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Mortality Bites: Alvarez and Golovkin go again, this time with careers at stake

Saul "Canelo" Alvarez and Gennadiy "GGG" Golovkin weigh in ahead of their fight on September 17 (Ed Mulholland/Matchroom)
Canelo and GGG have unfinished business that could spell the end for the loser, writes Matt Christie

TWO supermen, Canelo Alvarez and Gennadiy Golovkin, are dealing with the realisation that they might be mortal after all. Alvarez is coming off a loss, his first in nine years, while Golovkin is getting to grips with his forties and the process of ageing, the most inevitable of all human conditions. Their ambition nonetheless remains, even their cloaks of invincibility do not, and the old enemies come together for a third time on Saturday night (September 17). The contest, staged inside Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena, is widely considered to be the biggest fight of the year to date.

For name value alone, it most certainly is. Throw in the rivalry’s long and bitter backstory and almost every box is ticked. Yet there are fears, real ones, that if 40-year-old Golovkin acts his age, and Canelo, 32, proves the light-heavyweight defeat to Dmitry Bivol was merely the consequence of aiming too high, it could be a disappointing climax to a series of fights that should have reached a conclusion long ago. One can argue they should have started earlier, too.

By the time the feud’s opening bell sounded, back in September 2017, Golovkin versus Canelo had been two years in the making. Two long years which arguably saw Golovkin scale his peak. The Kazakh was 35 when he embarked upon his toughest challenge. Canelo, then in the early throes of his best years, was a mere 27.

That MGM Grand-staged opener ended in controversy when Adelaide Byrd’s infamous scorecard favoured Canelo by 10 rounds to two. What began as a vociferous pro-Alvarez crowd jeered the subsequent draw; the displeasure was shared by the majority of observers, including Boxing News (we scored 116-112 for Golovkin). Fight two, which came 12 months later, and six months after Alvarez failed a drug test, was a sumptuous exhibition of boxing at its best. BN again scored for Golovkin (this time 115-114 after a very close contest), yet the improvement from Canelo was striking. Expected to box and move, a tactic which brought some success in their opener, he instead stood and fought with intelligence. He approached battle in exactly the way Golovkin had wanted him to. And if you believe the official scorecards, which read 115-113, 115-113 and 114-114 (all perfectly justifiable), he beat GGG at his own game.

The most prolific punch of the rematch was Golovkin’s jab but one can still remember the sound made by Canelo’s hooks slamming into his rival’s midsection. We recall the older fighter trying to disguise his discomfort during those raids to the stomach and his frustration as Alvarez – rooted in punching range – utilised exceptional upper body movement to counter with aplomb. Though GGG remained formidable – he barely took a backward step – only Canelo displayed true enhancement.

There was a sense from this writer he could do that after witnessing the first fight. Though Golovkin bossed much of the opening eight rounds, Alvarez, while learning on the job, was better down the stretch. Though not quite in the manner expected, he built on that late success in the rematch. Logic dictates that the theme will only intensify five years later. Though Canelo lost to Bivol up at 175, he has been supreme at 168 in recent years in a way that Golovkin, still down at 160, has struggled to be. Still the world super-middleweight champion, Canelo welcomes Golovkin into a weight class in which his challenger is yet to compete.

Since the loss to Canelo, Golovkin’s form has slumped. Though he has been winning, all evidence points to the kind of slow physical decline that simply cannot be reversed. In contrast, and the Bivol loss notwithstanding, Alvarez appears to have grown stronger. Therefore it’s easy to come to the conclusion that Canelo will not only win Part III, he will do so convincingly, particularly in a division where he has looked such a redoubtable competitor. Though still very much a puncher, Golovkin is no longer [i]the[i] puncher. The advantage that GGG used to have, or so it was perceived back in 2017, now belongs to Alvarez, who has stopped three of the four established super-middleweights he has faced.  

Yet boxing can and often does derail such trains of thought, particularly in contests like this. Fights which have so much more riding on them than merely winning and losing, or the belts at stake. Though he will tell you over and over again that this is just another fight, that Canelo has not been keeping him awake at night, Golovkin will be acutely aware that this is his last chance to put the record straight; to define his brilliant career with a truly great victory while dislodging a thorn from his side that would otherwise forever remain. Destiny, if you want to put a romantic spin on a miscarriage of justice, favoured Canelo in the first fight and, after testing dirty in the interim, it most certainly favoured him in the sequel. But one is right to wonder if fate will ultimately call Golovkin’s name when it matters the most.

We can look at his closer than close points win over Sergiy Derevyanchenko in 2019, his steady beatdown of Kamil Szeremeta the following year and the fight slowly being bludgeoned out of Ryota Murata in April, and rightly conclude that the best of GGG has gone. But we must also consider what fighting Canelo might inspire within. No, it won’t allow Golovkin to go back in time, but it is perfectly feasible that he will look significantly better than he has in recent outings, such is the motivation he will feel. It’s said that ageing fighters, particularly those as good as GGG, can produce one last great performance as the end of their journey draws nigh.

It doesn’t always result in victory, however. Joe Frazier was not expected to be hugely competitive with Muhammad Ali in 1975. All signs were pointing to him being past his best. But with his biggest nemesis in the opposite corner, any deterioration was put to one side as he pushed Ali to the brink in a rubber match often described as the greatest fight in history. Thomas Hearns, widely written off in 1989, deserved more from his rematch with old adversary Sugar Ray Leonard than the draw the judges ruled. Though his place in history is yet to be decided, Deontay Wilder exceeded all expectation when he dropped Tyson Fury twice before losing a savage and spectacular third meeting. Go back further and we can uncover more historical evidence to cheer Golovkin. Jersey Joe Walcott was 37 years old, and a 9/1 underdog, when he knocked out Ezzard Charles in their third fight after losing the first two.

Boxing history is so rich and varied that examples can be found to strengthen almost any argument if you’re prepared to dig deep enough, however. Ultimately, this bout is down to Canelo and GGG, in the here and now. How much they want it and how much they have left.

Which is why we must also examine Canelo’s own recent form more closely. His habit of knocking out super-middleweights should lead us to believe that he is much closer to his best than his rival. The manner in which he obliterated Billy Joe Saunders and punished Caleb Plant was indeed impressive. Yet look closer and Canelo was far from perfect. Compare those outings to the second Golovkin contest, still his greatest night, and it’s easy to wonder if Canelo himself is also slowing down. When fighters suddenly morph into seek-and-destroy types, even ones as cultured as Canelo, it’s worth considering why. The subsequent 12-rounder he endured against Bivol, when he struggled to cut off the ring and get close enough to do what he does best, provides further food for thought. Canelo, once the master boxer-puncher who could read the distance so eloquently, was reduced to pot-shotting by the end in the hope of putting Bivol to sleep.

Canelo Alvarez (R) and Gennady Golovkin during their fight at the T-Mobile Arena on September 16, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada (AFP PHOTO / John GURZINSKI)

Golovkin is unlikely to box like Bivol, few can, but it would be unfair to completely write off his chances of boxing his way to victory. Though a feared hitter, Golovkin’s game has always been more technical than he’s been given credit for; in both Canelo outings, he boxed more than he slugged. That educated style and long-established ring generalship gave Canelo far more problems than his power-punching prowess.

Golovkin’s jab has to be busier than it has been for several years but if he can get that working, and early, Alvarez – whose body might feel the strain of dropping back to 168lbs – will quickly be reminded of what Golovkin brings. Worse for Canelo, particularly so soon after being outboxed so completely by Bivol, it could promote a nagging feeling of self-doubt and in turn force him to do things he shouldn’t. Golovkin is steadfast in the belief he has beaten Canelo twice before, don’t forget. It’s unlikely he will be hellbent on scoring a stoppage; he knows he can outbox Canelo because he has done so for long periods before and, in the same way, he’ll be aware he’s unlikely to knock out his rival after seeing his best shots bounce off the Mexican’s chin in the past.

But if we’re to presume Golovkin can pull out one last great effort, then the same must be said of Canelo. The favourite will not be complacent. That’s not to suggest he was against Bivol, but it appeared he’d gotten so used to knocking out his opponents, he dispensed with some of the approach play required to get him in a position to do so. Spurred on by the slurs to his name (GGG is never afraid to reference the failed drug test) and invigorated by a desire not to lose two on the bounce, it stands to reason that Alvarez will view this every bit as importantly as his opponent does. And though we expect Golovkin to rise to the occasion, it is still nonetheless impossible for him to be as good as he was back in 2017 or even 2018. By the late rounds, the old master might be running on empty after taking repeated whacks to the body, regardless of how much he wishes he had more left.

Therefore, we expect Alvarez to win a fight far more competitive than many are expecting, but to win a fight, without controversy, that is less competitive than the first two. In the end, just like in the beginning, Canelo – who can triumph by decision – is coming along at the wrong time.

Star in the making, super-flyweight Jesse “Bam” Rodriguez from San Antonio, Texas, defends his WBC strap against Mexico’s Israel Gonzalez in chief support. Rated number two in the world (behind world champion Juan Francisco Estrada and number one, Roman Gonzalez), the 16-0 (11) Rodriguez is one of the most exciting young talents in the entire sport. The unranked Gonzalez is reliable, he’s gone 12 with “Chocolatito” and Khalid Yafai, but is surely no match for the up and coming southpaw. We expect Gonzalez, 28-4-1 (11) to be tough but outgunned. The call is for Gonzalez to win this one in the final third.

Northampton Kieron Conway, 18-2-1 (4), has long been calling for an opportunity to showcase his skills and he gets it in Las Vegas against Austin Williams, 11-0 (9). From Houston, Texas, Williams is a highly regarded southpaw who has been knocking silly opponents of a certain level. Conway – who lost a split decision to Souleymane Cissokho on the undercard of Canelo-Saunders last year – can give another good account of himself but “Ammo” looks slick and a genuine talent. Conway to lose again on points.

There are two other fights worth watching. Gabriel Rosado, 26-15-1 (15), is now 36 years old but he does occasionally score a surprise win to keep his punishing career alive. The Los Angeles-based Philadelphian takes on Kazakhstan’s Ali Akhmedov, 18-1 (14), in a super-middleweight 10-rounder. Rosado, if ambitious, will likely hear the final bell but be a long way behind on the cards. In the same division, Los Angeles’s prospect Diego Pacheco, 15-0 (12), is hoping to be tested by Puerto Rico’s Enrique Collazo, 16-2-1 (11). The underdog can make it interesting early on but we expect Pacheco to win inside schedule.

THE VERDICT: Canelo and GGG go to together like coffee and cream.

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