The Things I Can't Forget

My body remembers.

Every time, before every big fight, my body remembers what to do.

And it’s no different this week, before I face Canelo Álvarez on Saturday night.

Each day before the fight, it gets bigger. Bigger and bigger. Until fight night. That’s when Gennady Golovkin becomes GGG in the ring.

It’s been happening again, these last few months, up at our camp in Big Bear, California. Gennady to GGG. As I get ready to fight Canelo, what people say is the biggest fight of my career, my body, my mind are both getting ready to step into the ring.

And when I do, it is like a shark in the ocean. If you go in the ocean, the shark knows. He’s home. It’s the same for me in the ring … Let’s do it.

My body knows the feeling. When you want something so badly. You crave the feeling until it’s there in front of you. Sometimes, I just want to just fight. Your body just wants it. Sometimes, you just want to destroy this guy, to show you know more, to show that you’re better. You want to beat him just to show that you can.

As a kid, my body would tell me the same thing, “Let’s fight. Let’s do this.”

Every time, my body remembers.

And before I step into the ring, for just a moment, I think of my first fight. It’s a good memory. A quick knockout in the first round. Everyone thinks you’re amazing. 1… 2… 3… Knockout. That’s what I think about, 1… 2… 3… Knockout.

It’s what I’ll be thinking about before Canelo.

A lot has been said about this fight. You know, I respect Canelo. We are both strong fighters. We both know this is a big fight. Important fight. This fight … it’s not a game, it’s very dangerous. And we both understand that.

But I step in as GGG, and I become the shark. That’s what takes over.

And my body remembers what to do.

For me, there are different kinds of memories.

There are good memories. And then there are some … you don’t want to keep. You don’t want to have them inside your mind.

And then there are early memories. They feel… so far away. But you remember so clearly.

My first memories are from when I was five years old. I’m in my city in Kazakhstan — it’s called Karaganda. It’s a well-known area for coal. Not so big, it’s nothing like New York City.

For me? They were simple times. Good memories. I went to kindergarten. I had friends. I liked school. Mom worked in a laboratory. She was smart. (Sometimes, she take me with her, but always tell me, “Don’t touch.”) Dad worked in the coal mine. But I was never allowed to go with him. “Too dangerous,” he’d tell me. A couple times I’d see him coming out of the mine, he’d be covered in black coal dust. I remember how bright his eyes were when his face was covered in smoke. There was my twin brother, Maxim. And there were my older brothers, Sergey and Vadim. They were much older.

Sergey and Vadim, they were the bosses. Me and Maxim looked up to them because they were bigger. But we also looked up to them because they were in charge. We didn’t tell them no. We just listened to what they said when they told us what to do.

It was a very good time for all of us.

The other thing I remember from when I was a kid is a smell. The smell of beef.

Growing up, Mom would always cook beef for dinner. Always. It was my favorite meal. And it was practically a national food in Kazakhstan. Everyone always was eating beef. And we lived in an apartment, so the smell would fill up our home.

And when I wasn’t at home, I’d be outside playing soccer. Soccer was my favorite thing to do. I was always playing soccer. I went to this sports camp where all day we would play soccer.

Except one day, our coach said, “O.K., maybe today we try boxing.”

I was just a tiny kid. I never boxed in a ring like that before. I had gloves at home, almost every kid did. Boxing is a popular sport Kazakhstan, so boys would always mess around. I think boys everywhere always are fighting like that. I wanted to play soccer though. I loved soccer. But Sergey and Vadim, they told me I needed to try different things to be active. It’d be good for my body to learn different sports, they said. And they knew boxing and thought it would be good for me, too.

“Just try boxing,” they told me. “You need different activities.”

I wasn’t going to say no to them. I just nodded.

So they told me they were going to take me to the boxing club the next day.

And when we went, I didn’t like it. I didn’t like boxing. Who wants to get hit in the face? It’s a dangerous sport and I liked playing on my soccer teams. But, it came easy to me. I got it. I understood it. And I was very, very good. Right away. I remember just knowing as soon as I was in the ring, what I needed to do. I remember sparring for the first time. There were a lot of tough people there, but I wasn’t scared. I was tough, too. So, I stayed in the boxing club.

Sergey and Vadim, of course, they were like my heroes. You know, like any older brother is. We would watch Mike Tyson fights, Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard. Amateur boxers from Russia. Even if I didn’t like fighting, I loved watching it. And we’d always talk about the fights.

“Did you see that? Did you see this punch? Did you see this move?”

And I’d think, O.K., that guy, he’s same size as me. He’s right handed, like me. So I’d go into the gym and try those moves as well. And Max would come to the boxing gym too. I’m 15 minutes older, but Max… he’s more smart… more serious…

We would go to the boxing club together.

But then I remember things became difficult. I was about eight or nine when the break up of the Soviet Union started. So things … changed. Factories closed. Food was harder to get. We didn’t have as many beef dinners. Fruits and fish cost more. For the first two years, things were hard.

Then Sergey and Vadim, they both joined the army.

They didn’t come back.

These are the memories I don’t want to have. That I don’t want to talk about.

Even after Sergey and Vadim were gone, Max and I kept boxing. I was getting very, very good. But my parents wouldn’t come watch me box, like my brothers did. My mom worried a lot. She didn’t like boxing.

I’d just tell her things were alright whenever I came home with blood on my shirt.

“Don’t worry about it.”

She didn’t ask too many questions. But I kept fighting. And I won a lot. All the time, I’d win. Hundreds of fights, from when I was only a teenager to when I was 22 and qualifying for the Olympics in 2004. I rarely lost.

Max and me, we were the same weight class. So we’d alternate who’d fight in competitions. But when it came to the final, which would decide who would go to the Olympics. Max looked at me.

“You’re the oldest, you can do it.”

So I went to Athens and my father came to watch. That was a big moment for him. And I made it to the final, but lost. So I got the silver medal instead. When I got back to Kazakhstan, people recognized me. Before, I would get called a “genie,” or “magic man,” or people would say that that I was lucky in my fights even when I beat everybody in Russia or in Asia. It was always that I was a small, skinny guy who was “lucky.”  But, after Athens, I came back and people said, “O.K., you really are special.”

Except, after the Olympics, I went as far as I could with boxing in Kazakhstan. There was only amateur fighting for me there, and I wanted to go pro. But I couldn’t get a professional contract in my country.

I beat other guys from other countries who were professional. I beat everyone. But I couldn’t get a contract. I couldn’t turn pro. I couldn’t. Not in Kazakhstan. So at 22, I decided I would quit boxing. I was tired of the politics. I had been boxing for so long. Ever since I was little and Sergey and Vadim picked out people for me to fight.

I decided to retire and I lived my life. I saw my friends. It was the good life!

I didn’t feel like anything was missing. Because I couldn’t turn pro, it didn’t interest me anymore.

I remember the phone would keep ringing. For the eight or nine months I stopped fighting, promoters kept wanting me to sign contracts. In Canada. In the United States. Because I did so well as an amateur. I could beat everybody. Everybody. Contracts from other countries kept coming in.

I had a friend who fought in Germany under a promoter over there. Many German people who were living in Russia came to Kazakhstan after the war. So I knew a lot German guys who boxed there, too.

“Maybe we fight over there together,” my friends told me.

With Vadim and Sergey gone, I knew I had to start bringing in money to help support the family. I had to find a contract and start fighting again. So I signed with a German promoter. I went to Hamburg for three years. And then I went Stuttgart. Max stayed at home to help look after Mom and Dad.

But it was hard to be a Kazakh fighter in Germany. People in Germany wanted to watch German fighters. Promoters wouldn’t put me in their championship fights. I was maybe a little too good, a little “too dangerous” for their fighters, maybe. So, it was hard to get on a card.

I needed to find something else. I needed to find a different contract, coach — everything. So I could get better fights.

And I wanted to find the best — the best coach, the best contract, the best opponents. So we decided to come to the United States and look at different gyms.

California reminded me of home.

Driving up to Big Bear for the first time, I thought of Kazakhstan. Memories came back to me. The weather. The mountains. The trees. It was all the same.

It felt like home. It felt like good memories. There was even a restaurant that served a good beef dinner. (I order from them every day now.)

It was new, but I felt comfortable.

And then I went and met Abel Sanchez at his gym. We had breakfast and he was very serious. Right away I could tell, he knows boxing.

Abel didn’t know much Russian. And I didn’t know much English. But we both spoke boxing. And with Abel, right away, it was like with Sergey and Vadim: Whatever he told me to do, I wouldn’t say no. I look up to him.

But, I still don’t love boxing.

It’s my job, it’s my life. I am a fan of boxing. But I don’t love this. You’ve seen fights. Who could love a thing so brutal? But I am good at boxing. It is my job and I work hard. Easy money. I love my team. I love my life.

And I know the boxer that I need to be. I know that I have to become GGG. But I don’t love that.

I love my family. I love my wife, Alina. I love my son, Vadim. And I love our new baby girl, who was born this week.

I love the time I spend with my son. He’s eight years old and, every time, it’s a new memory with him. Even when he comes into our room at seven o’clock in the morning.

“Dad! Dad! Wake up!”

“Give me one more hour….”

“No, wake up! Let’s go play!”

My son, he reads so many books. I drive him to school, and for 40 minutes it’s nothing but questions. About the galaxy, about the moon, about girls.

He plays hockey. And it doesn’t matter how big the kids are, he’ll throw his gloves off, ready to fight. I watch him and it reminds me of those first days going to boxing training. No fear.

But being a father, that’s more difficult than boxing.

I go from GGG in the ring, back to Gennady Golovkin as soon as the fight is over. I’m Dad again. We make good memories together — my wife, my kids, and me.

Until it’s time to go back to work. Back to camp up in Big Bear. The mountains that remind me of home. The beef dinners. Abel showing me what to do, what to change.

There are the good memories, and the bad ones I have, too.

I remember it all.

And then, the bell rings for the fight… It all goes away… And for those moments, I’m GGG again.

….A shark in the ocean.