One of the first things someone might notice about middleweight titleholder Gennady Golovkin is his amiable personality. With concussive power in his fists, Golovkin always seems to be smiling and in a good mood.
He's quick with a handshake or a pat on the back and, as his command of English grows, the Kazakhstan native is more and more comfortable in the media spotlight. Even in the days leading up to a fight, Golovkin's demeanor rarely changes. GGG, as he is known, is respectful of everyone and has never been one to talk trash with his opponents.
As Golovkin has often said, boxing is a business, but it's also a sport, and he's a sportsman.
But Curtis Stevens, the brash contender set to challenge Golovkin for his title Saturday night (HBO, 10 ET/PT) at the Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York, has rubbed Golovkin the wrong way. "He has big mouth. Talk, talk, talk, every day, on Facebook, Twitter," Golovkin said, mimicking with his hands. "Too much for me. I don't think he's crazy, but he has panic. This is too much for him. He says, 'I will kill him.' This is crazy talk."
The scheduled 10-round co-feature matches a pair of undefeated heavyweights with strong amateur credentials who will try to impress in their first major American TV fight: Magomed Abdusalamov (18-0, 18 KOs) of Russia and Mike Perez (19-0, 12 KOs), a Cuban defector to Ireland.
Stevens (25-3, 18 KOs) essentially talked his way into the fight, and has needled Golovkin (27-0, 24 KOs) and talked smack since before the bout was even signed in late August.
Stevens, the Brooklyn, N.Y., native who will be fighting in front of his hometown fans, didn't let up at Thursday's final news conference, saying, "Come Saturday night, I'm gonna f--- Gennady Golovkin up!"
Golovkin, 31, didn't get mad, didn't push and shove during the staredown. Instead, he responded with a simple, "I have just one question for you, Stevens: Are you serious?"
Golovkin plans to save his ire for the ring, where even when he is destroying opponents, he often smiles and clearly seems to enjoy himself. And why not? Golovkin, who lives in Germany but trains in Big Bear Lake, Calif., will be making his ninth title defense, is the owner of the highest knockout percentage (89 percent) among active titleholders and has seen his fan base grow with each of his three previous fights in the United States.
He is coming off the most impressive victory of his career in June, when he cut down top contender Matthew Macklin in the third round with a brutal, rib-cracking body shot. For Golovkin, it was his 14th knockout in a row. He hasn't heard the final bell since an eight-round decision win 2008.
But Stevens, 28, has all but dismissed the destruction of Macklin.
"Macklin was a scared puppy dog, in my eyes," Stevens said. "I'm coming there ready. I'm not scared, obviously, because I asked for the fight. The fight wasn't given to me by [Golovkin promoter] K2 or Main Events [which promotes Stevens]. I asked for this. I wanted it, so I believe what you all have to understand is that I am not scared of him. I don't care what he did to his last four opponents, five opponents. I am not them in any way, shape or form. So I'm ready."
Golovkin left the trash talk to trainer Abel Sanchez, who has worked with his share of top fighters, most notably Hall of Famer Terry Norris.
Sanchez said what Golovkin doesn't seem to want to say -- that they believe Saturday's fight will be easier than the obliteration of Macklin.
"It will be an explosive, quick fight," Sanchez said. "When you're fighting a guy like Stevens, you have to be wary of the fact that he supposedly can punch. But he doesn't know what a puncher is until he gets hit by this guy [Golovkin]. Macklin is a better fighter than Stevens, a tougher fighter than Stevens. Macklin is just an all-around better fighter, been in bigger fights. If you saw the [Derrick] Findley fight [an eight-round decision in April], Curtis is a mutt.
"This will be shorter than the Macklin fight, because if Stevens does what he says he's gonna do -- that he's coming at us -- if he comes at us, he's through."
Golovkin was sitting right next to Sanchez when his trainer made the bold remarks. Asked what he thought of what Sanchez said, Golovkin's answer was simple: "I want to knock him out. This guy? Too much talking."
Stevens has heard Sanchez's comments and dismissed them.
"Abel talks a lot, you know," Stevens said. "Abel will say, yes, it's not going to go past three rounds or Gennady isn't going to box, but in the back of their minds their game plan probably is coming here to run and do the European-style fighting. If Gennady comes in there and runs, [it's] because he knows if I touch him, his ass might go night-night."
That would be an impressive feat against Golovkin, who claims to have never been down as a professional or during a storied amateur career, which included a 2004 Olympic silver medal.
Stevens has won four fights in a row -- three by highlight-reel knockout -- since a major upset decision loss to Jesse Brinkley in 2010. Stevens was then idle for almost two years because of promotional problems. But since his return, for which he dropped down in weight from super middleweight to middleweight, he has been storming through B-level opponents, the distance fight with Findley notwithstanding.
"I watched last couple of his fights," Golovkin said. "His opponents are not as good as mine."
Stevens comes to the fight with a lesser résumé than Golovkin but a reputation for his punching power.
"I'm just ready to get in there and just shock the world," Stevens said. "I'll be the underdog in this fight, but I really don't care being the underdog or the favorite to win, you know. But I have a problem when people just believe in their mind that he's just going to walk through Central Park with me.
"I believe they forgot about me these last two years since I've been off, you know? But I believe that come [Saturday], I'll show them why I'm one of the top middleweights."
Golovkin, however, might be the best middleweight in the world right now. He certainly has been impressive in his three title defenses so far this year. Besides the Macklin win, Golovkin shredded Gabriel Rosado's face, stopping him on cuts in the seventh round (a fight also held at the MSG Theater) in January; and he scored a devastating third-round stoppage of Nobuhiro Ishida in Monte Carlo in March -- a knockout of the year candidate.
Sanchez and Golovkin are both expecting another such knockout.
"The first punch that [Stevens] gets hit with will be a wake-up call, a wake-up call to what he's stepped into," Sanchez said. "I hope he comes out [to fight]. If he does, then it's going to be a great couple seconds for the fans.
"If he doesn't and he boxes and he holds, well, it'll just be a matter of time. But he's stepping into something that he really has no clue what it's all about."
Golovkin came about as close to trash talking as he gets when pressed about Stevens.
"He is very strong, has good punch, hard punch," Golovkin said. "I think it's a serious situation for us. I am very serious. For me, this is business and a sport, not just a big show. I am bad boy. This is my show -- knock him down, knock him out."
Golovkin, of course, was smiling when he said it.