Six years ago this month, a flight from Moscow descended toward LAX with a pre-touchdown view of the Forum in Inglewood.
Toting just one bag on his journey, Kazakhstan-born boxer Gennady Golovkin deplaned to find his new trainer, Abel Sanchez, who was surprised how quiet the event seemed.
How that's all changed. Golovkin, 34, returns to the Forum on Saturday night with an opportunity to stamp himself as boxing's most important fighter.
Following the retirements of
The World Boxing Assn. and International Boxing Federation champion, carries a 21-fight knockout streak into the fight. The HBO-televised card is a showcase that Golovkin (34-0, 31 KOs) can use in his pursuit of the sport's next super-bout, against Mexico's World Boxing Council middleweight champion Saul "Canelo" Alvarez.
Golovkin is striving to unify the middleweight division while Alvarez, 25, is maneuvering tentatively through his promoter,
In an interview last week at his trainer's gym in Big Bear, Golovkin showed the strides he's made in speaking English while living in Los Angeles for the past couple of years. He spoke without an interpreter and shed some of the overly polite tone he usually carries in group sessions with reporters.
Admitting he understands some of the hesitancy from Alvarez due to the financial risk of Mexico's top fighter suffering a crushing defeat, Golovkin also pressed his rival by invoking the proud reputation of Mexican warriors.
"It's maybe 20% Canelo and 80% [De La Hoya's] fault," Golovkin said of their not reaching terms. "Everyone says Canelo is a great champion, the idol of Mexico. The idol of what? For boxing? Or as a businessman? Right now, he looks like a businessman.
"Hey, listen, Canelo, I have double the championship belts. Make the [next] fight with me. It's a good fight for us. Not an easy fight. Everyone understands that. … For me, it's about who's the best? Who's No. 1 in the division? Second is money."
Golovkin's promoter, Tom Loeffler, said that "Triple-G" — Golovkin's middle name is Gennadyevich — is amenable to a purse split that could give Alvarez 55% and is willing to accept second billing at a venue such as
Should Alvarez defeat former 140-pound world champion Amir Khan of England as expected in a 155-pound catch-weight title defense May 7, the Mexico-based WBC has mandated that Alvarez either begin negotiations with mandatory challenger Golovkin by May 22 or lose his belt to Golovkin.
The hard bargaining is expected to be over weight, with De La Hoya's partner, Eric Gomez, telling The Times that Alvarez is "not a true middleweight" and that if Golovkin wants the fight so badly he should be willing to agree to shed a few extra pounds under the 160-pound middleweight limit.
"Gennady feels pretty strongly that if it's two middleweight champions fighting, it should be at the middleweight limit," Loeffler said. "If [weight] is the only sticking point, we'd have to take a look at it. … We want to make the fight as soon as possible."
Golovkin has battled shyness as he attempts to draw more attention to his fights in the U.S. He made the rounds of television media this week and has been directed by Loeffler to Hollywood awards shows and premieres between fights.
The fighter admits he cherishes his privacy. His wife drives him around town and he enjoys taking his 6-year-old son, Vadim, to the beach and hockey practice.
"I have my regular life," he said. "People, they see my face … it's like, 'I know him, not too much.' When people go, 'Aww, Triple G! Aww!' I'm finished."
His popularity is on the upswing. Golovkin inked a deal with Nike's Jordan Brand last week, viewership on HBO for his bouts has steadily risen beyond 1 million and the Forum has increased its capacity to 17,000 for this fight after he drew 13,000 in beating Willie Monroe there last year.
Golovkin's punching power is what separates him from the defense-minded Mayweather and even Pacquiao, who hasn't knocked out an opponent since 2009.
Pacquiao's trainer, Freddie Roach, also has praised Golovkin as the most astute active fighter in the art of cutting off the ring and unbeaten light-heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev of Russia said that his time practicing with Golovkin in Big Bear was the most meaningful training he has ever experienced.
"I want to give the fans a show," Golovkin said. "Not jab, not moving. Everybody pays money for what? To drink? To watch like a movie theater [mocking boredom, eating popcorn] for two hours?
"No, this is boxing."
Of IBF mandatory challenger Wade, Golovkin said this week, "I remember my situation [before winning a belt] … He feels he's more hungry. This is his big chance, his dream fight."
Earlier, Golovkin let the truth slip, admitting he hasn't watched any in-depth video footage of Wade. In Las Vegas, the odds favor the fight ending by the seventh round.
"He's a regular guy, a regular boxer," Golovkin said. "Why should I [scout him] on the TV? I see he's orthodox. Right hand. That's it."
In other words, bring on Canelo.
Who: Gennady Golovkin (34-0, 31 KOs), Kazakhstan, vs. Dominic Wade (18-0, 12 KOs), Largo, Md., for Golovkin's WBA and IBF middleweight belts.
Where: The Forum.
When: First bell, Saturday, 4:45 p.m.; HBO portion, 7 p.m.
Tickets: $30-$400, at Forum box office and Ticketmaster.com.
Undercard: Roman "Chocolatito" Gonzalez (44-0, 38 KOs), Nicaragua, vs. McWilliams Arroyo (16-2, 14 KOs), Puerto Rico, for Gonzalez's WBC flyweight belt. Non-televised undercard includes: Ryan "Blue Chip" Martin (13-0, 8 KOs) vs. Rosberg "Lobito" Montoya (16-7-1, 13 KOs) in a scheduled six-round lightweight bout; women's bout: Kenia Enriquez (15-1-0, 7 KOs) vs. Amaris "Diamond Girl" Quintana (9-2-2, 1 KO) in an eight-round flyweight bout.