Updated at: 01/18/2013 4:07 PM
By GREG BEACHAM
(AP) LOS ANGELES - Gennady Golovkin sits down at the traditional Greek restaurant and orders a salad covered in steak. With his thick flannel shirt and rough-hewn features, he could be a mountain man who somehow wandered down into the trendy shops and eateries on Larchmont Boulevard.
Golovkin has indeed been up in the high altitude of Big Bear, the famed boxing camp town well outside Los Angeles, but he’s not lost. The genial Kazakh middleweight with knockout power in both hands spent the holidays far away from family and friends, training for his debut under Manhattan’s bright lights.
"It’s going to be a big year for me, I think," Golovkin said in his ever-improving English. "For me, Madison Square Garden is the best arena in the world. I’m very excited to be there. I hope I can make some drama."
Golovkin (24-0, 21 KOs) faces Gabriel Rosado on Saturday night, making just his second U.S. appearance in the historic venue. Golovkin’s face lights up at the thought of stepping into the ring he only saw on television during his youth, and he’s hoping to realize many more dreams in the next year.
With 11 straight stoppage victories, most of them in dramatic fashion, the WBA champion’s ruthless skills and relatively small U.S. name recognition make him an extremely undesirable matchup for champions from 154 to 168 pounds. With a few more knockouts, he believes he can make himself impossible to ignore.
Golovkin’s ring charisma and sheer ability have earned him a devoted fan following that’s growing virally with each performance. He has followed Argentine middleweight Sergio Martinez and Paul Williams into the long lineage of tested veteran fighters who must wait for years to get the breaks necessary to become international stars.
Golovkin’s team would love to get him in a fight with Martinez, Andre Ward or Canelo Alvarez this year. It’s only possible if Golovkin becomes a must-see attraction, but his supporters believe it’s inevitable.
"I’ve been saying for a while that boxing is missing that Tyson-esque kind of a figure," said Golovkin’s trainer, Abel Sanchez. "The public looks for a knockout. I’ve always looked for guys to knock somebody out. Gennady could be that guy who makes everybody look for the knockout right away in every fight. He’s special, and anybody who watches him will see it."
The first major fight card of 2013 is headlined by Orlando Salido’s WBO featherweight title defense against Mikey Garcia. WBO junior lightweight champion Roman Martinez also fights Juan Carlos Burgos on HBO.
Golovkin spent Christmas, New Year’s Day and his Jan. 7 wedding anniversary in Big Bear, training in Sanchez’s gym with a small, devoted group of fellow fighters and sparring partners. His family has stayed in Stuttgart, Germany, where his wife studies economics in college and their young son has just started kindergarten.
After winning a silver medal at the Athens Olympics, Golovkin spent several years toiling in minor fights in Europe and steaming at his promoters’ work. After a messy split, he signed with the Klitschko brothers’ promotional company, K2 Promotions, and began producing results that generated hype.
"Gennady is the best middleweight out there, no disrespect intended to Sergio," said Tom Loeffler, K2’s managing director. "Gennady beats all of them. We’re trying to get him into a position to prove that, and after his recognition goes up this year, he’s going to explode."
Golovkin is doing everything possible to get his name out to American fight fans, including wearing a New York Rangers jersey to this week’s news conference. Saturday’s fights are expected to sell out, and Golovkin knows he would benefit from a dramatic knockout of Rosado, a brash veteran underdog who was the best opponent Golovkin could get, according to Loeffler.
"In his fights, he’s so destructive that you really don’t get to see Gennady," Sanchez said. "I think this fight is going to be quick, too. But if it isn’t, at least people will get to see more of what he can do."
Sanchez spent three full years altering Golovkin’s conventional European counterpunching style, adding North American aggressiveness and flair to his fighter’s game. The result is Golovkin’s intriguing hybrid approach in the ring, allowing him to throw big shots from all angles while pressing his opponents.
Golovkin’s everyday weight is usually within a few pounds of his fighting weight, which is why he can eat a Greek salad slathered in beef for his lunch. Along with his fitness and technique, Golovkin exhibits a joy in boxing that’s difficult to teach and even more difficult to fake.
Just as Manny Pacquiao appears to relish the toughest moments in a good brawl, Golovkin’s love for fighting is obvious from his ring demeanor and work ethic. He did two lengthy sparring sessions on New Year’s Eve before enjoying a brief party with his friends in Big Bear, eating Mexican food and waiting for the first day of the biggest year of his life.
"Training is tough, so that makes the fight easy for me," Golovkin said. "I feel ready for the fight already. I can’t wait to get in the ring."
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)