Gennady Golovkin went the full 12 rounds in defending his middleweight titles against Brooklyns Danny Jacobs on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden

Gennady Golovkin is still the world middleweight champion after Saturdays unanimous-decision win over the brave Daniel Jacobs before a near-capacity crowd at Madison Square Garden, but the charismatic Kazakh knockout artist betrayed rare glimpses of vulnerability that will no doubt embolden his challengers in and around the 160lb division.

Two ringside judges handed down scores of 115-112, the third an even narrower 114-113. (The Guardian had it 115-112 for Golovkin.)

It was a close, competitive fight belying the 6-1 odds against the hometown opponent and it marked the first time Golovkin (37-0, 33 KOs) had been extended the full distance in his last 24 outings, a near-decade-long streak that reached back to when he was fighting eight-rounders during George W Bushs administration. He landed the more damaging blows, a steady diet of power shots from behind his ramrod jab, and scored a knockdown to earn the decision and retain the WBCs and WBAs versions of the fractured middleweight title, though he missed a chance to absorb the IBF strap after Jacobs skipped the same-day weigh-in earlier on Saturday.

He was my best opponent, said Golovkin, who landed 231 of 615 punches (37.6%), compared to 175 of 541 for Jacobs (32.3%). Clean good quality, very good fighter.

The crowd-pleasing puncher known as Triple G said afterward he would like to meet Canelo lvarez in his next bout, perhaps the biggest fight that can be made in the sport today, presuming the Mexican slugger makes it through his Cinco de Mayo weekend showdown with Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. He also said he 100% wanted a match with Billy Joe Saunders, the British southpaw whos held the WBO middleweight strap for the past two years. But Golovkin acknowledged that Saturdays dance with Jacobs was close and said he would be willing to give the Brooklyn native a rematch.

Of course I am ready to fight Canelo, of course I want that fight, Golovkin said. I am like an animal for that fight, (but) I will give Danny Jacobs a chance for a rematch.

Both men scored with the jab from the opening bell, Golovkin moving forward while the taller, longer Jacobs fought off the back foot. Jacobs switched to southpaw briefly in the second round a tactic hed recall throughout the fight but Golovkin made him pay with a sharp body shot that sent him back to an orthodox stance.

The 30-year-old Jacobs (32-2, 29 KOs), who had won 12 straight by knockout since his lone defeat to Dmitry Pirog in 2010, did an excellent job of using his jab to prevent Golovkin from getting his punches off in the third, but a heat-seeking right hand sent him clattering to the canvas for only the third time in his career early in the fourth, sending the near-sellout crowd of 19,939 into hysterics. The Kazakh looked to close the show, landing an uppercut and a left hook. But Jacobs, with clever footwork and ring acumen, would survive the round.

Golovkin dumped Jacobs to the canvas in the fourth round. Photograph: Al Bello/Getty Images

Jacobs needed a round to regain his bearings but managed to mix things up enough over the second half to keep it close on the scorecards heading into the championship rounds.

If youve ever seen him fight a southpaw, hes always shown vulnerability, Jacobs said. Kassim Ouma, Willie Monroe, a guy named Ian Gardner. (Those fights) really showed me some flaws in him. I knew I was really good at switching southpaw, so lets go in there and switch it up and confuse him and thats exactly what I felt like we did.

Hand speed and footwork were Jacobs salvation as he managed to fight through fatigue and pull Golovkin into uncharted waters: a 12th round. But the champion pressed forward, giving Jacobs no quarter and punishing the hometown fighter to the head and body. The air was fraught with tension and drama in the moments before the verdict was announced, but the right man won even if Jacobs did not agree.

I think I won the fight and I think fans support me on the decision, said Jacobs, who earned a base purse of $1.75m, compared to $2.5m for Golovkin. I think I won by two rounds at least. They want the big fight and Daniel Jacobs got Xd out. I won the fight and I won the decision and all I can do is be gracious.

Said Abel Sanchez, Golovkins longtime trainer: He was never losing the fight. He was never not in control.

Veteran observers can only hope it will go down as Golovkins Mugabi moment, a callback to the 1986 fight between Marvin Hagler and John Mugabi where Hagler was made to labor harder than expected for an 11th-round stoppage. That bout, and the vulnerability and ring wear it exposed in Hagler, was thought to be the turning point in convincing Sugar Ray Leonard to come out of retirement to fight the middleweight terror in their seminal 1987 super-fight.

Golovkin, who turns 35 next month, might not have fallen off an age cliff overnight. In many ways Jacobs was graded on a curve given the reputation of a champion so feared and avoided and marginalized throughout his ascent from YouTube curiosity to middleweight terror that it was thought he might never get a big fight. No longer, one can hope.

My goal is all the belts in the middleweight division, Golovkin said in the bowels of the Garden as the clock inched past 2am. Of course, Billy Joe Saunders is the last step for my dream.

Does he want that fight next?

100%, yes.

First Saunders in the summer, then Canelo in the fall? Thats a plan fight fans can get on board with. And after Saturdays unexpectedly narrow proceedings, it may just come to pass.

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