WHEN the crowd inside Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena clambered to their feet with 20 seconds to go in the 12th round of a trilogy fight between great rivals Saúl “Canelo” Álvarez and Gennady “Triple G” Golovkin, they did so more in appreciation of everything the pair did prior to tonight than what, for 36 minutes, they did tonight.
If at all in doubt, know that 30 seconds before rising to their feet, this very same crowd could be heard loudly booing, so frustrated were they, it seemed, by the eagerness with which Golovkin, in particular, was looking to hold in the final of their 36 rounds. They wanted more, apparently. More action. More drama. More “Drama Show”.
We all did, in fact, even if that was a belief probably fuelled more by hope than expectation. Whatever it was, here in Las Vegas, where only the boxers in town find themselves having to face both the reality of life and their own mortality, Golovkin, as many expected, grew old overnight.
He lost this evening by scores of 115-113 (twice) and 116-112, meaning he has been unable to (officially) defeat Álvarez now in three attempts, but this was by far the most clear-cut and, in so many ways, revealing of the three. One could even argue that the scorecards, like the crowd’s reaction with 20 seconds to go, were as much a tribute to the two previous fights – better yet, call it a token gesture, or apology – than any real reflection of what transpired tonight at the T-Mobile Arena.
Because tonight at the T-Mobile Arena Gennady Golovkin couldn’t do what he did to great effect in fight one, nor even get close to replicating what he managed in fight number two. Instead, despite winning on my card the first round behind his jab, as well as the eighth and ninth rounds via sheer will and determination, he struggled to gain a foothold in the fight and, moreover, struggled to offer anything remotely like the threat he presented to Álvarez in their first two encounters.
Tonight, with so-called legacy at stake, Golovkin and his supporters were left to curse the fact his legacy will now be defined by too many of his peak years spent demolishing sub-standard opposition due to the real opposition – those in Álvarez’s league – preferring to look the other way. They will also curse the Kazakh’s luck in fight number one, which took place in Vegas in 2017 and should have been the night Golovkin walked away with the victory that would have made him a proposition not as easy to avoid, as well as curse the fact that it took four years after the 2018 rematch for this, the trilogy fight, to materialise.
By the time it did Golovkin had not much to offer beyond his reputation and the threat of there still be something left in a body forced to endure over 350 amateur fights and now 45 as a pro. His jab, an underrated weapon throughout his career, did indeed keep him safe in the fight, and won him the first round, but he was unable to threaten Álvarez with anything more than that until getting desperate around the eighth.
Up to that point, it had been all Álvarez. Worse than that, too, it had descended into a fight in which the Mexican was able to dominate despite doing very little himself. He could, for example, win rounds by exploding with the occasional left hook and overhand right, with Golovkin too slow to respond, his trigger jammed. He could also neglect having to use his own jab, a punch he knows is inferior to Golovkin’s, because the path to the target didn’t require it. All it required, it turned out, was for Álvarez, 32, to move his head, stay off the line, and unleash twos and threes whenever he sensed Golovkin was flat-footed or itching for a breather.
It was, on reflection, difficult early on to determine whether Golovkin’s steady and economical approach was all part of some masterplan or simply a consequence of the ageing process. He appeared, on the face of it, poised and composed and constantly plotting something, yet, as the rounds went by, and as Golovkin failed to do much more than explore openings with his jab, it became more and more apparent that what everybody feared pre-fight had in fact become a sad reality: Golovkin was not only human, but growing old before our eyes.
By round four, if it had ever been in doubt, it was now obvious. The intensity of old had gone, the ferocity and pressure of old had gone, and suddenly all Golovkin could do was stalk, toss out his jab as a range-finder, and try as best he could to make Álvarez miss whenever he sprang into action.
It was in that round, the fourth, Álvarez appeared to steady Golovkin with a hook in an exchange, which led to additional good work in the fifth, a round in which Álvarez continued to target the body, then stepped in with a hook-right hand combination which more than grabbed Golovkin’s attention.
Too quick, and too spiteful, Álvarez was soon pounding the body of a man whose body was strong enough to handle it, yet no longer able to react to it the way it once did. It left Golovkin stuck, conflicted, impotent. It meant Álvarez, by far the fresher and faster fighter, effectively had free rein to punch whenever he wanted to punch and move whenever he wanted to move.
All Golovkin, for his part, could do in response was cover up, then walk off. No ordinary walk, either, he was now walking like an old man, forlornly, never once thinking to quicken up his feet or fire something back.
Ideally, had he been given the choice, the pace would be slower for Golovkin. That much was clear. It was becoming clear to the crowd, too, who reacted to this assumption by booing halfway through round six. They, by all accounts, wanted a greater flow of action and Golovkin, either unwilling or unable to offer them much more than his jab, wasn’t sticking to his end of the bargain.
Perhaps in a way conscious of their disapproval, or perhaps simply encouraged to do more in his corner between rounds, Golovkin did attempt to increase his activity rate and sense of urgency in the eighth. That proved to be his best round since the first, in fact, and finally, having been silent for much of the fight, his Kazakh fans slowly came to life, a shift signified by chants of “Triple G! Triple G! Triple G!”
About time, at the beginning of that round, so predictable was the action starting to become, former lightweight champion Teofimo Lopez emerged along press row to greet each of the members of the media with a fist bump. Somewhat tellingly, there were few in that moment, despite the sudden distraction and restricted view, complaining about the interruption. Indeed, for most, it was welcome.
Golovkin, though, if disappointing early, gave many of us hope in the eighth and also, to a lesser degree, the ninth. In both those rounds he offered reminders of the fighter he used to be, whether that was by doubling up on trademark left hooks or, while on the front foot, backing Álvarez up to the ropes and keeping him there with a stiff and spiteful combination.
The crowd reacted to this, almost begging him to sustain it and continue in this manner, but of course it was short-lived, as most things are when a fighter hits 40. They will be all the briefer, too, these periods of success, when the 40-year-old is opposing a man like Álvarez, someone just as capable of sensing momentums shifts as Golovkin.
Entering the 10th, Álvarez made some adjustments of his own and was once again pushing the pace, hooking well to the body, and also nailing Golovkin with an uppercut to the face. That was a shot more readily available as the fight progressed and Golovkin started to lean in, seemingly in search of a clinch, but it was not the only shot with which Álvarez, 58-2-2 (39), found success. His body work continued to impress, as did the hook he throws quicker than most, and certainly quicker than Golovkin.
Of all the things they have argued about over the years, speed, rest assured, was never one of them. Yet what undoubtedly made the difference in speed so alarming tonight was that Golovkin, though forever accepting of this reality, was this time unable to do anything himself to counteract it. His jab didn’t work. Neither did his power shots. Even the power itself, once the scourge of the middleweight division, didn’t quite carry the same impact at 168 pounds, whether that was due to the move up in weight or, as is more likely, the fact Golovkin was fighting a modern great like himself.
Either way, Golovkin, 42-2-1 (37), couldn’t make an impression on Álvarez, neither early nor late, and, somewhat revealingly, by the 11th round was committing that cardinal sin of any great fighter on the way out. In other words, come the penultimate round, the former middleweight destroyer could be seen resorting to touching gloves and nodding his head with increasing regularity, a move, in this context, less about respect and more, it felt, about acceptance.
With no choice in the matter, Golovkin had to accept he was second best. He was second best to Álvarez tonight in Las Vegas and the records will show he has been second best to Álvarez across the three fights they have now shared as well. More importantly, though, and perhaps the thing truly on Gennady Golovkin’s mind as he nodded his head in round 11, was that he was left with no option but to accept he was tonight the second-best version of himself and that, sadly, version one is probably gone for good.