When this fight was signed in July this year it came as a shock to pretty much everyone.
Not necessarily a nice shock either. More a kind of bemusement, much the same as when Amir Khan was announced to be fighting the lineal MW king Saul Alvarez earlier this year. The kind of headscratch/facepalm moment that boxing fans know all too well when it feels like someone is intentionally sabotaging our great sport.
Nevertheless, come Saturday night these two are going to be facing off in the ring. All the advantages seemingly lie with the unstoppable Golovkin. He has the size, the experience, the skill set and the power to make the reality of this fight exactly the same as it appears on paper, a mismatch. A win for Brook would certainly be considered one of the biggest world level upsets in the modern era, maybe even of all time.
As big of an ask as this is however, there is precedent for Brook. Fighters who have diffused bigger men, outmaneuvered bigger punchers and controlled more aggressive opponents using elite ring generalmanship. I my opinion, there are 3 essential rules that Brook needs to follow to tame the bull…
Rule 1 – Range
“You thought ‘If I could just mess his face up a little’, but you couldn’t get near him in that ring.” – George Foreman on fighting Ali
In some ways boxing is a simple sport. Golovkin wants to beat you up. You need to stop him doing that. Simple.
To achieve this, GGG always wants to be at the Goldilocks range, not too close that his punches get smothered, and not too far that he cant land. He is a master at achieving that distance. Forget winning for a second, taking away this distance could decide whether Kell leaves the ring on a stretcher or not.
One of the ways GGG manages distance is through his brilliant footwork, more specifically his ability to cut off the ring. In his fight with Golovkin, Matthew Macklin attempted to maintain his distance by maneuvering around the oncoming Kazakh. As is shown below, GGG is able to negate this by stepping across and cutting of Macklin’s angles of escape, trapping him in the corner, and allowing Golovkin to set up at his preferred range.
For Kell, moving like this should be a big no. By circling at distance you not only burn lots of energy and cover a lot of ground, you also dont really achieve all that much. See how GGG never really needs to reset his feet or even really change his angle of attack? Despite moving a quarter of the way round the ring Macklin is never able to change the angle, he offers no punches or feints to make Golovkin question his attack, and is easily cut off.
Compare this to the great Sugar Ray Robinson fighting the similarly aggressive Jake La Motta.
Not only does he wheel La Motta round by circling tightly around his opponent, he also offers several jabs and feints to make sure the Bronx Bull is not completely comfortable coming forward. This leaves Robinson with his preferred range intact.
Brook however has had a tendency to back up in straight lines, often with his chin high, maybe a product of being relatively big for his old weight class. A glimpse of his sparring with Light Middleweight champion Liam Smith suggests he hasn’t erased this flaw completely. Against GGG this is a no go.
A matador never runs away from a bull, they bait and circle away or they get gored. And Kell will get gored if he moves back in straight lines. Constant circling, jabbing and angle switching is the key to maintaining that gap the correct way. He can’t let GGG set his feet in the way that Smith has in the clip above.
The other side to this coin is one that Kell has done well with since the first battle with Carson Jones, that is smothering on the inside. If GGG wants the middle range, Kell needs to take it from him in anyway possible. He isnt going to have the strength to clinch Golovkin for long periods like he was able to do with Porter, but in dangerous moments when GGG has him cornered, which will come, he needs to smother and turn, get out of danger and get back to boxing. Anytime spent languishing in the mid range is time that could signal the end of the fight.
Rule 2 – Rhythm
“Rhythm is everything in boxing. Every move you make starts with your heart, and that’s in rhythm or you’re in trouble.” – Sugar Ray Robinson
Rhythm is one of the most important and maybe underappreciated aspects of boxing. For a big punching fighter like Golovkin, knowing where your opponent is going to be, and when they are going to be there, is essential for landing power shots. For Brook, being able to disrupt Gennady’s rhythm while establishing his own could make or break his fight. No movements can be predictable, and he can never allow Golovkin to think he has Kell’s moves figured out.
Tyson Fury was recently able to pull off one of the big upsets in recent times, out boxing the great Wladimir Klitschko to win a unanimous decision. Klitschko is a devastating puncher, with over 50 KO’s to his name and in the majority of his previous defenses was able to control the pace and rhythm of the fight completely. The ever unpredictable, and occasionally brilliant, Fury was able to take control away from Wlad using unpredictable movement, feints and head movement. Wlad did not know where or when to punch and he became tentative as a result.
Right from the opening bell Fury is feinting and bobbing away, setting his own pace, and forcing Klitschko to react to him. Klitschko, in trying to establish his jab, looks apprehensive and unsure about when its safe to throw. His timing has been thrown by Fury’s hyperactive movements.
Cuban amateur legend Guillermo Rigondeaux is also a master at controlling the pace of fights. He was able to completely nullify the devastating puncher Nonito Donaire by constantly disrupting and changing the pattern of his moves.
Here Rigondeaux uses his range finder jab to tap-tap-tap away at Donaire’s defense and establish a rhythm. When he feels Nonito is entranced enough, he unleashes a rapid fire southpaw left which catches Donaire off guard. Throughout the fight he used variations of this to keep Donaire mentally on the back foot. Rigondeaux and Fury both also mixed things up offensively, sometimes waiting for counters, other times leading. This means their opponents can never get comfortable in the fight, and don’t know what is coming next.
While Klitschko and Donaire are far less aggressive than Golovkin, these tactics could be essential for Brook to gain control. GGG is one of the best controllers of rhythm in the sport. Offensively he is brilliant at mixing the speed and power of his punches so his opponents don’t know where to defend. Here, he throws a hard body shot, followed by a throw away uppercut to move Proksa’s guard to the middle, a body shot brings the guard back to the side and head down, all before piercing through the middle with a sharp uppercut. Scientific brawling at its best.
Brook can’t fall into the trap of being purely reactive, a difficult ask because once you feel the power it’s only natural to focus purely on making sure you don’t get hit. But it needs to be done. Better to be the one disrupting rather than be the one being disrupted. If possible Brook should look to time GGG’s offensive combinations, and try to disrupt Golovkin’s combinations with feints, clinches or, if he is feeling brave, counters. Anything is better than standing still in a defensive pose, waiting for Gennady Golovkin to open up.
GGG for all his talents going forward isn’t the best when he is backed up. Brook would do well to press forward occasionally if he sees the opportunity and keep moving forward for a few phases to catch Gennady unawares.
In these moments Golovkin is vulnerable, and not half as effective as he is normally. They are fleeting, and Brook shouldn’t base his whole plan around it, but on occasion it can’t hurt to keep GGG guessing.
Establishing his jab, feinting, mixing his attacks, changing his speed and moving unpredictably are essentials for Brook.
Rule 3 – Control
“I’ve got to do what I got to do to take control of the ring.” – Andre Ward
Taming a bull like Golovkin will not be easy, maybe impossible for someone Brooks size. However it needs to be a part of Brook’s game plan if he is going to give himself a chance in this fight. Control can mean many things in a boxing ring, but for this section it means putting hands on your opponent and making them do what you want them to do. Pivoting to the side is great, pivoting to the side while pushing your opponents head away? Even better. As Floyd Mayweather demonstrates…
Here Mayweather lands a quick check hook as Pacquiao moves in. Not only is it a decent punch, keeping Manny at least slightly thinking about defence, Floyd is also able to pull Manny round and leverage himself out of the way. It stops Pacquiao from checking Floyds exit, leaves Manny off balance, gives Floyd more room to move into, and puts him back into the centre of the ring.
Alvarez here demonstrates another way to control the head of aggressive opponent and maintaining distance by ‘stiff arming’ him.
It stops Angulo from generating momentum and disrupts him as he tries to set up his own attack. You can also use it as a set up for your own punches as you temporarily blind and unbalance your opponent.
The master manipulator himself, Muhammad Ali, was a king of head control, pushing opponents heads down and stiff arming were built into his style. Here he leverages the considerable bulk of George Foreman away from him using his forearm before landing a big right hand;
Similar to GGG over Brook, Foreman was unquestionably the stronger man in this fight, yet using clever hand placement and head control, Ali is able to push him off easily. Kell has used similar tactics in the past, pushing the bullishly strong Shaun Porter off with his forearm before just missing with the following right hand.
It’s a great tactic vs a strong fighter because moving the head is easy, and where the head goes the body will follow. You can control your opponents balance and movement, in turn make them less able to throw power shots, and make it easier for you to escape back to long range.
There are lots of techniques that Kell could use to control GGG, he is going to need to use them. It’s an essential part of beating a world level pressure fighter. Some of it might not be pretty, but it is proven to be effective time and again.
If you let Golovkin move how he wants he will slaughter you. He will put you where he wants you and bludgeon away until you no longer have the will, or the ability, to continue. Brook has to take the initiative and find ways to force GGG to fight his fight. He needs to make sure Golovkin is reacting to his tactics, his rhythm and his pace rather than the other way around.
It’s a huge ask. Brook has shown some of these tactics in the past at welterweight. However pulling it off versus a big, strong, skilled, hard hitting, strong chinned, experienced middleweight champion is most likely a step too far. Brook needs to become a multi faceted fighter on the level of some of the greatest fighters of all time to pull this off.
In this crazy sport though, you never know.
Good luck, Kell.