Saturday at the Saitama Super Arena in Japan, Gennadiy Golovkin, who had turned 40 just the day before, got off to a slow start against fellow middleweight titlist Ryota Murata. Immediately, the “he got old” and “he’s looking his age” talk started popping up all over the online Universo Pugilistico.
Then, however, “Triple G” righted the ship and began to put a hurting on his Japanese opponent, eventually forcing Murata’s corner to throw in the towel in the ninth round.
After the fight, the boxing media seemed to have mixed feelings about the performance. Golovkin had “showed his age” but also “still had ‘it’”
This mixed-up confusion over an aging fighter’s main stage viability is nothing new in boxing. Most recently, multi-division world champ and future first ballot Hall of Famer Manny Pacquiao found himself in that same situation as Golovkin.
Back in 2012, when Pacquiao was knocked out by Juan Manuel Marquez, there were calls for the Filipino icon to consider retirement. He was a week shy of his 34th birthday. Three years later, when he dropped his mega-fight with Floyd Mayweather, those calls for retirement grew louder. Two years after THAT, when he dropped a controversial decision to the unheralded Jeff Horn, boxing writers were adamant that he should hang up the gloves, penning cringe-worthy “Please, Manny, call it quits before you get hurt” articles.
But after each call for retirement, Pacquiao bounced back and notched some impressive, high-end victories that proved he still belonged at the highest levels of the sport. Eventually, he did reach the end of the line with the loss to Yordenis Ugas this past August at the age of 42. But if the analysts, critics, fans, and media members had their way, he would’ve been gone from the sport nearly a decade earlier, well before he was actually done as a high-end fighter.
Golovkin, meanwhile, has been written about as a spent bullet ever since his first fight with Canelo Alvarez—a disputable draw– didn’t turn out as some hoped it would. Actually, starting with his 2017 fight with Daniel Jacobs, the “he’s not the same Triple G anymore” calls have been heard.
And, while aging is a factor in every fighter’s life, it’s also quite possible that much of the perceived diminished return from the Kazakh KO artist comes from things beyond father time’s reach. Golovkin has been exceedingly inactive of late, something which will have an effect on a fighter used to being very active. There’s also the hunger-satiating $100 million deal he signed with streaming service DAZN. He certainly wouldn’t be the first fighter whose hunger was diminished by a big-money windfall.
Another possibility is that Golovkin stepped up in class against guys like Alvarez and Jacobs and just wasn’t going to look as dominant as he did against a long career of lesser opposition—and that, maybe, afterwards, his aura of invincibility simply wasn’t there anymore. In opponents’ eyes, he was now just a human being and they didn’t come into fights with him intimidated and already half-defeated.
Whatever the case, the lesson to be learned when it comes to aging fighters is that nobody knows when a fighter is done until he is, indeed, done. “Slowed down” is not done and age, alone, especially in this era of sports science, is little more than a number.
Eventually, Gennadiy Golovkin will be too old to fight and will make that decision to leave the sport on his own, just as Manny Pacquiao did. And, also like Pacquiao, he needs to follow his heart, soul, and body in making that decision. Until then, Golovkin is still active. He just added the WBA middleweight title to his IBF title and is on his way to a third battle with Canelo Alvarez. There are no real, outward signs that he’s a shot fighter or even on his way to being shot. The armchair experts need to move to one side and let a fighter be a fighter until he chooses to no longer be one.