After the fourth round of Gennadiy Golovkin's grueling middleweight unification match with Ryota Murata, the momentum of the fight was going Murata's way. Although Golovkin had a bright opening round, Murata worked his way into the fight with punishing work on the inside, mixing in right uppercuts, left hooks to the body and straight rights. Murata's big shots were having an effect and perhaps this was the beginning of the end for the once-great Golovkin.
But in a situation similar to last year's Anthony Joshua-Oleksandr Usyk fight, Golovkin, like Usyk, found another switch and he was able to up the ferocity and effectiveness of his power shots; he just wouldn't be denied. By the seventh round Golovkin was rag-dolling Murata against the ropes. He ended the fight with a beautiful counter right hook in the ninth that spun Murata around and dropped him to the canvas. Within 20 minutes of real time, Golovkin went from "old fighter" to "still a relevant force." It was a sudden and impressive turnaround.
|Golovkin (left) and Murata exchanged vicious power shots|
Photo courtesy of DAZN
Unlike Golovkin's last fight of note, against Sergiy Derevyanchenko, it was GGG who was the fresher fighter in the second half. He essentially outpunched Murata, which is no easy fete at the age of 40 and coming off a significant layoff.
Golovkin's performance on Saturday was a reminder of what a special offensive fighter he was and still remains. His combinations flowed. He frequently landed left hook to the body/left uppercut combos that Murata couldn't defend. He pumped his jab like the old days. Golovkin also landed his signature high-arching left hook to the top of the head, a punch that would break the hands of many a lesser fighter. But for me, the punch that won Golovkin the fight was his right hook. Golovkin isn't blessed with top-shelf hand speed, which makes the rear hook even more dangerous to throw because the whole right side of his body is left unprotected. However, with expert marksmanship, he repeatedly wrapped his right hook around Murata's high guard, and did so with devastating results.
The knockout blow was a counter right hook thrown over a lead left hook. Those two punches come from the same side, and despite Golovkin's age and supposed athletic decline, that final punch was thrown and landed almost in a blur – that’s how perfect it was. It took a few replays even to see the trajectory of the shot. And you can bet that Murata never anticipated it.
Golovkin will be remembered for his power and his jab, but what may be forgotten is how creative a puncher he can be. He's not a robot that throws the one-two in programmed ways. When he's flowing he has every punch at his disposal. In addition, he can vary the angle and the speed of his shots so that they are harder to defend. He's not just a "puncher." There's an acute boxing mind behind his expressionless face in the ring.
In the twilight of his career, Golovkin has become more of an opportunistic businessman than a fighter. He has not chosen to face certain formidable challengers, just as he was not given opportunities by bigger names on his way up. It does leave a bit of a sour taste. But for one night, let's push politics aside and remember that Golovkin was a special talent. The Murata fight was a welcome reminder of why so many boxing fans once gravitated to GGG. Watching him ply his destructive trade was one of boxing's great joys.
Erickson Lubin walked back to his corner after the second round and got an earful from his trainer, Kevin Cunningham. Lubin had just gotten dropped by a Sebastian Fundora right uppercut and he was in bad shape. Cunningham was in disbelief with what he had just witnessed. Boxing well in the first, Lubin strafed Fundora with a number of power shots from mid-range and the outside. And yet in the second Lubin went right at Fundora, standing in the kitchen with his 6'6" opponent and going toe-to-toe. It was a maddening decision by Lubin and Cunningham was irate.
But this would be the theme of Lubin's night in this wonderful and brutal battle: Lubin the Freelancer. He showed guts beyond belief and the heart of a champion. But he fought the wrong fight and paid the price.
It was clear from Cunningham's instructions throughout the fight that he wanted Lubin to use his legs more, to get in and out, to be a sniper. Lubin would answer affirmatively after every piece of direction was given. Sometimes he would do what Cunningham asked; sometimes he wouldn't.
|Fundora (right) throwing one of many uppercuts|
Photo courtesy of Ryan Hafey
That Lubin still had significant periods of success points to his skill set and fortitude. Even after getting dropped in the second, he went after Fundora in the third and fourth rounds and landed a number of impressive hard left hands.
The seventh round will be tough to beat for 2022's Round of the Year. Fundora landed one hellacious left uppercut after another. The fight looked as if it was ready to be stopped. Lubin didn't hold or use his legs; he just drifted straight back toward the ropes, staying in range to be hit with more shots. And despite taking a brutal beating, Lubin bit down and landed three menacing straight left hands and Fundora, seconds away from getting the stoppage, was now on the canvas, and he was hurt. It was special stuff.
But that would be Lubin's last stand. In the eighth Fundora continued to land blistering power shots. Lubin's face had become grossly disfigured, with huge pockets of swelling around his nose, eyes and cheekbones. In the ninth, Fundora battered Lubin along the ropes and after that Cunningham had seen enough. He stopped the fight.
Lubin made the mistake that many others have in assessing Fundora. With such a big frame and so much body to hit, it must seem so tempting to rough up Fundora on the inside, to chop down the tree. However, that's exactly where Fundora wants to fight. Fundora is not just comfortable on the inside, he thrives there. He has figured out a way to land his best punches in that geography. I'm sure that most trainers would look at Fundora and implore him to use his height and reach more, but Fundora has developed in a unique manner. The closer an opponent is to him, the better he does.
Cunningham knew exactly what he had in front of him regarding Fundora, but Lubin needed to find out for himself. And he found out the hard way. There are certain fighters who are gifted freelancers, who can identify opportunities or sniff out weakness in an opponent that are beyond even what their trainers could fathom. But these fighters are few, and Lubin isn't one of them. It's possible that by sticking with Cunningham’s game plan that Lubin would have won the fight. However, he was unwilling to trust his corner. He felt that he knew better. He was a little too brash for his own good. A more disciplined performance was needed and Lubin wasn't able to give that.
As for Fundora, his size, tenacity, unique dimensions and power punching will make him a tough out in the junior middleweight division. He is a beast. But he might be a tamable beast. His chin can be cracked. And in a division of heavy hitters, there are a number of fighters who have the potential to stop him. But what Saturday's fight showed is that an opponent is going to have to beat Fundora with cleverness mixed in with power. Out-toughing or outlasting Fundora isn't going to be the way to get the better of him. It's using deception, running him into shots, controlling the pace of the fights, using the ring to one's advantage.
Fundora will make for wildly entertaining fights. He represents the new guard at 154 lbs. that will soon be fighting for titles. This group includes Tim Tszyu, Charles Conwell, Israil Madrimov, and a number of others. They all hit hard too. As imposing as Fundora can look there's no guarantee that he will emerge as the next heir at junior middleweight. But in the meantime, let's enjoy the ride. Many have looked at him and dismissed his future prospects in the sport. Yet here he is continuing to beat excellent fighters and silence his doubters. Fundora has forced his way into conversations about the next generation of fighters who could lead the sport forward. He wasn't part of anyone's master plan. But he's a threat, a force, a problem. And win or lose, we're going to watch.