Since halfway through 2015, Gennady Golovkin and Roman Gonzalez have been featured together on the same HBO cards and telecasts. And Saturday night at Madison Square Garden, the most exciting pair of fighters in boxing were nearly derailed in tandem.
Golovkin added Jacobs’ WBA middleweight belt to his collection, but he stayed undefeated, albeit just barely, by nicking an unanimous decision over Daniel Jacobs. Gonzalez wasn’t so lucky, however, as mostly-unknown Thai fighter Srisaket Sor Rungvisai handed “Chocolatito” his first loss by majority decision and took the Nicaraguan’s WBC super flyweight belt.
They simply weren’t ideal performances for two of the most explosive fighters on the planet. Three of the fighters featured on the Pay-Per-View seemed to have an off night, in fact, even if two of them still won. It was almost a full-on hex, and it was enough to cloud the fact that all four televised bouts were good, and one was very good.
Despite the win, it was Golovkin, the Kazakh bomber, who likely fell the flattest. Now 37-0 with 33 knockouts, Golovkin was held to a decision for the first time in nearly nine years. Jacobs managed to take most of Golovkin’s power quite well, though he had to rise from a 4th round knockdown to stay in the fight. Under normal circumstances the narrow win would have been just fine, but Golovkin is sold as a wrecking machine and Jacobs threw a wrench in the cogs.
A slower start for both men favored Jacobs, who opened up the bout using his legs and jabbing. Golovkin clearly had a difficult time finding moments to set his feet and throw, though he found success with his jab and often snapped Jacobs’ head back with it even if his power punches weren’t landing.
At long last Golovkin’s power shone through in round 4 as he walked Jacobs to the ropes and doubled up with his right hand. The New York native crashed awkwardly to the canvas yet rose quickly with clear eyes. Smelling blood, Golovkin attacked and forced Jacobs to cover up for much of the remainder of the round.
The knockdown almost served to wake Jacobs up and make him more scrappy, as he often countered well and smacked Golovkin’s head back in kind in the middle rounds. Golovkin still didn’t like having to search for his prey and frustration appeared to set in as he threw punches after the bell and continually walked directly into clinches. Golovkin’s corner began calling for more activity as their charge became lulled into following Jacobs around and telegraphing his right hand.
Jacobs did well to absorb the right hands Golovkin managed to land in the later rounds. A sense of urgency set in and Golovkin increased his output, and though Jacobs battled back and at a minimum kept most rounds close, the judges favored Golovkin’s heavier connects.
The judges’ cards read 114-113 and 115-112 twice for Golovkin, who was made to look human for the second fight in a row. Jacobs, now 32-2 with 29 knockouts, lost a belt but not much else. Jacobs was a 4-to-1 underdog with noted chin issues, thus surviving and even thriving at times against Golovkin shouldn’t hurt his standing.
Whether Jacobs decides to stay at middleweight is another issue entirely, as he skipped the mandatory IBF weigh-in the morning of the bout in favor of coming in heavier against Golovkin. As most fighters do, Jacobs sheds a lot of weight for the weigh-in, and he puts much of it back on afterward. It may not be indicative of weight issues now, but at 30-years-old his window for such weight fluctuation could be closing. Regardless, he proved tougher and more skilled than the odds indicated.
For his part, Golovkin remains likely the best middleweight in the world, even if his narrow win makes the claim far shakier. But the win may have salvaged his chance at facing Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, the lineal middleweight champion and easily the most popular fighter in boxing. Looking more human might be what the 34-year-old Kazakh needs to land the huge fight he’s been calling for.
In the co-feature, Srisaket Sor Rungvisai often forced Roman Gonzalez to scrap with him in a far more crunching kind of fight than the Nicaraguan super flyweight wanted, earning the Thai a thin victory. The majority decision, while mildly controversial, nonetheless accurately captured how competitive many rounds were. Just when Gonzalez appeared to gain the upper hand with overwhelming offense, Sor Rungvisai strong-armed his way back into exchanges, rounds and indeed the fight itself with a physical style and clubbing punches. It was back-and-forth, and it was fantastic.
Sor Rungvisai, 42-4-1 with 38 knockouts, wasted little time and rocked Gonzalez back onto his heels, then put him on the deck with a body shot in round 1. From then on it was bloody, bruising combat, with both men throwing bombs at one another from bell to bell in many rounds.
In several exchanges, both Sor Rungvisai and Gonzalez engaged in pure trench warfare for extended periods of time — something not often seen in contemporary boxing, where inside fighting is considered a fading art. The collisions and muscling about led to many headbutts, forearms and low blows, however, and by round 3 Gonzalez had incurred a deep cut over his right eye that bled for the rest of the evening.
Watching Gonzalez work so hard to keep a seemingly larger, stronger foe off him was a strange sight considering his dominance at lower weights. Sor Rungvisai absorbed an unreal amount of punishment, but he also had sustained periods of success by finding ways to land his southpaw left hand. Both men put on a body punching clinic.
Round 6 saw flamboyant referee Steve Willis deduct a point from Sor Rungvisai for what looked to be an incidental headbutt, but it didn’t affect the action much. Most rounds weren’t easy to score; Gonzalez’s punches were snappy and landed clean, but Sor Rungvisai’s were heavier and he moved “Chocolatito” backward for much of the fight.
Scores of 113-113 and 114-112 twice dropped Gonzalez’s ledger to 46-1 with 38 knockouts. The New York crowd largely disapproved of the decision, but at minimum Gonzalez had a rough night.
Facing a little-known fighter with a high knockout percentage — and a southpaw at that — was a gamble on Gonzalez’s part. He had potential big money rematches with Carlos Cuadras or Juan Francisco Estrada waiting in the wings, and arguing for the lion’s share of the purse in those bouts would be nigh impossible now. The gamble didn’t pay off. The fights themselves are still very exciting and high quality on paper, though, and perhaps an injection of humility may speed up any negotiation processes.
In defeating Gonzalez, Sor Rungvisai scored a win that is surely in the lead for “Upset of the Year” fewer than three months in. More importantly, he now stands among various Thai champions in boxing history and should be able to demand far more money as a result.
Former Gonzalez foe Carlos Cuadras earned a somewhat questionable decision over David Carmona in a super flyweight contest on the undercard. Cuadras, 36-1-1 with 27 knockouts, got more than he bargained for against Carmona, who wasn’t content to play the role of opponent for his fellow Mexico City native. Instead Carmona kept his jab in Cuadras’ mug and forced the latter to work hard to win exchanges.
This version of Carlos Cuadras, like both Golovkin and Gonzalez, appeared flat or rusty. While he zeroed in with his right hand early in the fight, he tired in the middle rounds and Carmona seized enough initiative to make it a close skirmish. When the final bell rang, Carmona celebrated, confident of his assumed victory, while Cuadras acted happy to be done with the entire thing.
Two judges cards scored seven rounds for Cuadras at 97-93, while a third 96-94 card for the former belt-holder was a bit more believable. WBO super flyweight titlist Naoya Inoue had a much easier time with Carmona in 2016, but Cuadras will likely just move on.
In the PPV opener, lightweight “Blue Chip” Ryan Martin stayed undefeated by beating up Bryant Cruz and stopping him in eight rounds. While mostly competitive, Martin, 18-0 with 11 knockouts, fought an uphill battle and his chances slipped away from round 5 on, as Martin accelerated his offense and pushed for a stoppage. Cruz, 17-2 with 8 knockouts, protested when stopped on his feet, but there was simply no reason to let the bout continue.
Lost in the wake of disputed decisions and stars failing to meet expectations was a PPV card that offered competitive, hotly-contested match ups. Nobody was afraid to punch and every fight was worthwhile. Though discussion of the price tag could be reopened, four competitive fights is a good buy for boxing fans.