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Golovkin conditions each part of his sinewy frame like this, in rigorous isolation drills. The chin must withstand pain. The neck must be strong enough to absorb punches. To give him strength to fight inside, he works his forearms -- which he often has trouble fitting in the sleeves of a normal dress shirt -- with resistance bands and a homemade contraption of steel and rope pulleys that his trainer affectionately calls "the machine.

Decades of such rigorous training have seen Golovkin establish himself as one of the best fighters of his generation. He has defended his middleweight title 18 times over the past seven years, putting him within range of Bernard Hopkins' record of 20 defenses in his division.

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So it's not surprising that he's had trouble persuading boxing's biggest names to get into the ring with him. Sometimes it doesn't matter how much money [you offer]; people don't want to lose reputation. This happens far too often in boxing -- the best fighters simply don't fight one another.

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It's why Golovkin's Sept. But for Golovkin, the showdown with Alvarez is something far simpler than a bout to save boxing: It's the fight he's waited his entire life for. Finally, the stage matches his skill and reputation. Finally, a top-flight opponent is willing to risk something of real consequence to fight him.

When Golovkin lost a controversial decision to Russia's Gaydarbek Gaydarbekov in the gold medal fight of the Olympics, his disillusionment nearly drove him into early retirement. When Europe's top fighters refused to get into the ring, afraid a no-name boxer would beat them, he worried he might spend his best years in purgatory.

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In , he left for the United States at the relatively old age of 28, looking for a trainer who could help him get his shot. Sanchez remembers fondly the call that sealed a seven-year relationship with his fighter. A man claiming to be Golovkin's manager called from an unknown number and said Golovkin was arriving at Los Angeles International Airport from Kazakhstan the next day -- could Sanchez pick him up?

Seven years later, he hasn't brought much more to Sanchez's gym. And perhaps even more than before, he knows exactly what is at stake. The TVs in Sanchez's gym are always replaying classic fights. It's an atmosphere thing, like hanging photos of the champions who have trained here, or cranking the thermostat up to 90 degrees so sweat streams out of every pore of every living soul inside. Gennady is working out alongside his twin brother, Max, on an adjacent training table.

Both steal glances at the TV each time they come to the top of a situp. The brothers almost move in tandem through their sets of core exercises.


At one point, Max motions for Gennady to lie down, face-first, in the ring, then massages his neck and back. Max, who trains with his brother before almost every fight, flying to California from Kazakhstan, is the only member of Golovkin's family invited to be a part of his boxing. Their mother, Elizaveta, has not attended any of Gennady's nearly amateur and professional fights.

His father, Gennady Sr. Gennady's wife, Alina, and their 8-year-old son, Vadim, do not come to his fights. If he saw a crazy fight He is living in Santa Monica. He love hockey, he love tennis. He is different from me. There is a divide between the man Gennady Gennadyevich Golovkin and the boxer GGG, one that has nothing to do with the number of syllables. Gennady is a polite family man who rushes home from camp to be with his family or happily interrupts his dinner a dozen times to take pictures with fans at a restaurant. GGG is a relentless fighter whose sparring partners are required to wear vests to protect them from fists that land like cannonballs.

Gennady plays against every Ivan Drago trope with a rosy-cheeked charm and a penchant for coming up with endearing witticisms on boxing -- a "big drama show" and "very serious business. Gennady can't even make it through a postfight interview without smiling or politely congratulating his opponent. GGG just knocks people out. Head shots to the temple, body shots to the liver, uppercuts that crunch jawbones and teeth. The method is never exactly the same but is always ruthless. Almost all of GGG's fights -- 33 of his 37 professional bouts -- have ended with a knockout.

The shift between the two is sudden and silent but noticeable.

Sanchez sees it as he wraps the boxer's hands before fights. They don't talk, nor do they need to. There's a part of Golovkin that wants to explain where GGG came from. The tragedy at the core of his family's story. The dangerous land he called home. The insults and professional injustices he's had to swallow. His English is strong enough now that he can converse without an interpreter.

But there are some things language cannot describe, no matter how many words he learns. Golovkin was born in Kazakhstan in , nine years before the Soviet Union collapsed.


It had always been a contested region of the world, dating back to the times of warring nomadic cultures such as the Huns and Mongols. The Soviets built their nuclear testing program in Kazakhstan and used the vast territory as one of the Soviet Union's main forced relocation sites, along with Siberia. Members of both sides of Golovkin's family were forcibly relocated -- a Korean relative on his mother's side and a Russian relative on his father's -- during one of the many deportations of the 20th century.

After the Soviet Union fell in December , what little social structure held the country together under communism completely unraveled.

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The corrupt bureaucrats who were forced out in riots all over Central Asia left a huge power vacuum for organized crime and militaristic strongmen to fill. That, along with economic uncertainty, heightened existing tensions among all the ethnicities that had been forced to live in the harsh climate. There are, like, no jobs. He tries to explain what it's like to come from a place where you had to defend yourself and your place in the world every day. Gennady and Max had one key advantage, however. Max says their two older brothers, Vadim and Sergey, taught them how to fight and stand up for themselves.

One day Gennady and Max got into a fight at a soccer game with a bunch of older kids. A boxing coach took note of how well the young boys fought and suggested they try boxing. Max was the skilled, polished fighter among the twins. Gennady was the brawler. The brothers became the best fighters in their town of Karaganda and were often the last ones standing at the end of tournaments.

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Rather than fight each other, they took turns forfeiting so they'd each have titles. The brothers have a hundred stories of their fights and their suffering, each one layered on top of the others like Russian nesting dolls. In , their eldest brother, Vadim, was killed while serving in the army. In , Sergey died the same way. In both cases, no official explanation was provided. A government official simply called the house to say they were dead. Those losses -- and the questions that came with them -- still haunt the family.

I'm young, and this is my story. This is my family. Their only choice was to lean on each other. Gennady says Max was the better, stronger fighter and easily could have had a professional career of his own. But in , only one of them could make the Kazakhstan Olympic team.

Despite Max's superior strength and skill, Gennady was chosen because he was the older of the twins.