By David Greisman
There was a time when Gennadiy Golovkin was unbeatable — when he was in his prime, and when his opponents weren’t at his level — when he knocked out 23 straight, earned three world titles, and was seen as one of the best middleweights in the world, and perhaps the best of them all.
That time is over. That doesn’t mean that Golovkin’s time is up.
That’s because while Golovkin isn’t what he once was, the same can be said for his opposition, which is better than it ever was before.
Golovkin at 37 isn’t what he was in his early 30s, but he’s still damn good. He isn’t undefeated anymore, even though you could still argue that he deserves to be. After years of trying in vain to get the other top 160-pounders to face him, Golovkin has shared the ring with several. He may not be in his prime anymore, and yet he’s holding his own against the likes of Daniel Jacobs, Canelo Alvarez and Sergiy Derevyanchenko.
Golovkin won a close decision over Jacobs two and a half years ago, a fight that some felt could’ve gone Jacobs’ way. He fought to a disputed draw with Canelo and then dropped a majority decision in their rematch — a fight so close that one round proved to be the difference between another draw and Golovkin’s first-ever defeat.
For the first time in forever, that left Golovkin without a world title, on the outside looking in, unable to convince Canelo to give him a lucrative third fight. He had to settle for staying busy earlier this year, taking on and taking out an undefeated but unheralded fighter named Steve Rolls.
Then came this opportunity — a shot at a world title, one stripped from Canelo due to the maddening way this sport is run. But to get the belt, Golovkin would have to go through Derevyanchenko.
For a moment, it looked like that’s exactly what Golovkin was going to do, when he dropped Derevyanchenko with a minute remaining in the first round.
It was never going to be that easy.
Derevyanchenko is gritty and capable, a contender with a lot of mileage remaining for someone his age. He is approaching 34 years old, and yet he has only been a pro for five years. His lone loss came last year, a close decision against Jacobs.
This was a second chance, and a chance against an opponent whose style was much more agreeable than Jacobs’. He had motivation, and he had the benefit of preparation — his trainer, Andre Rozier, had seen Golovkin in action while in the corner for Jacobs and Curtis Stevens.
But Derevyanchenko got caught with a right uppercut in the first round, followed by a left hook behind the ear. He ducked and weaved to avoid some of Golovkin’s follow-up shots, only to get hit again and hit the canvas. Derevyanchenko wasn’t badly hurt, but it wasn’t a good sign either.
Derevyanchenko had gone down early against Jacobs as well, then rallied back. That’s what he was going to have to do again. That’s exactly what happened.
He began to increase his volume, trying to push Golovkin back, attempting to do what Canelo had succeeded with in the rematch. Golovkin responded, landing a left hook that opened a cut over Derevyanchenko’s right eye in Round 2. The referee wrongly ruled that the wound came from an accidental head butt — a ruling that potentially could save Derevyanchenko.
A fight that ends because of a cut caused by a punch is a technical knockout. A fight that ends because of a cut caused by a head butt is either ruled a “no decision” if the fight ends before four rounds have been completed or goes to the scorecards if four rounds have been fought.
So it was not at all surprising that Derevyanchenko began Round 3 with another burst of energy, making Golovkin fight off his back foot, digging to the body to try to take some of the steam off Golovkin’s punches, trying to win as many rounds as he could for however many rounds would remain. Golovkin had to pick his spots, though he landed with considerable accuracy when he threw.
Derevyanchenko’s corner did a good job controlling the bleeding. The doctors checked on him before Round 5 began. They kept him in the fight, and so he kept himself in the fight. Derevyanchenko amped up the pace yet again. And in a telling moment, Golovkin obliged when Derevyanchenko tied up for a momentary rest. In another telling moment, Golovkin landed a good right uppercut, and Derevyanchenko absorbed it and responded with two shots.
And in the most stunning moment of the round, Derevyanchenko landed a left hook to the body with 15 seconds left, a shot that left Golovkin visually hurt.
Derevyanchenko had an extra bounce in his step in Round 6, looking fresh as he mixed up punches to the body and head. Golovkin landed individual shots or the occasional short combination, doing what he could to keep some of these rounds close.
Derevyanchenko was younger, fresher, and faster, yet Golovkin still had enough left in him to bite down and fight back, as he did in the Canelo fights. Golovkin wasn’t scoring knockouts, but he was scoring points. He was often willingly entering exchanges, rather than trying to stay away and rest. He couldn’t outwork Derevyanchenko, but he could do his damndest to try to keep pace.
Derevyanchenko sought to change that. He took a right uppercut and a pair of right hands from Golovkin early in Round 9, then responded with a barrage that pushed Golovkin back, pausing only when Golovkin laced in another right uppercut through the guard. Again at the beginning of Round 10, Derevyanchenko looked to set the tone, making Golovkin cover up and move. Golovkin had to wait for the moment when Derevyanchenko would slow slightly and he could begin to fight back.
This was a tough fight, enjoyable both for the action and the drama. For years, we wanted to see what would happen when Golovkin finally stepped in with someone who could take his punches and would give as good as they got. The fights with Canelo were great not just because of the superstars involved, but because of their styles and their substance.
Derevyanchenko wasn’t a superstar — but on Saturday night, he was shining just as brightly.
The fight went the distance. There was a buzz in the arena in New York City, palpable for those of us watching at home, aware of the possibility that Derevyanchenko had pulled it off, that he’d done enough to get the nod on the scorecards after several close, competitive rounds.
It wasn’t to be. The judges gave Golovkin the edge. Two of them had it 115-112, or seven rounds to five with an extra point deducted for the knockdown. The third judge had it 114-113, six rounds apiece.
The result was disappointing for Derevyanchenko, yet he needs to keep his head held high. He went toe to toe with Golovkin, who still must be seen as one of the best middleweights in the world. There’s a second blemish on Derevyanchenko’s record — he’s now 13-2 with 10 knockouts — but it’s hard to say that he lost, when rather it’s that he didn’t pick up the win.
Of course, Derevyanchenko would be in a better position with his career had he triumphed against Jacobs and Golovkin. But he remains a viable contender, someone who should get another shot against whomever is available and not fighting the likes of Golovkin next.
Golovkin is now 40-1-1 with 35 KOs. He could look toward Demetrius Andrade, a fellow titleholder and another tough out at 160 pounds. He could try to make a fight with Jermall Charlo. Or he could give Derevyanchenko a rematch. None of these will be easy fights.
That’s not an indictment of Golovkin. Even past his prime, he’s capable of fighting on even terms with some of the best that the middleweight division has to offer. The danger, however, is that time is not on his side.
That isn’t stopping him from taking tough fights. He’s not content to coast, though, not after years of fighting lesser foes while striving for greater opportunities. That time is over. That doesn’t mean that Golovkin’s time is up.
The Gennadiy Golovkin Era might not go on too much longer. But it sure will be fun while it lasts.