Gennady Golovkin vs. Daniel Jacobs: The Impact of Reputations

This past Saturday night, Gennady Golovkin and Daniel Jacobs went back and forth for 36 engaging minutes as they battled for the Middleweight title of the world. The final result? A Golovkin win and more than that, controversy. I’ll say right off the bat that went the final bell sounded, I felt that Jacobs was a close but frankly clear winner. I’ve yet to re-watch the fight and obviously can’t say I’m right or wrong but that was definitely my initial reaction. After observing the wide range of opinions and perspectives since though, I’ve concluded that this fight is a quite fascinating case study for how we judge major fights and the way reputations can impact our viewpoint. Firstly, it’s only right that I start with what were my own possible biases based on what we knew going on.

I think it’s fair to say that, regardless of how you scored it, Jacobs undeniably performed admirably. I knew that the aptly named ‘Miracle Man’ was a well-rounded and skillful fighter but he excelled at aspects here that simply shocked me. Barring that fourth round knockdown, Jacobs’ defense was impeccable in every way. He used his foot-speed to mostly avoid being cornered and head movement to safely exchange with Golovkin on the inside. Jacobs not only showed hand-speed but also punch variety as he attacked the head and body beautifully to maintain ‘GGG’s respect throughout. To put it simply, in my estimation Jacobs greatly exceeded expectations and perhaps it was that outlook that led to me scoring many of the rounds in his favor.

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I don’t think it’s ridiculous to think that some of us, myself included, scored rounds to Jacobs because we were more impressed by him based on our expectations coming in. Why? Because he was over performing whilst Golovkin seemed to be underperforming. In a close fight it’s those slight subconscious slants that can alter our scoring one way or the other and in the end, lead to our points winner, whether we realize it or not. As someone who scored the bout in Jacobs favor, this was my take. However, this factor can go both ways. Just like I likely scored some rounds for Jacobs due to how impressive he was, others may have been swayed by their frustration in the divisional kingpin Golovkin’s showing.

Whilst I credited Jacobs’ footwork, many would’ve been more disappointed in ‘GGG’s inability to consistently cut off the ring as he has done in prior bouts. For all of his dominance, Golovkin has many cynics and that’s understandable. For everything great he had achieved, Golovkin was yet to score a true marquee win, even if a lot of that wasn’t his fault. Either way, some of boxing’s most respected voices have stated their uncertainty surrounding Golovkin’s touted invincibility, pointing to what they perceived as a lack of head movement and a somewhat one dimensional approach. Whether you agreed with those takes or not, I think it’s fair to say that those critiques were quite prevalent in this most recent Jacobs fight.

There wasn’t great variety or adaptability in Golovkin’s showing Saturday and he did seem rather predictable at times. Long-time critics would obviously have felt validated and reasonably so but could that have impacted their own scoring? Either way, in the champion’s defense I don’t think it would be completely fair to take those 36 minutes as a real insight into who Golovkin has been for his whole eleven year career. I think instead this could actually be an example of how reputation has even affected the fighter’s own performances. As I was watching the rounds quickly vanish in front of my very eyes this past Saturday, I immediately began to wonder if there was any complacency on Golovkin’s part.

Perhaps this incredible knockout streak has led to a fighter that’s become so reliant on the killer blow that he’s almost forgotten some of the fundamentals that set up those finishes to begin with. Golovkin seemed to be almost oblivious to the clock as he waited for the perfect shot to come and for the first time since November 2008, it never did. That was my instinctual response and I don’t think it’s an inconceivable one, especially considering that many of the flaws that showed Saturday were also quite apparent in ‘GGG’s last win against Kell Brook in September. None of this is fact and maybe Golovkin really is the same fighter as before but he’s just now being matched with more tricky opponents. It’s really impossible to know. Another aspect is that perhaps instead it was Golovkin’s forever growing reputation that inspired Jacobs’ performance, rather than diminished his own.

His focus and concentration was absolutely palpable and it was obvious that the respect for Golovkin’s power had inspired a defense sharper than ever from the Brooklynite. Clearly there are many potential factors that could have led to some of the boxing public scoring the bout in Jacobs’ favor but in that same way, this can all work the other way. I was stunned to see how assured many were in their scoring of Golovkin as the comfortable victor. Not that they’re wrong but their thoughts were almost completely opposing my own. I feel it’s only fair to question whether or not reputation swayed their own scoring, just like it may have my own. Maybe Golovkin’s built aura of invincibility led to people leaning in his direction, even if only because we’ve been conditioned to ‘GGG’ knockouts coming with absolute inevitability.

I guess my overarching point here is that in a fight such as this one, is there really a right or wrong or is it simply a case of preferences and perspectives? When the fight ended I genuinely felt as though Jacobs was the clear winner but there were many out there with the complete opposite opinion at that same exact time. With approaches from the fighters so opposing, a split will always occur because often times we’re just looking for different things. All that mattered in the end though was that the three judges at ringside elected Golovkin the victor and thus his champion status remains. Regardless of our opinions, one things for sure: this past Saturday Madison Square Garden was treated to a legitimate title fight between two excellent fighters, and that in itself should always be celebrated.

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