“Aren’t you embarrassed by this?”
That was the question former HBO ringside analyst Larry Merchant asked then-middleweight champion Bernard Hopkins after The Executioner’s farcical game of “the floor is lava” that doubled as a professional boxing match against comically undeserving French challenger, Morrade Hakkar in 2003.
The implication of Merchant’s question — to say nothing of the derisive tone with which it was asked — was that a decorated champion of Hopkins’ caliber has no business sharing the ring with someone of whom only the most obsessively hardcore fans have ever heard.
Hopkins out landed Hakkar 230-44 over seven of the shittiest rounds of boxing you’re likely to ever see, and the fight itself became a cautionary tale to networks on the dangers of televising mandatory title challenges from unworthy opponents.
Not every sporting event has to be the god damn Superbowl but when the supplemental cost of a pay cable subscription is involved it doesn’t feel like too much to ask to have the customers who are footing that bill actually know who the participants are.
How can one be asked to give a shit when they don’t know to whom to give it?
This is the situation Gennady Golovkin now finds himself in as he prepares to face the aggressively anonymous Steve Rolls (19-0, 10 KO) at Madison Square Garden on DAZN this Saturday.
It’s been a weird couple of months for Golovkin (38-1-1, 34 KO). After
beating drawing with Canelo Alvarez in September of 2017 and then winning losing a close decision in December of last year, the once universally beloved Kazakh goofball has done a bit of a heel turn.
In April, Golovkin parted ways with longtime trainer Abel Sanchez on not-exactly-amicable terms of which Sanchez himself accused the middleweight star of being “greedy…ungrateful” and having no “ethics, honor or integrity.” Despite accurately describing my behavior at an open bar, it’s not necessarily the most flattering appraisal of one of boxing’s perceived good guys.
When not busy crudely severing longtime personal and professional ties, Golovkin has spent the remaining days plotting revenge on Canelo while narrowing down an opponent to face in the interim.
Would it be the UK’s answer to white trash Juggalos, Billie Joe Saunders?
Rob “I Swear I’m a Real Person” Brant?
How about *extreme Office Space voice* Two Charlos at the same time, man?
Most thought it would be Demetrius Andrade, if for no other reason than he happens to hold one of the shitty, nameless title belts that Canelo currently doesn’t, therefore providing Golovkin enough scratch to at least play a hand at a table where most of the pot was stolen from his coffers.
The proliferation of titles and those supposed “championship” belts being used as mere bargaining chips at the negotiating table is, quite frankly, everything that is wrong with this sport. Not to mention it has forced everyone to learn what the word proliferation means and what is this, a god damn book report?
When the dust finally settled and Golovkin announced Rolls as his next opponent, the boxing world collectively responded with a resounding “I’m sorry, who?”
After a cursory perusal of Rolls’ Boxrec page, the question moved from “Who?” to “Why?”
Why is one of the biggest stars on earth fighting a 35-year-old Canadian who, until six months ago, had never been in a 10 round fight, let alone the 12 rounds that his fight with Golovkin is inexplicably scheduled for? Why is one of the top two middleweights alive wasting his time with a guy who’s fought in more casinos than Worm from Rounders?
(And if you’re one of the people right now who’s going “Psh, I saw Steve Rolls fight Ichabod Crapnapkin at The Moose Queef Lodge in Saskatchewan back in 2012” let me be the first to congratulate you on your new job as vice president of shutting the fuck up. He’s not a ska band that played at your church camp before hitting it big on Warped Tour. That’s psycho shit and you digging into your fanny pack of elitism only furthers the point.)
Look, after Andy Ruiz sent Anthony Joshua back to jolly old England with a jolly old concussion last weekend, anything feels possible. Ruiz, though, was at least a known, if not woefully misevaluated, quantity. Rolls doesn’t classify as either over or underrated because he hasn’t been rated at all. One of the dipshit sanctioning bodies does have him ranked in their top ten but if that’s something you put stock in, come talk to me after your gas-huffing bender is over.
On paper, Steve Rolls should be buying a ticket to a Golovkin fight, not participating in one.
But hey, maybe he’ll get lucky and score the surprise upset. Luck is, after all, the residue of hard work. How hard has that work been though? Ninety-five rounds fought in an eight-year career should not put you in a ring with someone of Golovkin’s stature.
“Aren’t you embarrassed by this?”
I understand that in order for puppies to grow into big dogs they have to eat. Feed a puppy too much at one time though and the only thing it’s going to grow into is a weapons-grade puke factory. If getting down on all fours and cleaning up dog vomit is something that turns you on, well, thanks for reading this article, Courtney Love.
For the rest of us though, there’s an allegory somewhere in there about too much too soon and earning your shot, of which, even by the most generous critique of his resume, it feels safe to say that Rolls has not.
Maybe I’m projecting my own ever-expanding sense of personal ennui onto him, but Golovkin has seemed listless and bored in the lead up to this fight. The silly, monosyllabic catchphrases have given way to crude threats and the monkey-with-a-squirt-gun playfulness has turned to a monkey-with-a-drinking-problem surliness.
Maybe a fight with someone of Rolls’ caliber, however undeserving, is exactly what he needs. Maybe it’s the complete opposite.
Is it time for him to kill, or is he merely killing time? That’s the question for Golovkin as he enters twilight years of his remarkable career.
The question of who Steve Rolls is will be answered in the coming week. Is he an Andy Ruiz, capable of rising to the occasion on the biggest stage imaginable? Or is he a Moradde Hakkar, serving out a life sentence in the isolation wing of a maximum-security boxing jail?
My gut tells me it’s the latter and since Hopkins never answered Merchant’s original question, I’ll do it for him with just the slightest bit of bet-hedging:
Yes. We will most likely be embarrassed by this.
(Las Vegas, NV, USA; Boxer Gennady Golovkin attends the Canelo Alvarez (not pictured) and Daniel Jacobs (not pictured) middleweight championship bout at T-Mobile Arena on May 4, 2019; Photo Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports)