- Associated Press - Thursday, October 16, 2014

SANTA MONICA, Calif. (AP) - Just over two years ago, Gennady Golovkin was an unknown middleweight training far from home, desperately trying to establish a career while he still had time.

These days, Golovkin travels in luxury vehicles with a coterie of friends and assistants wearing his logo on their shirts. On Saturday night, the unbeaten WBA 160-pound champion will fight Marco Antonio Rubio in an arena overflowing with boxing fans eager to witness the next brutal feat by one of the sport’s greatest talents.

The journey from Kazakhstan to California is nothing compared to the athletic odyssey that has turned Golovkin (30-0, 27 KOs) into one of the world’s most feared fighters and a box-office draw. But even with the new entourage and wealth, the middleweight champ is keeping the same level head that put him on this path to American stardom.

“It’s very good for my team, for my career,” Golovkin said this week during a workout in Santa Monica, his uniformed security team and training staff hovering nearby. “I think it’s a great show - not just my fight. I respect all the fights on the show. It’s a big present for the people.”

With 17 straight stoppage victories and the zealous backing of HBO, Golovkin has caught on with the savvy boxing public. Just three months after he fought in the main arena at Madison Square Garden, Golovkin is drawing unprecedented interest for his West Coast debut against Rubio (59-6-1, 51 KOs) at the StubHub Center in Carson, California, south of downtown Los Angeles.

The outdoor venue’s 8,000-odd seats were sold out a month ago, which hardly ever happens. Extra seats were added and sold three times - extra bleachers, standing-room-only areas and a few more spots on the upper concourse. It will be the largest boxing crowd in the history of a venue that has hosted Oscar De La Hoya, Andre Ward, Sugar Shane Mosley, Timothy Bradley, Brandon Rios, Paul Williams and other big names.

“We just didn’t expect there would be such a huge demand,” promoter Tom Loeffler said. “We’re at the maximum capacity that they can ever do for a boxing event. We’re 1,000 tickets above what they usually can do as a boxing venue. It’s a statement to Gennady’s popularity and the fact that he’s bringing new fans and new energy to the sport.”

Rubio is a popular Mexican fighter who brings the interim WBC title into the bout, and both qualities made him an attractive opponent to Golovkin. While Rubio’s nationality undoubtedly helped ticket sales, even Rubio realizes the famously loyal Mexican-American fight fans in Southern California have practically adopted Golovkin, loving his violent style and genial personality.

And Golovkin is essentially a local boy, too.

Golovkin has been training in Big Bear, California, with Abel Sanchez since 2010, even spending holidays with his boxing family in a bid to jump-start his career while his wife and relatives mostly stayed back in Stuttgart, Germany.

When Golovkin got free of his previous promotional obligations in 2012, he signed with the Klitschko brothers’ Los Angeles-based K2 Promotions and Loeffler, its managing director.

But Golovkin hasn’t yet fought on the West Coast, instead establishing his U.S. presence with five fights on the East Coast. He moved up from regional casinos to the Garden in just two years, attracting more than 8,500 fans for his dramatic stoppage of Daniel Geale in July.

He also crammed in two knockout victories in Monaco during that two-year stretch of remarkable activity.

Golovkin and his wife are shopping for homes near the beach and contemplating a full-time move from Stuttgart to the West Coast. But first, he has a chance to impress his potential new neighbors with the remarkable power in his fists.

“I like to stay here in L.A., not to travel this week,” Golovkin said. “It’s good for me as a fighter. I will do it again, for sure.”

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