Gennady Golovkin is smiling.
As the middleweight titleholder, he smiles a lot. Between the ropes, he is 160 pounds of intense focus and heavy-handed beatdown, but when the contest is over and -- as has been the case following every one of his 27 professional contests so far -- his hand is raised in victory, Golovkin's other side comes out.
The transition is easy for him to make, his trainer Abel Sanchez said, because, "this is a sport to him. He isn't mad at anybody."
That combination of devastating, in-ring presence and approachable, outside-the-ring demeanor has helped Golovkin rapidly evolve, in a remarkably short space of time, from a YouTube curiosity to one of the sport's rising stars. He's gone from a life of anonymity to one in which his ringside presence results in cries of "G-G-G!" and in which he can commandeer a corner of a Las Vegas hotel on a Saturday afternoon and play host to one journalist after another over the course of several hours.
Suggest to him that it must feel good to be recognized, to be appreciated for his personality as well as his boxing, to have become so popular so swiftly, and he gives a humble nod, shrugs his shoulders self-deprecatingly and then, unable to stop himself, breaks into that broad, beaming smile.
And yet, his arrival at this point has not been happenstance. It is the culmination of a plan that was set in motion years ago in Kazakhstan, when Golovkin elected to assert his authority as a result of being fractionally older than his twin brother, Max.
"From what I heard in Kazakhstan, this young man," said Sanchez, nodding toward Max, who is sitting next to his sibling, "was a better boxer growing up than Gennady. But because Gennady is the oldest ..."
"By 20 minutes," the slightly older Golovkin chimed in, with a grin.
"They would get to the finals of all these tournaments, and of course they wouldn't fight each other," Sanchez continued. "So Gennady decided that he would go on, and Max would go home and take care of their parents."
"The last seven years, I live with my family in Germany, and he lives with our parents in Kazakhstan," Gennady said.
The amateur experience that Golovkin (and his brother) gained in his homeland has proven -- literally -- fundamental to his success as a professional, Sanchez argues.
"One time, we fought in Kazakhstan, about three years ago," Sanchez said. "We knocked some guy [Nilson Julio Tapia] out in the third round. We're sitting at a luncheon the next day, and not counting Gennady, there were six ex-amateur world champions. There's no professional program in Kazakhstan, which is why he moved to Germany to pursue his professional career. But the schooling in Kazakhstan is incredible, and that's why he is who he is."
"Many different styles," Golovkin said. "Kazakhstan is very good, because it's middle. Not Europe, and not Asia. Sometimes, you go to Asia, like Philippines or China; sometimes you go to England, Germany, Russia. It's a mix all the time."
Golovkin's promoter, Tom Loeffler of K2 Promotions, asserts that although his fighter has gained headlines for his ability to render his opponents incapacitated, it's his adaptability, honed from years of amateur experience, that has enabled him to set up those knockouts.
"In his first fight on HBO, he was supposed to fight [Dmitry] Pirog, who was considered one of the stronger middleweights at that time because he had knocked out Danny Jacobs," Loeffler said. "So he went from Pirog to fighting [Grzegorz] Proksa three or four weeks before the fight [after Pirog withdrew because of injury]. Completely different fighter: Proksa's a southpaw, he moves around a lot. But we felt that because of his amateur experience, fighting so many different styles -- tall fighters, short fighters, fast fighters, whatever it is -- he's so adaptable to whoever he faces."
That fight with Proksa was surpisingly only about 13 months ago. It was Golovkin's introduction to the mainstream U.S. boxing audience, and since then, he has scored emphatic wins over Gabriel Rosado, Nobuhiro Ishida and Matthew Macklin to establish himself as a must-see fixture on the scene. It might seem like an overnight success, but Sanchez reckons it has been a long time coming.
"It was all planned," he said. "I'm not going to say we knew what would happen, but it was all planned. Last year, we sat down as a team and discussed fighting regularly, because we needed to get the ball rolling. He had enough experience that we didn't have to baby him. And he was willing to do it, that's the whole thing. He spent 10 months out of the year in camp. He has a four-year-old son and a wife at home. So if the athlete is willing to do it, it's easier for us as a promoter, a publicist and a coach to be able to do the things that we do, because he's producing. We're having a helluva ride."
On the other side of the table, Gennady Golovkin is smiling.