LOS ANGELES — Gennady Golovkin spent several months planning and training for this weekend. He intended to spend it under Las Vegas' brightest lights as he proved his middleweight supremacy in a lucrative rematch with Canelo Alvarez.
Instead, Golovkin finds himself back in his adopted home in Southern California, where he's making a fraction of that potential payday to fight a gritty veteran contender with nothing to lose in a famous outdoor ring where crazy things happen regularly.
Sure, it's not the Cinco de Mayo that Golovkin (37-0-1, 33 KOs) had in mind.
The 160-pound Kazakh middleweight kingpin is still determined to make the most of the holiday when he takes on Vanes Martirosyan (36-3-1, 21 KOs) on Saturday night (Sunday, Manila time). With a victory in a fight he didn't have to take, Golovkin would tie Bernard Hopkins' middleweight record with his 20th consecutive title defense.
"I wanted to remain active, and I didn't want to lose my date for this particular fight," Golovkin said. "It wasn't my fault my first opponent couldn't fight. I didn't want to waste time. I want to have as many fights as possible. I didn't really think about the business side of it."
The first weekend in May is traditionally a momentous time for boxing, and Golovkin planned to do something big with Alvarez. Their first bout last September was a competitive draw, with many observers believing Golovkin did enough to beat anybody on the scorecards except the popular Mexican champion.
The rematch seemed inevitable, and it might have been the biggest fight of the year — until Canelo failed a doping test in February.
When the Nevada Athletic Commission finally handed down Alvarez's six-month suspension last month, it was already clear Golovkin would have to wait for their fight. But Golovkin didn't want to sit on his fists — not at 36 years old, and not after fighting just once in the previous 14 months.
The tenacious knockout artist built his late-blooming pro career on staying busy while other champions sit around. Golovkin was hungry to match Hopkins' record in a division he has dominated just as zealously as Hopkins did.
Also, Golovkin just plain loves to fight.
"This is a sport to him, and the sport is the most important thing," said Golovkin's trainer, Abel Sanchez. "This is not a war. He's not out to hurt anybody. Yes, the money comes along with it, but the sport is the most important."
So Golovkin's camp went to work on a late replacement bout for StubHub Center's outdoor ring among Los Angeles' savvy boxing fans. After struggling to find a suitable opponent, Golovkin eventually chose Martirosyan, the former US Olympian with a strong following in Southern California's Armenian community.
Golovkin and Martirosyan both competed at the Athens Olympics in different weight classes, but Martirosyan hasn't fought since May 2016 after several recent potential matchups fell through. Just 4-3-1 in his last eight fights, Martirosyan considers himself rested and ready to shock the sport.
"I was just hungry, training and training, and then that opportunity comes," Martirosyan said. "Basically you're waiting at home watching TV, and you've got a lottery ticket, and I was just so happy to get the call. I've been killing myself for the last two years, just thinking, 'What mistakes did I make, or what did I do to deserve this, to be inactive outside of the ring?' This fight is everything I've dreamed of, and I can't wait to show it to the world."
In the notoriously fractious world of boxing's sanctioning bodies, Golovkin was bound to find trouble after his rematch with Canelo fell through.
The IBF has behaved the most foolishly, refusing to put its title on the line for Martirosyan and then declaring Golovkin will be stripped if he doesn't take on mandatory challenger Sergey Derevyanchenko — a 32-year-old Ukrainian with a paltry 12 professional bouts — by early August.
That fight seems unlikely to happen, since Alvarez's suspension will be up in time for a rematch in September. Although Golovkin has been sharply critical of Alvarez , the stars still need each other for the most lucrative bout either could make.
Golovkin has attempted for years to hold all four major belts simultaneously, and he has been the WBA, WBC and IBF champion since 2015. English WBO champ Billy Joe Saunders has kept the only remaining hardware out of Golovkin's grasp, repeatedly declining Golovkin's challenges.
Now that Saunders appears more amenable to a fight, Golovkin could lose the IBF belt simply because he wanted to keep busy while waiting for his payday from Alvarez.
Golovkin is bothered by it, but he's still fighting Martirosyan.
"He's 36 years old right now, and with all the boxing politics and just not being about to make a deal with Saunders, he knows there's a chance it might not happen," said Tom Loeffler, Golovkin's longtime promoter. "But for now, he knows he has a difficult job on Saturday, and everything else could depend on that."