Middleweight titleholder Gennady Golovkin had big plans this summer. He hoped to face super middleweight star Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. in the main event of an HBO PPV card that was being put together for July 19 at the Forum in Inglewood, California.
It would have been Golovkin's first appearance on pay-per-view, would have meant a move up to 168 pounds, and it was a matchup that had fireworks written all over it.
It would have been a big deal for Golovkin, one of the fastest-rising attractions in boxing. His side was done, but Chavez, who doesn't seem to know whether he wants to fight anymore, could not come to terms with Top Rank, his promoter. The fight was never consummated, and now Chavez will sit for who knows how long.
But Golovkin was not about to miss out on a summer fight, especially after having to cancel an April 26 fight with Andy Lee following the untimely Feb. 18 death of his father, which left Golovkin deeply saddened during a 40-day ritual mourning period and with many family obligations to handle.
Once the Chavez fight fell apart, Golovkin and his promoter, K2 Promotions' Tom Loeffler, zeroed in on their next choice, and it was a pretty darn good one: former unified middleweight titleholder Daniel Geale, who many believe represents GGG's stiffest test.
We'll find out just how big a test when Golovkin makes his 11th title defense against Geale on Saturday night (HBO, 9:30 ET/PT) at Madison Square Garden in New York -- Golovkin's first fight in the main arena, scaled for about 9,000, after he twice drew raucous crowds to the 5,000-seat MSG Theater.
Golovkin -- whose 89.66 percent knockout ratio is the highest among boxing's active titleholders -- has wanted to fight top opponents, but few have been willing to face him. So four years and all these defenses into his title reign, Geale is clearly, on paper at least, his best opponent.
"Yes, absolutely, because he has a specific style," Golovkin said. "He has proved that in his fights and it will be difficult to solve. Daniel is a great fighter. I have watched his tapes, and the last fight in particular makes me realize this is not going to be an easy fight."
Said trainer Abel Sanchez: "He's the most accomplished guy we've faced so far. But the pressure and the power and the strength of Gennady, there's no one out there at 160 pounds who is going to stay 12 rounds with him."
In the significant co-feature, undefeated heavyweights Mike Perez (20-0-1, 12 KOs), 28, a Cuban defector living in Ireland, meets Philadelphia's Bryant Jennings (18-0, 10 KOs), 29, in an elimination fight that will determine the mandatory challenger for the winner of the fall fight between world titleholder Bermane Stiverne and current mandatory challenger Deontay Wilder.
Golovkin, 32, of Kazakhstan, and Geale, 33, of Australia, have been on a collision course for a couple of years. At one point, after Geale outpointed Felix Sturm in Germany to unify titles in 2012, Golovkin was his mandatory challenger. Rather than facing him, Geale vacated one of his belts to take a big-money rematch with countryman Anthony Mundine, a fight Geale won easily to avenge his first career defeat.
Then Golovkin (29-0, 26 KOs) and Geale were supposed to fight in April, but the fight was not finalized because Geale (30-2, 16 KOs) could not secure the pay-per-view date in Australia due to a conflict with a UFC event that was already scheduled. Golovkin-Lee was then made, but canceled because of the death of Golovkin's father.
Golovkin had knocked out Osumanu Adama in February, so even though the April fight was canceled, he has not had a long layoff. When he returned to Sanchez's gym in Big Bear Lake, California, to begin training in mid-May, he started slowly, perhaps with his father still on his mind.
"Yeah, you're right, maybe for the first time, maybe for my first day I'm not focused," Golovkin said. "It's not 100 percent. In gym, yeah, I understand what I'm doing. I understand my job. Maybe for first day, not 100 percent [focused]. My body, it feels good. My mental [not as much]."
Said Sanchez, "It was kind of hard to get back into the groove but after 2-3 days he was fine. He's an animal. He's a horse. He works harder than anyone I've ever seen. It makes it easy for us."
After Geale avenged the loss to Mundine, he lost his title by split decision to England's Darren Barker in an all-action rumble this past August. He rebounded for a victory against countryman Garth Wood in February, which set him up for Saturday's title shot.
"Gennady has got titles, and I want titles," Geale said. "That's my main goal here. I want to fight the best fighters and I want to win some titles and there is only one way to do that, whether he has a great record or not. You have to get in there and test yourself against the best fighters in the world."
Geale has done that before. He is the rare fighter who has twice gone to Germany and won split decisions against hometown fighters in world title challenges -- against Sturm and Sebastian Sylvester in 2011. Geale is fearless, and said he won't wilt against Golovkin.
"I've been watching his fights. He does well with the guys they put in front of him," Geale said. "He does what he has to do. He's been knocking a lot of guys out but I don't think he's fought too many guys like me before. That's what excites me. I'm gonna take him places he hasn't been before and I guess show him something different, like what it's like to go late into a fight. I've been in lots of hard 12-round fights against great fighters, and I'm gonna take him to that place."
OK, but what about all those highlight-reel knockouts GGG has been scoring?
"That doesn't bother me at all. I'm focused on what I need to do in the fight," said Geale, who lost a 2001 amateur fight to Golovkin. "He does have good power. Guys stand in front of him or sit back on the ropes and wait for him to hit. So of course he's gonna hurt you. But what he can't hit, it will be a different story. I just need to go out there and box and do my thing, fight my style of fight, and I know it will be very difficult for him and I'm gonna make it a tough fight.
"I think he's deserving of the hype. He's knocked out the guys that have been put in front of him so you can't take that away from him. But you can't make him a lot bigger than what he is. He's done good. But now I'm gonna show that he's not invincible."
Said Graham Shaw, Geale's trainer, "Daniel's come to win a belt, not just be another name on Gennady's list. Gennady's a big puncher, but Daniel typically doesn't get hit too often. He's tougher than people think."
Gary Shaw, Geale's promoter, said Geale should not be counted out and that the fight reminds him of another one he was involved in -- when his fighter, then-super middleweight titlist Jeff Lacy, who was getting enormous hype and scoring big knockouts, was the big favorite when he traveled to England for a super middleweight unification fight with Joe Calzaghe in 2006.
"This fight reminds me of Lacy and Calzaghe," Shaw said. "Lacy was knocking everyone out. He went to England and Calzaghe beat him every second of every round because Calzaghe was a different type of fighter. So it depends on who you give him. The fighters they have given Golovkin have all stood in front of him. That's not Daniel's style. I don't think he's faced somebody who throws as many punches as Daniel throws, gives as many angles as Daniel gives, and Daniel has deceiving power. When I think Calzaghe and Lacy, I think of Golovkin and Geale."
All Golovkin thinks about is winning and moving on to even bigger fights and bigger stardom.
"This is a big fight for me. Daniel Geale is a former world champion and a dangerous opponent," he said. "This is a big test for me. I'm very happy with the way my career has progressed.
"Right now my focus is on Daniel Geale. In the future, of course, I'd like to fight [middleweight champion] Miguel Cotto or Canelo Alvarez. Cotto at Madison Square Garden would be perfect."