For middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin, the journey to the title was a slow, steady march that began with a silver medal at the 2004 Olympics. His leap to boxing stardom, however, was swift.
"Gennady has had a meteoric rise in 2013," said Mark Taffet, senior vice president of HBO Sports. "From one fight to the next, he's had double digit increases in viewership. When he fights, you can't take your eyes off the TV set for a minute. He brings the kind of excitement that a lot of other fighters don't bring."
On Saturday night, Golovkin defends his WBA middleweight title against the very dangerous Curtis Stevens of Brooklyn at The Theater at Madison Square Garden. It will be his second appearance in the Theater and his fourth fight on HBO. Golovkin (27-0, 24 knockouts) is the kind of puncher who can end a fight in an instant.
"He has a Clark Kent-Superman type of persona," said Taffet. "Outside the ring, he comes to a press conference wearing a cardigan sweater. He's very mild mannered and unassuming. Then you get him into the ring and he turns into Superman. He has the kind of style that all boxing fans can identify with. But he also has a personality that people like."
HBO's commitment to marketing fighters has always been innovative. They often air extended pre-fight previews and their "24-7" franchise made superstars of Oscar de la Hoya, Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao.
HBO's latest offering is "2 Days" a mini-documentary in which a camera crew follows a fighter for two straight days. Its presentation of Golovkin earlier this year drew more three million viewers across all of HBO's platforms. It was the most-watched "2 Days" the cable network has produced, with Golovkin outdrawing fellow champions Brandon Rios, Adrien Broner, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and Nonito Donaire.
Golovkin, 31, is from Kazakhstan and now fights out of Stuttgart, Germany. His management team has expressed a desire to make New York the fighter's U.S. base. On Wednesday, Golovkin took a private tour of the newly renovated Garden and attended the Knicks' home opener that night.
"Gennady is captivated with the boxing history of The Garden and wants to become a legend of the sport just like the many others that have fought here," said Joel Fisher, executive vice president of Madison Square Garden Sports. "Gennady is clearly boxing's rising star but let's not take anything away from Curtis Stevens, he's a local kid and will have plenty of his fans here. He's coming here to win this fight too."
In Stevens, Golovkin will face an opponent who is equally as explosive. The 28-year-old Brooklynite is 25-3 with 18 knockouts, including three first-round knockouts in his last four fights. But even in his own backyard, Stevens is competing for the spotlight.
"New York is the capital of the world," said Taffet. "Great talent from all over the world is appreciated in New York. New Yorkers love people who have passion, who perform with passion. I think New Yorkers relate to Gennady because he fights with such passion. In the ring, he delivers in a way that all fans love."