The refrain from many top fighters, and their handlers, typically was the same, and it went something like this: Fight Gennady Golovkin? For what? He doesn't bring anything to the table so it's not worth it.
Of course, they all know the kind of danger that Golovkin, he of the wrecking ball power and 20 consecutive knockouts, presents. So why tangle with a beast if the money is not huge?
But no opponent, not even the winner of the HBO PPV fight on Nov. 21 between middleweight champion Miguel Cotto and former junior middleweight titlist Canelo Alvarez, can say that anymore.
Since coming to the United States to fight regularly in 2012, Golovkin (33-0, 30 KOs) has seen his HBO ratings increase fight after fight. Golovkin, who was born in Kazakhstan and relocated to Germany for a while, settled in Los Angeles earlier this year.
His popularity has mushroomed to the point that rather than fight on an undercard at Madison Square Garden Theater in New York, as he once did in 2013 in his second fight in the United States, or even headline in that smaller arena as he did later in 2013, he has moved into the main arena -- and he drew a strong crowd for his fight with former titlist Daniel Geale last year.
Golovkin then sold out the StubHub Center in Carson, California, where temporary seats were added to accommodate the intense interest, for his fight with Marco Antonio Rubio in October 2014.
In May, Golovkin drew an electric, near-sellout crowd to The Forum in Inglewood, California, to see him fight Willie Monroe Jr., who was given almost no shot to even be competitive. Golovkin dominated in a sixth-round knockout victory.
And now Golovkin, who has defended his 160-pound world title 14 times (tied for second-most in division history) is crossing over even more, making his debut in a national Apple Watch television commercial during last week's Monday Night Football game on ESPN.
It is that kind of potential mainstream appeal, thanks to the excitement he brings to the ring and his likable personality outside of it, that has Golovkin on the edge of huge things. It is the reason Tom Loeffler of K2 Promotions, Golovkin's promoter, and HBO, which has GGG under exclusive contract, decided it was time to see what he could do on pay-per-view, where he will make his debut in a world title unification fight against powerful Montreal slugger David Lemieux (34-2, 31 KOs) -- the rare top fighter who asked to fight Golovkin -- on Saturday night (HBO PPV, 9 p.m. ET) at Madison Square Garden in New York.
Boxing, after all, is looking for its next big box-office star in the wake of the retirement of Floyd Mayweather and the expected retirement of Manny Pacquiao in the coming year.
Golovkin, with his aw-shucks attitude, did not want to make a big deal out of the tremendous trajectory his career is on. Same goes for his appearance in the Apple Watch commercial, although aside from Pacquiao and Mayweather, what top boxer has appeared in national advertising these days? The answer is none.
"You know, I am a boxer. You know, thanks to my promoter," Golovkin said of his growing profile. "I know David is a champion too. This is a big deal for us. This is my first pay-per-view."
It probably won't be his last, either, since the way the deal is structured, the fight needs sell only around 200,000 subscriptions to be profitable. Given the hype for a fight universally expected to deliver fireworks between two of boxing's most explosive punchers, and with an A-plus co-feature -- flyweight champion Roman Gonzalez (43-0, 37 KOs), the new pound-for-pound king after Mayweather's retirement, against former titlist Brian Viloria (36-4, 22 KOs) -- that sales number should be easy to achieve.
"Gennady is breaking through where he's going into the mainstream," Loeffler said. "We brought him to different entertainment events and a lot of the entertainers said he's their favorite fighter, so he's definitely crossing over. When you have a matchup against a guy like David Lemieux -- look, if this was somebody that wasn't known or two fighters that weren't known in the main event, we wouldn't have sold 15,000 tickets in the first week. [Going on pay-per-view] -- it's a risk that we took."
With only about 10 tickets remaining as of Wednesday afternoon, Loeffler said the Garden will be sold out.
Fighters may still look to avoid Golovkin, but Loeffler said they can no longer use the excuse that it is because he doesn't bring anything to the table. The risk is there, but the reward is great now, Loeffler said.
"I think that excuse was not valid anymore over a year ago," he said. "I mean, when Gennady sold out the StubHub Center, then he had over 12,000 people at The Forum. People used that excuse in the past as a reason why it didn't make sense to fight Gennady, but you see with this promotion and with the dance partner, with Gennady having a marketable opponent with him, who is another champion, I mean, that brings this to a whole different level, and that's what we've always said is the marketability for Gennady."
Loeffler said the reaction to the Apple Watch commercial has also been off the charts.
"He's just a marketable fighter and a likable fighter, and David Lemieux is also very marketable, very popular as a champion as well, so it's just the chemistry of the promotion and the two champions fighting each other that's taken this to a completely different level."