From the moment that unified middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin first arrived on U.S. soil six years ago for his cable television debut against Grzegorz Proksa, American fans have been treated to the dichotomy of GGG's baby-faced assassin shtick.
Although he's no longer a baby at age 36, Golovkin (38-0-1, 34 KOs) rode his destructive power to an almost absurd streak of 23 consecutive knockouts and a earned status as one of the most feared and avoided fighters in the game. Outside the ring, however, the happy-go-lucky Kazakhstan native charmed viewers with his quirky catchphrases (like "good boy" and "respect box"), gentlemanly love for his opponents and a charmingly innocent butchering of the English language.
Mirroring his efficient success in the ring, GGG remained consistent in terms of the public character in which he played. But all of that seemed to change upon his long-awaited ascension into a major pay-per-view against Mexican star Canelo Alvarez (49-1-2, 34 KOs) last September. The soap-opera fallout produced a version of as angry a version of GGG as we have ever seen.
Entering Saturday's high-profile rematch at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas (8 p.m. ET on PPV), the normally soft-spoken Golovkin has an opportunity to tap into the dark side of her personality -- formed through a difficult childhood under Russian military control in which he lost a pair of brothers to war -- in order to score the biggest victory of his career.
In some ways, it might be imperative for GGG's chances, if not his legacy.
In pro wrestling terms, if there's a "heel" in this rivalry, it's certainly Alvarez. Drunk with attitude and arrogance while steadfastly maintaining his innocence following a pair of failed drug tests in February that led to the cancellation of their May rematch, Alvarez has become nothing short of a villain to most boxing fans -- even some in his home country.
The fact that Alvarez, 28, blamed his testing positive for the banned substance clenbuterol on contaminated Mexican beef -- and initially refused to undergo voluntary out-of-competition drug testing until Golovkin signed the contract for a rematch -- only added to his nefarious diva image.
But while Golovkin's reaction to both the disputed split draw last September that opened the door for the rematch and Alvarez's behavior has been more "angry Robin Hood" and protector of justice than outright heel, there's no disputing that the vitriol he holds for Alvarez is real.
"I want to punish him," Golovkin said during last week's media teleconference. "I want to have a fight and punish him for all the bad things that he and his team have done, so basically to size him down and to put him and his team in their place."
The seeds for Golovkin's anger were planted in the build to their first fight when Alvarez demanded and secured a 70-30 financial split and benefited from what Golovkin trainer Abel Sanchez believed to be illegally wrapped hands (his protest was silenced by the Nevada Athletic Commission). Golovkin also claimed his complaints at the weigh-in that Alvarez's body had visible injection scares feel on deaf ears.
The fact that GGG had been led on and avoided by Alvarez for two years before they finally fought surely didn't help their potential friendship, but the absurd scoring from which Alvarez benefited (including an unconscionable 118-110 scorecard from judge Adelaide Byrd during their first fight) sent Golovkin spiraling.
This is where things get interesting entering the rematch. While there's no question Golovkin has been forced into a victim role by the circumstances of their rivalry, there's a devil's advocate debate to be had whether GGG brought at least some of this onto himself -- knowing boxing's unsavory side (from politics and incompetence to outright corruption) -- by playing things too safe in their first fight.
An outright demolition man against B- and C-level competition, Golovkin has shown a trend toward conversation against his more dangerous and elite foes. In some cases, it's a smart philosophy, especially for someone as technically sound as Golovkin, who was able to defeat a dangerous slugger in David Lemieux during their 2015 unification bout almost exclusively with his jab.
But Golovkin's preference not to take chances in his most recent fights by boxing safe proved to be a gamble. Against Daniel Jacobs in March 2017, GGG proved lucky he didn't lose the Alvarez fight following a close decision many believed could've gone either way. Six months later against Alvarez, of course, the gamble cost him.
Boxing should be better than what we saw last September when Golovkin appeared to have done enough against Alvarez yet was clearly robbed. Unfortunately it is not, as Alvarez's reputation for receiving the benefit of the doubt against everyone from Austin Trout and Erislandy Lara to even his humbling defeat to Floyd Mayweather (which produced a comical 114-114 score that sent judge CJ Ross into retirement) rang true.
Because of the noted challenges a B-side fighter can often face in a pay-per-view bout against one of the sport's biggest stars, it's inherent upon Golovkin that he doesn't make the same mistake again. And to do so, it's inherent that he taps directly into the negative energy he seems to have stockpiled over the past year.
While Golovkin outworked and outlanded Alvarez last September, he was unable to consistently land his trademark big shots against a quick and defensive-minded foe. In fact, it was Alvarez who outlanded him in terms of power shots. Yet in the middle rounds, when Alvarez was visibly tired and seeking shelter along the ropes and in the corners, Golovkin never took on the risk it would take to go for the finish and never fully made Alvarez pay.
In the end, Golovkin showed far too much respect for his opponent's power. GGG also ate Alvarez's best shots at close range late in the fight (including a hard body shot and a flush right hand in Round 10 that would've knocked cold most fighters) and continued to come forward like nothing happened.
Asked about Alvarez's power during a media day at his training camp last month in Big Bear Lake, California, Golovkin seemingly passed it off as insignificant.
"I remember in the first fight, I don't feel it," Golovkin said. "I remember like I felt a couple shots -- a slap, like slap. I didn't feel real power, punch power. I don't know why. Just maybe he just had more adrenaline. When we fought, maybe he lose a lot of power for the first couple rounds.
"He's not the hardest puncher [I've fought]. I don't feel his power. I don't feel his like heavy hands, you know? He's fast, he's quick, he's more boxing IQ. He knows [how to box]."
Golovkin spent far too many years stockpiling title defenses against the next opponent in line, which makes this second chance to score the definitive victory of his career against Alvarez too important to play it safe. Not only will GGG be fighting to break Bernard Hopkins' record for middleweight defenses with 21 and a chance at further defining himself with the 160-pound pantheon, he has a chance to finally defeat an elite opponent with a crossover name on the sport's biggest stage.
Rarely does the way in which we will ultimately remember a fighter hinge upon the result of one fight. But because of how long Golovkin toiled either in obscurity before his U.S. debut or giving chase to big names who wanted nothing to do with him, there's little question that this is GGG's legacy fight.
"Of course, everybody understands that," Golovkin said. "Everybody who is honest understands that's a part of the legacy -- of my legacy in boxing. Those honest people recognize it. Those who are dishonest, they try to forget about this."
Come fight night, Golovkin would be wise not to forget everything that took place over the last year and use it as motivation to take the fight out of the judges' hands and take his swing at history with guns blazing.