THE first card was read out. One-hundred-and-fourteen to one-hundred-and-fourteen. A draw. As the next scores were announced, two identical tallies of 115-113, Gennady Golovkin did not move. It was almost like he knew what was coming. Then the inevitable. Saul “Canelo” Alvarez was the winner. The new middleweight champion of the world.
But there was nothing new about the controversy that followed. Nothing new about the heartache Golovkin was experiencing. It was almost a year to the day that the Kazak was forced to accept a draw against Alvarez in one of most infamous Las Vegas heists in boxing history. And standing inside the same ring, under the same T-Mobile Arena lights, Golovkin must have felt like he had been jobbed again. Indeed, it was impossible not to feel sympathy for a 36-year-old man who seems destined to remain in Canelo’s back pocket.
While so much about the sequel was the same, the fight itself was different. It was better. More exciting. Majestically skilful yet oh so brutal in delivery. Canelo, expected to retreat, boxed predominantly on the front foot. Golovkin, always the fighter, became the boxer. And taken as 36 minutes and not 72, as a battle rather than the war, Alvarez being hailed the winner was far from outrageous.
Boxing News scored the bout 115-114 in Golovkin’s favour, six rounds to five with one even. Six “GGG” rounds that could easily have been seven or even eight. Five Canelo rounds that could have been four or six. And, most telling of all, one even round that could have been 12. It was a desperately close encounter. One that Gennady appeared to edge, but with every round so tight, perhaps only decided by a solitary eye-catching punch, it really could have gone either way. Which is why, when viewing this bout as one bout and nothing more, Canelo Alvarez deserves immense credit for emerging from a hellacious rumble with the most feared middleweight of recent years with his arms raised.
The problem is, of course, we can’t ignore what came before. Canelo vs GGG is a deeply compelling story, an accurate tale of boxing at its best and worst. The excitement and bravery and ring artistry. The ludicrous card of 118-110 in Canelo’s favour in 2017. The mind-boggling generosity Alvarez has received from officials in the past. The fact that, from all six official scores across the two bouts, only one was handed to Golovkin. That even after his gift draw in the opener and, far worse, after failing a test for performance-enhancing drug clenbuterol in the interim, Canelo Alvarez, the challenger, was not only granted a quick return, he remained the A-side. Golovkin, the champion who deserved better, again had to play second fiddle to the Mexican king of Las Vegas. Truth is, out here in Sin City, GGG never really stood a chance.
Particularly when one considers the resilience of his opponent. Golovkin is a thunderous puncher, one used to concluding matters dramatically and not needing to bother with judges’ opinions. There were times in the first encounter when Alvarez seemed on the brink of unravelling under that power. One year ago, Canelo found himself being overrun during the middle rounds. No choice but to put his back against the ropes and survive the onslaught coming his way. Back then, the success he had was with clever counter-punching, by being the quicker of hand and foot. Despite pre-fight promises that he was going to knock out Golovkin, it was presumed he would look to stick and move and try to box his way to victory. That he opted not to, instead choosing to stand his ground in the eye of the storm, says plenty about the new WBC and WBA boss.
“Unfortunately we didn’t get the knockout but thank God we walked away with the victory,” said Alvarez. “I did everything I could to complete my objective. We worked so hard for that. It was my plan to stand and trade from the beginning. I wanted the knockout.”
The tactics adopted by Alvarez and his team were excellent, irrespective of whether one feels they deserved victory. Canelo, perhaps spurred by standing up to the best his rival could offer in the first fight, chose not to back away. In doing so he not only stopped GGG from marching forward, from feeling like the boss, from building up steam, he found space to attack the body in a manner that tired the Kazak like never before. But by remaining close, he took plenty of punishment himself. By putting himself in punching range he accepted, in effect, that he would get tagged by his opponent in the hope of landing the more spectacular blows himself. And though he succeeded to a point – Canelo in full flight is an impressive sight – he sure got tagged a lot. The Golovkin jab, fluent and on point, was the most prolific punch of the rematch.
“We controlled the fight with all the jabs,” said Gennady. “Just because he wasn’t running didn’t mean we were not controlling the fight, we were.”
The support Canelo received in the arena should not be overlooked either. During the first six rounds, which were scored exactly the same by judges Dave Moretti, Steve Weisfeld and Glenn Feldman (four-two to Alvarez), it was obvious that the roars of approval coming from the crowd did not always match the action within it. A sublime left hook from Golovkin in the fourth, a punch that jerked the Mexican’s head sideward, did not generate the noisy appreciation that a wayward Canelo right hand garnered in the same round.
But Alvarez earnt applause too. And remember that this was exactly the Canelo that Golovkin and his team were craving. A stationary one. A ‘stand and fight’ one. And, wow, did he stand and fight. The aforementioned attacks to the body were supreme, but perhaps the most impressive thing about Canelo was his upper body movement. Whereas in the first fight he would employ quick feet, this time a quick waist, which would bend and pivot and draw the opportunity to counter, exhibited the exceptional talent he is. Also consider that Golovkin, even with a smaller opponent right there in front of him, was unwilling to let rip because he more than likely knew he would get punished.
All that said, this was a more impressive GGG than in fight one too. He boxed beautifully at times, and it wasn’t just the jab, it was the lead right hands which picked at Canelo, it was the subtle footwork to get into position to land them. The uppercut that cracked into the Mexican’s square jaw several times. The blurring right mitt that sent sweat flying from its maker.
In short, Canelo brought out the best in Golovkin, at least this ageing Golovkin, and vice versa. And when one examines what the best of these two has done to countless others, the brutal knockouts, the savage finishes, the highlight-reel blowouts, it is awe-inspiring that not a single knockdown was scored. Jake LaMotta, the original Super Jaw, would have been looking down in awe.
Curiously, that wholly unwelcome draw last year was perhaps the fairest outcome in the return given the action that came before. But if you’re going to look at the whole story, and you should, the perception changes. The injustice, the drug controversy and Canelo getting everything in his favour from the opening page, Golovkin – the people’s champion – deserved to win a fight the majority at ringside had him winning.
Think about it. Really think about it. Seven months ago, the man whose arm was raised in what will likely be the biggest fight of the year was being told he had failed a drug test. He had clenbuterol in his system. This is not the time to debate the benefits of the substance or excuse Alvarez because he supposedly ate contaminated meat. Nor, frankly, is it time to lambast the Mexican for cheating. That has been and gone. Despite WBC boss Mauricio Sulaiman’s fight week claims to Boxing News that they know the restaurant where Canelo ate the tainted beef, the lack of evidence to support such fanciful claims suggests we will never know for sure.
What we do know is this: Canelo was responsible for the drug being inside of him. But he should not be blamed for being allowed to fight. The issue here is how the sport dealt with the situation. That he was permitted to be one-part of boxing’s supposed marquee event in the same year he so publicly screwed up is utterly ridiculous, not mention more than a little bit sad. It’s little wonder half of the world’s boxing fans are now screaming fix after he won the fight.
But, for now, we applaud that fight. We applaud the efforts of both fighters, too. Stripped down to its bare bones it was a special encounter. One that, in normal circumstances, would scream trilogy. But Golovkin, now he’s lost the belts and significant bargaining power, must ask himself if he really wants to go through this again.
If he’s willing to give even more ground in Canelo Land.