By Daniel Gilfillan
Japan will host the first middleweight unification fight in almost 3 years this Saturday, when IBF champion Gennadiy Golovkin (41-1-1, 36KOs) enters Saitama's Super Arena and attempts to pry the WBA Super title away from Ryota Murata (16-2, 13KOs).
Originally scheduled for late 2021, the subsequent introduction of further Coronavirus regulations in Japan temporarily and momentarily delayed this opportunity for Golovkin to become a two-time unified champion at 160lbs. However, on announcement of the fight's rearrangement, a tantalising caveat was added: should Golovkin prevail on Saturday, and should undisputed super middleweight king Canelo Alvarez defeat Dimitry Bivol in their light heavyweight content in May, a lucrative third fight between this Mexican and Kazakh pairing is is expected to take place next. Extra motivation for Golovkin, perhaps, though it seems unlikely that any is additionally needed.
If a fight between Golovkin and Murata was to have taken place a few years ago, it’s hard to imagine ‘Triple G’ would have had too much trouble with the Nara native. Murata’s two losses have come against capable but unremarkable contenders, in Rob Brant and Hassan N’Dam N’Jikam, and, even though they were both eventually avenged, all indications seem to suggest that a Golovkin anywhere close to his prime would have proved a bridge too far for Murata.
However, Golovkin will be 40 years old by the time he steps into the ring this weekend. Furthermore, he has only had one fight in nearly three years – a 7th round stoppage victory over Kamil Szeremeta. Whilst Golovkin dominated the contest against Szeremeta, and had the Pole on the canvas on several occasions, Szeremeta is currently ranked as the 36th best middleweight in the world (on Boxrec) and was without question the worst opponent Golovkin had faced in many years.
There are also those holding the belief that Golovkin showed signs of fading in the fight prior to facing Szeremeta - a unanimous decision victory over Sergiy Derevyanchenko. In what was a close contest, Golovkin was visibly hurt against Derevyanchenko, for the first time in his career, with body punches from the Ukrainian forcing GGG to retreat. Golovkin is the man who previously ate Canelo’s best shots and had barely taken a rearwards step in any fight, against any fighter, so the visual imprint of seeing him getting backed up in this manner was a strong one. Whilst Derevyanchenko is a world level middleweight with undeniable power, observers came away from that night with the belief that Gennadiy Golovkin was now in the autumnal stage of his incredible and enduring career.
Whether or not Ryota Murata is capable of taking advantage of any decline or ring rust in Golovkin is another story. Murata is widely regarded as the weakest of the current champions at middleweight, and is yet to achieve a victory against any consensus top 10 fighter in the division. As well as this, Murata himself, at 36 years of age, is no spring chicken. However, it must be said one would expect him to have less miles on the clock than Golovkin, having had just 18 professional fights, compared to GGG’s 42.
The outcome of the fight will likely come down to a few unanswered questions. The main one being simply how much, at this stage in his career, does Gennadiy Golovkin have left? One thing Murata does have is power – 13 of his 16 wins have come by stoppage – and if father time has zapped away Golovkin’s revered punch resistance, the 2012 Olympic gold medallist should be capable of capitalising. Nonetheless, with advantages in the depth of his resume, with many world level opponents faced (and beaten), Golovkin will rightly go into Saturday’s contest as the betting favourite. Even if he isn’t the same fighter whose name alone once caused ripples of fear to percolate through the middleweight division, defeat to Murata would still be a seismic upset and one that Golovkin should have enough left in the tank to avoid.