featured scant action and/or predictable one-sided domination over lesser foes. Yet German television viewership for their bouts often eclipsed ten million per outing and millions more boxing fans watched the Klitschkos from around the globe. As Wladimir Klitschko winds down his successful career, he and Loeffler have helped to create the third biggest star in the sport and cultivated an enormous bloc of fight fans from Frankfurt to Moscow.  

With Golovkin, Loeffler has a fighter who stimulates the imagination of the North American boxing fan much more than the Klitschkos did. Golovkin is perhaps the best knockout artist in the sport, takes risks in the ring and has an overwhelming desire to please key boxing stakeholders, from fans to writers to network executives. He's shown a willingness to learn in the gym. His insistence on conducting interviews in English highlights his desire to cross over into the American boxing consciousness. In addition, he is searching for not just bigger fights but also greater challenges, a quality that is often lacking among modern boxers.
Golovkin’s rise to superstardom in the sport may be the ultimate case of serendipity. Just as he was establishing himself in America, HBO Boxing lost one of its meal tickets to Showtime (Mayweather) while another one got flattened in Vegas and hasn't fully recovered his professional momentum (Pacquiao). In addition, other network staples like Juan Manuel Marquez and Sergio Martinez have had significant periods of inactivity and are finishing up the backend of their respective careers. In short, there exists an enormous void for HBO's considerable star-making apparatus. Golovkin is the obvious candidate to receive HBO's marketing largesse – and the right one.

In the recent past, HBO's efforts to promote new stars have often failed by betting on the wrong guys, wasting considerable network resources on talented fighters (such as Jermain Taylor, Paul Williams and Andre Berto) who nevertheless failed to connect with the public at-large or others (James Kirkland, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.) who lacked the professionalism to build proper momentum in their careers. In those instances, HBO's marketing upstaged the actual performances of the fighters. Now with Golovkin, the network may finally have gotten its man. His power is undeniable. Despite speaking fractured English, his charisma is unmistakable. His desire to be great is not just talk but is reflected in his aggression, conditioning and the refinement of his technical craft.  

On Saturday, Golovkin drew over 8,500 fans to Madison Square Garden for a matchup with Daniel Geale, a capable, ex-unified world champion from Australia. Geale had only fought in America once before and entered the ring far from a household name. Saturday's fight had no ethnic fanbase to draw from in the New York City market yet Golovkin was still able to convince the general boxing fan at-large to pony up for Madison Square Garden prices during vacation season. Ticket buyers didn't leave the arena disappointed; with a pulverizing counter right hand in the third round, Geale was no more.  

After the fight, Loeffler talked about bringing Golovkin to Los Angeles to expand his footprint in the U.S., keeping his fighter active so he can remain sharp and seeking higher-profile matchups that will broaden his fighter's reach in the general sporting world. On the last front, Loeffler and Golovkin may need to exercise patience. Big names at middleweight from Felix Sturm to Peter Quillin to Marty Murray have already turned down opportunities to fight him. Sergio Martinez, often injured during Golovkin's recent run, has failed to get in the ring with him. New lineal middleweight champ Miguel Cotto has not expressed a desire to face him. Earlier this year, Chavez Jr. negotiated a way out of fighting him. And Golovkin's ferocious knockout of Geale certainly won't create a waiting list of willing, high-profile opponents. 

For now, Golovkin wants to remain at middleweight. Similar to past avoided greats at 160 lbs. like Marvin Hagler and Bernard Hopkins, Golovkin may have to bide his time until a big name wants to fight him. So it's very possible that boxing fans will get Sam Soliman or Sergio Mora for Golovkin's next fight instead of Cotto or Canelo. But in time, some big name will step up. If Golovkin continues to win and impress, the money will be there for any big fight that he desires; eventually, even Hagler got Duran and Hearns in the ring and Hopkins secured Trinidad and De La Hoya. Other boxers want glory as well and they may see Golovkin as a way of getting there.
To this point, Loeffler has made all of the right moves for Golovkin. He successfully convinced the biggest boxing network in the U.S. to take a chance on a scarcely known Kazakh fighter. He brought Golovkin to the media capital of the world and his fighter has captured the imagination of boxing fans. He has cultivated a great relationship with Southern California boxing writers, holding numerous open workouts during Golovkin's training camps at Big Bear; they have helped tell the fighter's story. Loeffler has made Golovkin a fixture at all sorts of entertainment and sporting events in the greater Los Angeles area helping to raise the fighter's profile. In addition, he has kept Golovkin active in Europe, stoking his fanbase in that crucial boxing constituency.

Golovkin and Loeffler's hard work is already paying off. HBO has recently signed an extension with the fighter, including commitments to televise his fights in Europe as well as future pay per view considerations. The network has a love affair with Golovkin and many boxing fans share that sentiment. In addition, Loeffler has helped establish Golovkin as a major box office draw. There is still work to be done in this area but Loeffler has already created and executed a winning plan to grow Golovkin over the last two years; I have confidence that he will continue to be capable in the next phase of Golovkin's career.

All that's missing from Golovkin's rise to true superstardom are the right opponents. But those will come. In the meantime, Loeffler, HBO and Golovkin have built the vital infrastructure to create the next truly big attraction in the sport. For now, patience will be required, but if Golovkin's commitment to his craft remains, the sky may be the limit.

Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
Contact Adam at
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