Over the last five years, a lot has changed in boxing.
Almost five years ago to the day, at the world’s most famous arena Madison Square Garden in New York City, Gennadiy Golovkin took on Daniel Jacobs for the WBA and WBC middleweight titles. The fight was broadcasted on HBO PPV with a sold-out crowd of 19,939 fans.
Back in March of 2017, HBO was still a large piece of the boxing landscape. When HBO left boxing in December 2018, it left a still unfilled void in the sport. Regardless of the criticism, HBO may have faced throughout the years from fans and pundits, the production value alone was heads and shoulders over today’s current platforms sans Showtime. It’s too bad that HBO has chosen to largely ignore its history in boxing, showcasing fights from 1973 to 2018. Their streaming service HBO Max keeps all its boxing content in a vault that has yet to see the light of day.
One of the fighters whose career has significantly changed over the last five years is Gennadiy Golovkin. Back in 2017, at 34 years old, he was seen as one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the sport and considered one of the most feared fighters in boxing. At that time, a large contingent of boxing’s fan base felt Saul “Canelo” Alvarez was avoiding the Kazakhstani power puncher after winning the lineal middleweight crown from Miguel Cotto in November 2015.
Following his victory over Cotto, Alvarez defended his middleweight title against the former junior welterweight champion and welterweight contender Amir Khan. Then went back down to 154-pounds to capture the WBO title from the United Kingdom’s Liam Smith.
Flash forward five years with two fights between Golovkin and Alvarez, with the latter now sitting on top of the boxing world considered the world’s best fighter and the sports biggest box office attraction. Whether you think Alvarez waited for Golovkin to get older or not is inconsequential. While many of the headlines focused more on the prospect of Golovkin facing Alvarez, the man who stood across the ring from him on March 18, 2017, was viewed as the best opponent of the Kazakhstani’s career thus far.
Jacobs, much like Golovkin, was a stand-out amateur fighter who won several tournaments, including a gold medal at the 2006 United States National Championships that included a win over Shawn Porter. The Brooklyn, New York native, won the prospect of the year award from ESPN and Sports Illustrated in 2009 and looked like the next torchbearer for the middleweight division.
Things changed for Jacobs when he lost via fifth-round knockout by Dmitry Pirog in the summer of 2010 and then a year later in May 2011 being diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer. Miraculously, Jacobs would not only beat cancer but return to the ring in 2012, winning two fights earning him The Ring Magazine’s Comeback of the Year award.
Jacobs would eventually win a version of the WBA middleweight title and score a pair of knockout victories over Peter Quillin and Sergio Mora. The first-round knockout of Quillin made the demand to see Jacobs in a significant fight at an all-time high.
After a few months of back-and-forth negotiations between Golovkin’s promoter Tom Loeffler and Jacobs’ promoter Al Haymon, a fight between Golovkin and Jacobs was finalized. Heading into the fight with Jacobs, Golovkin was on a 23-fight knockout streak and attempting his 18th overall middleweight title defense. Jacobs was also on a 12-fight win streak with all 12 wins by stoppage. Needless to say, Golovkin-Jacobs was a title match that was worthy of the Madison Square Garden setting.
The IBF middleweight title was only on the line for Golovkin as Jacobs and his team chose to strategically forgo the day of weigh-in administered by the sanctioning body where the fighters are required to weigh in at up to 170-pounds. For this scribe, Golovkin-Jacobs was the most significant fight I had the pleasure of covering live and the first at Madison Square Garden. With Golovkin-Jacobs falling on the weekend of the Saint Patrick’s Day holiday, the city of New York was in a festive mood to go along with the somewhat snowy backdrop.
The day before Golovkin-Jacobs, Irish boxer and Olympian Michael Conlan made his professional debut at the Theater of Madison Square Garden. Former UFC champion Conor McGregor appeared at the fight, causing a raucous with boxing media promoting his eventual future boxing debut.
On the day of the fight, I took a tour of Madison Square Garden to view the arena from top to bottom, viewing the locker rooms and the ground level where the fights would be taking place. There are photos of Madison Square Garden’s most historical events throughout the stadium. In anticipation of the night’s events, I went down to the famed Jimmy’s Corner to have a drink and see if I could meet some of the writers and members of the media whose content had influenced me for years.
While I was at the top of the rafters in my auxiliary media position, the atmosphere inside the Garden was palpable. The fight of the night was between Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez and Srisaket Sor Rungvisai in terms of pure back and forth action. Gonzalez was rated as the best pound-for-pound and lost a controversial majority decision. The fight that could have been scored for either man and was one of the best of the entire year. In some respects, it was foreshadowing for the main event.
Since the second fight with Alvarez in September 2018, Golovkin hasn’t been featured as prominently in the spotlight, relegated to fighting once or twice a year and not fighting at all in 2021. However, back in 2017, Golovkin was one of boxing’s noteworthy live attractions selling out arenas on the east and west coast.
When he entered the Garden with the “The White Stripes” blaring throughout the arena, it was as if a mini-explosion went off. The song, along with the prospect of seeing Golovkin in the ring, was the perfect mixture for a fan of boxing, especially in a live setting.
From the sound of the first bell, it was apparent that Jacobs would not fall victim as the typical GGG opponent. The first three rounds were extraordinarily close, and how you scored these rounds considerably impacted whom you had winning.
In the fourth round, Golovkin scored a knockdown that energized him and would be one of the most significant factors in how the judges ultimately scored the fight. The rest of the fight had ebbs and flows, with Golovkin and Jacobs trading rounds and three or more swing rounds that could have gone to either fighter.
In between rounds five and six, Jacobs’ trainer Andre Rozier gave a quick synopsis of the strategy his team had planned to defeat Golovkin. “We can win this round by round, and that’s what I want,” Rozier emphatically stated to Jacobs. Golovkin’s vaunted body attack was essentially non-existent against Jacobs; however, as per usual, the Kazakhstani’s jab was the key to his offense, allowing him to score punches from the mid-range and opening up opportunities on the inside.
As the fight headed into the final rounds, each stanza became filled with momentum shifts, with each fighter taking the lead. The twelfth and final round was the fight’s most memorable, with both fighters trading punches as the crowd cheered on both pugilists. Golovkin walked back to his corner and was held up with adulation, and Jacobs slung down on his knees on the realization that he may have just accomplished his goal while proving so many wrong.
After 12 rounds, a clear winner was in doubt. “For the first time in Triple G’s professional career, the final bell sounded, and the outcome is in doubt,” stated then HBO commentator Max Kellerman. The late Harold Lederman, who typically favored the aggressive fighter, had the fight as close as possible, scoring the fight six rounds apiece. The knockdown in the fourth round was the difference-maker. The three judges agreed with Lederman, awarding Golovkin a unanimous decision with scores of 114-113 and 115-112 twice.
The decision divided the media in attendance with arguments made on both sides for either man having their hand raised. Without a rematch clause, Golovkin and Jacobs haven’t faced each other again despite how close and entertaining their fight turned out to be.
Golovkin will face Ryota Murata next in a middleweight unification in hopes of landing a third fight with Alvarez later this year. Jacobs recently lost a split decision to John Ryder in the United Kingdom at 168-pounds. Unfortunately, a rematch still seems unlikely five years later, with both men taking divergent paths in their careers. But, in March 2017, Gennadiy Golovkin and Daniel Jacobs highlighted a trip to Madison Square Garden that added another indelible chapter in the arena’s storied history.