Former unified middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin is set to make his 2019 debut against Steve Rolls on June 8 at Madison Square Garden in New York.
But who is Steve Rolls? And why is he facing Golovkin?
The late Bert Sugar might have joked that Rolls isn’t even a household name in his own household. It’s no surprise that Golovkin had no idea who Rolls was before signing the fight contract.
“I don’t know right now,” Golovkin said when asked about his awareness of Rolls’ ability during a news conference in Los Angeles. “It’s not funny. This is dangerous for me.”
Perhaps Golovkin is afraid of the unknown, but who is Rolls, really?
“I’m a guy that doesn’t give up. I’m coming to fight,” Rolls said. “I’m a dangerous situation for any fighter in the world that overlooks me.”
“After my last fight a couple of months ago, I was saying, ‘I love doing this, but I’ve got to make a living. When am I going to break out? When am I going to get that breakout fight that’s going to get my name out there?'” Steve Rolls
Regardless of the outcome, this is, in many ways, the culmination of a dream that began for Rolls in 2001, when he was in the 11th grade at John McGregor Secondary School in Chatham, Ontario. As he and his friends were playfully slap-boxing in the cafeteria, something that they did often, something just clicked for Rolls.
“I really got the best of somebody,” Rolls recalled. “I went to the gym, [started training] and I fell in love with it.”
By the summer of 2002, he was competing in his first amateur tournament. With an amateur record of 83-14, he was good enough to make the Canadian National Boxing Team in 2009 and 2010 before embarking on his professional career in 2011.
“I really feel I’m one of the best middleweights in the world,” he said. “I just haven’t had my time to shine.”
He boasts an undefeated record of 19-0 with 10 knockouts, but he hasn’t faced anyone remotely at the level of Golovkin.
This opportunity is a massive shock to Rolls’ current day-to-day life. As a personal trainer, he enjoys working with clientele from all walks of life. He plans to open up his own gym, but for now he travels to various fitness facilities around the Toronto area to provide his expertise. He even makes house calls.
The fight is a chance for Rolls to turn all of his attention toward himself and his boxing pursuits. His passion for the sport is undeniable, and he admits that he really doesn’t know what he’d be doing if it weren’t for boxing.
That said, it’s hard to look at an unknown like Rolls and give him much of a chance against the No. 6 pound-for-pound fighter in the world. But Rolls, 35, certainly doesn’t seem to lack confidence or poise.
“If I need to box, I can box,” he said of his capabilities. “If I need to bang, I can bang.”
Looking at the tape, Rolls is more solid than spectacular. He has good fundamental technique, but you wonder how he will fare against the upper echelon of the division.
After Brandon Adams, who was the front-runner to face Golovkin, decided to sign a contract to face interim middleweight titleholder Jermall Charlo instead, Rolls stepped in to face GGG in his first bout with DAZN.
While he may have considered himself to be in the running to face Golovkin, Rolls was cautiously optimistic until he got the news. Then his manager, Todd Christie, told Rolls about the massive opportunity that had fallen into his lap.
“I couldn’t believe it. It was an unbelievable feeling. I mean, this is a life-changing thing,” said Rolls, who in recalling that moment thought for a quick second that it may have been an extended April Fools’ Day joke. “But my manager is pretty serious about this kind of stuff, so I knew it was real. It was a great feeling, it’s what I’ve worked my whole career for.
“It is surreal. I’ll be honest: I was thinking even about a month ago, ‘Man, I feel like I’m one of the best-kept secrets in the middleweight division and I can’t keep fighting the guys that I’ve been fighting. How do I get my name bigger?'”
The main reason for Rolls’ selection was simple: He is expected to be a soft touch for Golovkin before he jockeys for a third match with archnemesis Canelo Alvarez, the unified middleweight champion.
Rolls has worked with trainer Tommy Howat for 14 years, and Howat’s confidence in his fighter is palpable. Howat notes that while Rolls’ official record has a dearth of recognizable names, he has sparred with the likes of Adonis Stevenson, David Lemieux, Billy Joe Saunders, Glen Johnson, Andy Lee and Lucian Bute.
If Rolls and Howat have any doubt about what Rolls is capable of against a world-class opponent, they’re not showing it.
“I’ve never seen him be dominated [in sparring],” Howat said. “June 8, we’ll be shocking the world.”
Coming into 2019, despite an undefeated pro record, there was a realization that at the age of 35, something significant had to change for Rolls to continue in the sport. There are thousands of professional boxers, but few are living comfortably from boxing alone. While he had some great experiences, such as spending time at the famous Kronk Gym in Detroit and being under the guidance of the late Emanuel Steward for a stretch, moments and memories alone don’t pay the bills.
“After my last fight a couple of months ago, I was saying, ‘I love doing this, but I’ve got to make a living. When am I going to break out? When am I going to get that breakout fight that’s going to get my name out there?'” Rolls said.
He now has his chance, and should Rolls pull off the unlikely win against Golovkin, everything will be different.
“When I beat Golovkin, that will be life-changing money,” he said. “And once I’m victorious, it’s going to be like hitting the Super Lotto.”