This wasn't just any night for Gennady Golovkin. It was his pay-per-view debut against a heavy punching opponent, with a chance to elevate himself to boxing's elite level.
So after he technically dominated fellow champion David Lemieux by landing 170 jabs and physically imposed his will with an eighth-round knockout that placed him in historic company, Golovkin considered his accomplishment early Sunday morning at Madison Square Garden.
"I'm very proud," Golovkin said. "It was a big step for the future, for my story."
Now 34-0 with 31 knockouts, the 33-year-old World Boxing Assn. and International Boxing Federation middleweight champion from Kazakhstan is now riding a 21-fight streak of knockouts.
With 15 of those in title fights, Golovkin is two more from tying Wilfredo Gomez's record in the category. He passed legendary middleweight Carlos Monzon with the 15th straight title defense, and moved within five of Bernard Hopkins' record of 20 straight.
Victory in his biggest fight yet positions Golovkin for an even more important bout.
Golovkin is the mandatory challenger in the World Boxing Council, so the winner of the Nov. 21 Miguel Cotto-Saul "Canelo" Alvarez fight will have only 15 days to agree to a Golovkin bout or be stripped of a title that will go to Golovkin.
Alvarez “is much faster, much more experienced, has that ring generalship, big punching power and he’s 25 years old,” said
Golovkin trainer Abel Sanchez said he expects his fighter "will come back soon and thrill you guys again. Gennady's on a different level."
"That's the best I've seen [his jab] in a fight. I've said I needed someone to challenge him so he'd use the jab. [Lemieux] was a mental threat, so he used the jab better. He did a lot of things off the jab. The jab was magnificent and controlled the fight. He wanted to show he's not just a banger, that he can box."
After both frustrating and stinging Lemieux with the jab early on, Golovkin brought out his power tools and knocked down the Canadian with a short right to the body in the fifth round.
By the sixth, Lemieux's right eye was swollen, and he was beaten up in the Golovkin corner in the eighth, shifting to ropes, where a hard body shot backed him and a right to the face caused referee Steve Willis to stop the fight 1 minute, 32 seconds in.
"His jab was a very good punch -- his best punch of the night," Lemieux said. "He's a good champion. I know GGG's a good fighter. I could've done a lot more. As the rounds went on, I wanted to extend the fight a bit longer, but the referee didn't see it that way."
Golovkin connected on 280 punches to Lemieux's 89, a showcase that comes just more than a month since unbeaten welterweight champion Floyd Mayweather Jr.'s retirement created a void for someone to ascend to boxing's "next big thing."
A sellout crowd of 20,548 attended the bout at the fight mecca, and HBO is hopeful it drew in excess of 200,000 buyers on a night television viewers also had the
Golovkin expressed satisfaction that his action had audience-building benefits.
"[Lemieux] went to school -- boxing school," Golovkin said. "He's a good, big champion, but it's a different class."
Golovkin promoter Tom Loeffler said, "This type of performance opens up a lot of doors. With the revenue generated by this fight, Gennady fighting any champion would be a big fight."
If Cotto or "Canelo" balk at an immediate bout, Golovkin would likely explore a date with the winner of the Dec. 19 World Boxing Organization title fight between Andy Lee and Billy Joe Saunders, or the Dec. 5 Daniel Jacobs-Peter Quillin winner in Brooklyn, Loeffler said.
Lemieux might've lost the fight, but he pocketed a personal-best $1.5-million purse and De La Hoya said he's confident the 26-year-old will recover to participate in other important middleweight bouts.
"The way I see it, is there's nothing lost here," De La Hoya said.
The promoter said he's not backing from his strategy of placing his fighters into the best fights possible, even if the Lemieux defeat came just two weeks after another De La Hoya fighter, Lucas Matthysse, was upset by Viktor Postol in a welterweight title fight.