BIG BEAR LAKE, Calif. -- Boxing's unbeaten combination of Gennady Golovkin, Abel Sanchez and this quiet town in the San Bernardino Mountains has become one of the sport's greatest success stories. And the story of how the combination even came to be is pretty great itself.
The entirety of Golovkin's middleweight title reign, which is now tied with Bernard Hopkins' mark of 20 consecutive defenses, has been orchestrated here -- inside a three-story home Sanchez built himself in 2001 (and nearly died of a heart attack while constructing).
The Summit Gym, as it's now known, has somewhat of a complicated history. And had one detail gone differently in this story, Golovkin might have never ended up here.
Originally, Sanchez designed the building in the late 1990s, with former heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis and Hall of Fame trainer Emanuel Steward in mind. He even modified certain details inside to cater to Lewis's 6-foot-5 frame.
See, beginning in 1996, Sanchez started buying up empty lots in Big Bear Lake. In addition to training fighters there, he'd found the price of property within the town to be surprisingly cheap. He owned a construction company, and would turn the empty lots into profitable homes -- just a quarter-mile from the town's ski slopes.
The Summit, however, wasn't meant to be at the time Sanchez built it. Lewis and Steward never used it, and when Sanchez suffered a heart attack while laying the concrete, he decided to get out of boxing altogether. It was too busy of a schedule, and his stable of fighters had hit a rough patch anyway. He would focus exclusively on construction.
After it was completed, the house stayed in Sanchez's possession -- and sat empty for six years.
Sanchez encouraged his children to use it as a ski lodge, but those visits were few and far between. In 2007, he told his family he intended to sell it, but his daughter fought him on it. Sanchez relented, but began remodeling the garage area into the boxing gym it was intended to be in the first place.
"It had to be used somehow," Sanchez recalls. "I did the welding for the bags, the ring. I figured I would loan it to my friends. I didn't want to get back in boxing."
But in 2008, two things happened that would pull Sanchez back into coaching. Oscar De La Hoya, one of the biggest names in boxing, brought instant credibility to The Summit, when he elected to hold his camp there ahead of his fight against Manny Pacquiao.
And in addition to that, the economy slumped.
"That's when the s--- hit the fan, economywise," Sanchez said. "Those houses I'd been building for years, I couldn't sell them for what I was building them for. I stopped the construction company and re-submerged myself with fighters."
Golovkin (38-0-1, 34 KOs), of Kazakhstan, was a relative unknown when he first showed up at Big Bear Lake in 2010. Sanchez, for example, had never heard of him.
His advisors arranged an introduction with Sanchez at The Summit, as well as meetings with trainers Freddie Roach and Robert Garcia. Of course, the most obvious selling point of Big Bear Lake as a training location is the elevation (nearly 7,000 feet), but what drew Golovkin to it the most was the privacy of the gym. He liked the idea of a facility in which he could sleep, eat and train without even stepping outside if he didn't want to.
After an initial meeting, during which Golovkin and Sanchez communicated in broken English, hand gestures and body language, Golovkin returned to Kazakhstan. He was back two months later, and has trained exclusively at The Summit ever since. In 2013, he lived there for 10 of 12 months, away from his family. Just living and breathing boxing.
"A private gym is very important to me, so I can focus 100 percent on boxing and not regular life," Golovkin said. "I don't have time for my family, friends, restaurants, movie theater -- just focusing on boxing. I have a lot of time in this gym. Nobody says, 'G, you don't have time, somebody is coming.' I have all day in this gym, which is special to me."
Golovkin's preparations for a massive rematch against Canelo Alvarez (49-1-2, 34 KOs) on Sept. 15 in Las Vegas have once again taken place in this secluded, adopted home.
Depending on how you view it, this trifecta of boxer, coach and atmosphere was always meant to be, or it somehow willed itself to be against long odds. Either way, it's good for boxing that it happened.