Middleweight world titleholder Gennady Golovkin, decked out in a tuxedo and a maroon bow tie one week removed from a big knockout victory, got an up close look at his next opponent Saturday at the Salle des Étoiles in Monte Carlo.
Golovkin, sitting with K2 Promotions managing director Tom Loeffler, watched as England's Martin Murray came through with a victory to set up a shot at GGG's 160-pound world title on Feb. 21 (HBO), also in Monte Carlo, where Golovkin has fought twice before and where Murray has had his last two fights.
Murray (29-1-1, 12 KOs), 31, won a seventh-round technical decision against Italy's Domenico Spada (39-6, 19 KOs), 34, on scores of 69-67, 68-63 and 67-66 in a rather sloppy fight.
Loeffler told ESPN.com that he and Murray promoter Rodney Berman, as well as the fighters, came to terms for the February fight about a month ago and recently signed contracts pending victories by Golovkin on Oct. 18 and Murray on Saturday.
"This is the first time I've seen a fighter win in front of a sold-out house in California and a week later we're announcing his next fight in Monte Carlo," Loeffler said of Golovkin. "It speaks to the activity he has and to Gennady's position in the sport now."
Golovkin and Loeffler watched as referee Daniel Van de Wiele, on the advice of the ringside doctor, called off the fight at 1 minute, 19 seconds of the seventh round because of a bloody cut in the corner of Spada's right eye that was caused by an accidental head butt in the third round.
Van de Wiele called timeout during the third, sixth and seventh rounds to have the doctor examine the cut, and after the third time the doctor recommended that the fight be stopped. Spada was upset, as the cut did not appear too severe and was not in a place in which the blood was running into his eye.
Murray knew he was ahead on all three scorecards after the fourth round because open scoring was used, although he had been docked a point because of an unpopular WBC rule that forces a point to be taken away from the uncut fighter in the event that an accidental head clash cuts one of the boxers.
Murray was surprised by how close two of the scorecards were but said, "We just did what we had to do. We knew what Spada was like. Dirty fighter. We showed we are a class above. We did what we had to do and, yeah, we showed we're world class and on to bigger and better things. I'm looking forward to fighting (in Monte Carlo) again in February."
Golovkin undoubtedly will be a much more difficult assignment than Spada, who was knocked out in the 10th round of a vacant interim title bout by Marco Antonio Rubio in April. Golovkin blew away Rubio in the second round to retain his world title (and win the interim belt) at the sold-out StubHub Center in Carson, California, on Oct. 18.
Golovkin (31-0, 28 KOs) has scored 18 knockouts in a row, made 12 title defenses and owns the highest knockout ratio of any active world titleholder (90.3 percent).
With the plan to fight four times in 2015 and unable to lure any major names into the ring for a pay-per-view-level fight, Golovkin is going back to Europe for his next fight, and Murray fits the bill since he is a top contender and also is unable to fight in the United States. A past criminal history has prevented him from securing a visa for several years.
"Murray is a strong guy and he had a good win," Golovkin told ESPN.com. "Domenico Spada is an ugly opponent to fight. He has a style that is not the easiest to fight against but (Murray) did his job and won the fight. I think this fight with Murray is a good fight for us.
"We couldn't get (Julio Cesar) Chavez Jr., Miguel Cotto or Canelo (Alvarez) to fight us next. We have to wait until after the (likely) Cotto-Canelo fight is done, so Murray is the best available opponent for me."
Murray, who has won four fights in a row, is also battle-tested against quality opponents. In April 2013, he traveled to Argentina to challenge then-world champion Sergio Martinez in his homecoming fight. Murray dropped the champion but lost a very close decision. In 2011, Murray traveled to Germany to challenge then-titleholder Felix Sturm and came away with a disputed draw.
"We feel Martin Murray is the best challenger possible," Loeffler said. "We feel he beat Sergio Martinez in Argentina and Sturm in Germany and we think he beats the other champions. I'd say Martin Murray would beat (titleholder) Jermain Taylor and (champion) Miguel Cotto. Gennady against Murray is a fight between the two best middleweights. (But) I think Gennady's knockout streak will continue."
The fight with Golovkin was one Murray said he wanted when asked about it repeatedly during the buildup to his fight with Spada. He said it again afterward.
"I think he's a top fighter. He's crushed everybody he's been in with, but I've got the tools to beat any middleweight out there," Murray said. "I wouldn't be taking the fight if I didn't think I could win. A lot of his opponents have gone into the fight already beat. You won't get that with me. I'm gonna go in there and stand up to him."
"Murray is generally regarded as the best middleweight outside the world champions," Berman said. "As we all know, he's a world champion without a belt. He won't be intimidated for one second fighting GGG, unlike all of Golovkin's challengers.
"I have the highest regard for Golovkin, but the truth is his opponents have been sitting ducks. Out of fear, they lose the fight before they step into the ring.
"They're intimidated and scared. You look at Murray's background and just know he won't be cowered. He's the first guy I've seen who will create angles, who won't stand in front of Golovkin waiting to be hit. Murray will make Golovkin work. He has the ability to outhustle him."
Also on Saturday's undercard:
• Randy Caballero (22-0, 13 KOs), 24, of Coachella, California, won a unanimous decision against England's Stuart Hall (16-4-2, 7 KOs), 34, a former titleholder, to win a vacant bantamweight world title in a competitive and action-packed match. Caballero knocked Hall down with a left-right combination in the second and went on to win by scores of 118-110, 116-111 and 116-111.
• In another world title bout, South Africa's Hekkie Budler (27-1, 9 KOs), 26, retained his strawweight belt for the second time as he outpointed former titleholder Xiong Zhao Zhong (24-6-1, 14 KOs), 32, of China, on scores of 118-108, 114-112 and 114-112. Budler survived a second-round knockdown and Zhong was on the deck in the third round of a competitive fight but one in which Budler seemed to pull away in the later rounds.