Sunday, October 6, 2019

Opinions and Observations: Golovkin-Derevyanchenko

When Gennadiy Golovkin ruled the middleweight division, he controlled the center of the ring. Using his power jab to dictate the flow of action, stalking forward with purposeful footwork, Golovkin intimidated opponents with his offensive firepower and relentless aggression. Even when facing a come-forward foe, such as David Lemieux, Golovkin more often than not held his ground, or even would mix in some lateral footwork to create punching angles. During his prime it would have been almost inconceivable for him to take a backward step. 

However, that time has passed. Facing a determined and capable opponent in Sergiy Derevyanchenko on Saturday, Golovkin was the fighter most often in retreat. Despite a quick start where he scored a knockdown in the first and opened up a cut in the second, Golovkin by the fourth and fifth rounds was often on his back foot trying to evade Derevyanchenko's punishing offensive forays. 

Golovkin at his best was one of boxing's elite fighters, but not one of its most versatile. He's not a natural counterpuncher and doesn't possess the stick-and-move skillset needed to get the best of opponents when in retreat. In short, when he's moving back, he's not winning. 

Photo Courtesy of Ed Mullholland

Derevyanchenko got to Golovkin's 37-year-old body with numerous straight rights and left uppercuts. GGG, who looked far from his physical best, uncharacteristically displayed discomfort during those periods of the fight. Derevyanchenko was getting the better of the inside action, and he knew it. 

Ultimately what cemented the win for Golovkin was his performance in the championship rounds, where he remained the fresher fighter. Derevyanchenko, similar to his fight against Daniel Jacobs, did an admirable job of coming back from an early knockdown and imposing his style, but he withered a bit in the final two frames, content to clinch as much as throw. His late-round performances in his two title shots (Jacobs and Golovkin) illustrate that he lacks a special intangible quality that the truly elite possess. With the win on the table, he evinced a slight sense of yielding.

Golovkin would squeak by on the cards via a unanimous decision, with scores of 114-113, 115-112 and 115-112 (I had him winning 114-113), but his performance was far from convincing. He wasn't sharp throughout most of the fight. His jab was inconsistent. His right hands sailed over Derevyanchenko's head repeatedly; he had done just enough. 

There's a lot to unpack from Golovkin's performance. At 37 Father Time decided to make an appearance. Saturday was also Golovkin's first real test with new trainer Jonathon Banks, a far more passive presence than the knockout-happy Abel Sanchez. In addition, there were widely circulating reports that Golovkin was ill in the lead up to the fight. 

Photo Courtesy of Ed Mullholland

Banks displayed his customary lack of urgency in the corner on Saturday. In a fight that was up for grabs throughout the back half of the match, Banks was asking for no more than double jabs. Only until the last round did he rouse himself and convey a sense that the win could be in jeopardy. Banks may have been Emanuel Steward's protégé, but he lacks his mentor's fire and ability to perceive the tenor of the action. I still remember him asking Wlad Klitschko to double jab Tyson Fury to the body and the head, when Wlad might have thrown five body shots in the history of his career. It's not clear if Banks truly understands the talent that he's cornering on fight night. Golovkin is an aggressor, a killer. Without that mentality he quickly becomes ordinary.

The lead trainer in the other corner was Andre Rozier, who is now 0-3 against Golovkin, losing winnable bouts with Jacobs and now Derevyanchenko. In both of those contests his fighters dropped valuable points at the end of the match. Rozier can certainly motivate in the corner and can put together successful game plans. But something was lacking in Sergiy's performance in the championship rounds, which also happened when Jacobs fought Golovkin. And if a trainer deserves praise when he wins, then he should be assigned some blame after the losses as well. Rozier had the right approach for Derevyanchenko on Saturday, but in the crucial moments his fighter didn't close with necessary urgency. Rozier has been around the block long enough to understand the fight game. There's no guarantee that the "opponent" will be the one who receives the benefit of the doubt in close fights, as was the case on Saturday. 

Photo Courtesy of Ed Mullholland

Ultimately, there wasn't much to split between the two fighters and it led to a fantastic bout. Golovkin, far from his elite run in the sport, pulled out a close one by overcoming inconsistency in the ring and physical deterioration, both before and during the fight. And Derevyanchenko reminded boxing audiences that no one has wanted to give him a voluntary shot at a title. He's not an easy night for any middleweight. 

Golovkin-Derevyanchenko proved to be a well-matched fight between an ex-great on the slide and a tough customer lacking just that final bit of quality. And while Derevyanchenko certainly had a case for winning, as he did in the Jacobs fight, it was not an altogether convincing one. The opportunity was there for him, but in the moment of truth there was no extra gear. 

However, it may only be a matter of time until Golovkin is forced off the road. His vehicle flashes numerous warning lights. GGG has provided us with many wonderful nights of boxing, and Saturday was one more special fight, even if he was far from his best. Certainly we would love to see one last hurrah, one final great performance from the future Hall of Famer, but we all know that the realities of the sport are unforgiving. And his end could be fast approaching.  

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.comHe's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook.

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