MASHANTUCKET, Conn. -- Middleweight titlist Gennady Golovkin has been tearing through opponents with such abandon that he is reaching cult hero status among hard-core fight fans.
He has destroyed the competition. Lajuan Simon? Dusted him with one punch in the first round in a December 2011 defense. In his American debut in September, Golovkin shredded former European champion Grzegorz Proksa, dropping him three times in a one-sided fifth-round knockout. In January, Golovkin, badly ill with the flu in the days leading up to the fight, fought Gabriel Rosado anyway and dominated en route to a bloody seventh-round stoppage. And in March, Golovkin scored a one-punch, third-round knockout of the always-durable Nobuhiro Ishida, who hadn't been stopped in 35 previous fights but found himself unconscious after eating a Golovkin missile.
In fact, the 31-year-old Golovkin (26-0, 23 KOs), born in Kazakhstan, living in Germany and training in the United States, has won all of his title bouts by knockout, and his 88.5 percent knockout percentage is the best among active titleholders.
So the legend of Golovkin grows with every fight. But there is just one thing: As good as GGG has looked, he still hasn't really fought anybody that highly regarded.
Now is that time, which is what makes Golovkin's fight with Matthew Macklin -- on Saturday night (HBO, 9:45 ET/PT) at the MGM Grand Theater at the Foxwoods Resort Casino -- so important.
Golovkin, making his eighth title defense, is finally fighting "someone" as he looks to legitimize his résumé, live up to the considerable hype and keep his hot streak rolling.
"I want to fight the best and challenge myself always," Golovkin said. "I think Matthew is a great test for me. I hope I win impressively."
In the co-feature of the televised tripleheader, super middleweight contender Thomas Oosthuizen, (21-0-1, 13 KOs), a 25-year-old southpaw from South Africa, will face Brandon Gonzalez (17-0, 10 KOs), 29, of Sacramento, Calif., in a scheduled 10-rounder. In the 10-round opener, hot junior middleweight Willie Nelson (20-1-1, 12 KOs), 26, of Cleveland, will take on Spain's Luciano Cuello (32-2, 16 KOs), 29, whose only losses have come against Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and Canelo Alvarez.
Tom Loeffler of K2 Promotions, which promotes Golovkin, is sensitive to the mild criticism of Golovkin's opponents. In fairness, it has been hard to get top opponents to face GGG -- with Macklin being the exception.
"There has been some criticism as far as him only fighting junior middleweights or not the top-level competition," Loeffler said. "But that's certainly not from his standpoint. We've told HBO, anyone. In fact, there's no name that we've turned down yet for Gennady.
"One fight at a time, but our goal is to unify the titles at 160 and, for the right opportunity, Gennady is fully prepared to also fight anyone at 154 or 168. A lot of people think that maybe Gennady is too overhyped or risen a bit too quickly, but we feel everything he has right now he has earned and is deserved, and an impressive victory over Macklin on Saturday night further solidifies that."
So now it's up to Macklin to see if he can handle the Golovkin freight train.
"Golovkin is probably one of the most highly talented fighters in the world today," said Lou DiBella, Macklin's promoter. "Certainly after Sergio Martinez, he's the mostly highly regarded. But we believe he's never faced a challenge like Matt Macklin. Matt's a true 160-pound contender, truly one of the best in the world, tested Sergio Martinez throughout their fight, was ahead midway through that fight, made it as good a fight as you can make it and ultimately lost on a TKO. But you know we all know that Sergio is one of the best fighters pound-for-pound in the world. Matt gave him everything he could take, and we expect Matt to press Gennady and, frankly, we expect Matt to beat Gennady."
Macklin (29-4, 20 KOs), 31, an Irishman from England, is a well-respected contender. The former European champion will be fighting for a world title for the third time in his past four fights.
He lost his first two cracks at belts, a highly controversial split decision in Germany to Felix Sturm in June 2011 followed by an 11th-round knockout against lineal champion Martinez, whom he knocked down and gave all kinds of trouble in March 2012. Macklin rebounded from the loss to Martinez in September with a first-round knockout of former junior middleweight titlist Joachim Alcine, putting himself in position for the shot at Golovkin.
"I am not the kind of person to turn down world-title shots, so when this fight was offered to me, it was a no-brainer," Macklin said. "My lifelong dream has been to become world champion, and now I have another shot."
Macklin said he is up to task.
"This is my third time fighting for a world title, and I feel that I am a better fighter now than in either of those appearances," Macklin said. "The biggest fights and the toughest challenges have always brought the best out of me, and I know that is what will happen on Saturday night. No disrespect, but he has never fought anyone of my caliber. The amateurs are the amateurs; this is the professionals. He was winning amateur championships when I was having 12-round wars.
"I think I'm a better fighter and have more experience. You know Sergio was a nightmare, where Gennady, as good a fighter as he is, he's right there in front of you. You know he looks very impressive, especially with his amateur pedigree [2004 Olympic silver medalist] behind him.
"I remember him from the World Junior Championships in Budapest back in 2000. So I've been familiar with him since then. I've always thought he had a ton of talent. As a professional, I'm certainly the more proven entity. And I've had the much, much tougher opposition. And I think that will hold me a good seat on the night."
Macklin said he believes the fight will resemble the famed 2001 fight for the undisputed middleweight championship between Bernard Hopkins and Felix Trinidad.
"When Bernard Hopkins fought Felix Trinidad, everyone was picking Trinidad to walk right through Hopkins and knock him out," Macklin said. "That didn't happen, though, and Hopkins knocked him out, and that is exactly what is going to happen when we meet on [Saturday]. I am going to knock GGG out."
DiBella is one those critical of the hype Golovkin has received despite his not having faced a top 160-pounder yet.
"Nobody wanted to fight this guy, partly because HBO and the press have already ordained him and have him out to be this beast of a human being," DiBella said. "There is no doubting he had a great amateur career and his knockout ratio now is amazing. The difference in this fight, though, is that Matt Macklin is not scared. Matt Macklin is a big, strong, aggressive middleweight. This is going to be the hardest fight of [Golovkin's] career."
Golovkin has let others talk up his talents and power. He is actually quite humble and has continued to be that way leading up to Saturday's defense.
"I think this is a great fight for us," Golovkin said. "I am the champion, and Matthew is the best challenger out there for me. This fight will prove who is truly the best in the middleweight division.
"We know that this is a very difficult fight for us. Matthew is going to be the toughest challenge I have ever had. He is just as big, fast and strong as me, and we are expecting a very tough fight."