ON the eve of Saul “Canelo” Alvarez’s toughest fight since his rematch with Gennadiy Golovkin in 2018, the spectre cast by Golovkin is proving greater than any of those invested in Alvarez-Bivol would hope or expect.
For the fifth time since 2016, Mexico’s Alvarez is the highest-profile fighter leading a promotion scheduled for the lucrative Cinco de Mayo weekend. He has long been recognised as the world’s leading fighter – commercially speaking, and for his athleticism, undoubted intelligence and skill – to such an extent that ahead of only his second date at light-heavyweight there is increasing speculation surrounding him fighting in the region of 200lbs.
And yet for all of that – the dizzying numbers, and the equally remarkable success – he has been confronted with more questions about Golovkin than anything else ahead of Saturday’s meeting with the proven, undefeated Dmitry Bivol, at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
Until the Covid pandemic halted the global boxing schedule, the only one of those years Alvarez was inactive around Cinco de Mayo was between his two fights with Golovkin, when he would never have been in greater need of rest. It was also only on those two occasions, in the Septembers of 2017 and 2018, when he could truly claim to have been involved in the most significant fight in the calendar.
Perceived wisdom consistently dictates that a third fight, later in 2022 with the growing Alvarez unquestionably at his peak and Golovkin in decline at 40, would be considerably less competitive than their first two, but the threat the Kazakh poses to his reputation is a reality Alvarez cannot escape.
Without a decisive third fight, the controversy surrounding the draw and majority decision Alvarez was awarded in their first fights will follow him long into retirement. Their rivalry has also become increasingly bitter, even now when the composed Mexican, 31 and the consummate professional, entertains questions about Golovkin and the trilogy fight his promoter Eddie Hearn has described as a “done deal” for September 17.
“He’s always saying stupid things about me,” said Alvarez. “He said some really stupid things about me, and discredited me a great deal, for things I’ve achieved, so that’s what makes a fight like this personal.
“Like Eddie Hearn says, it’s just a simple rule – don’t f**k with me.”
He regardless needs to beat Bivol if the date with Golovkin, at 168lbs, less than five months away is to be honoured.
“There isn’t a fighter you could work with that you’d have more confidence in, going into a fight,” said Hearn, who first has DAZN’s first pay-per-view fight to promote. “You’re not that nervous when Saul fights because of the way that he talks to you; the way that he carries himself; the belief that he has. There’s no one, really, you’d rather put in the ring than him.
“I believe [Golovkin’s] coming [to Vegas] this week. I’m not sure he’s coming to the fight; I think he doesn’t feel overly comfortable about talking about the fight because he thinks it’s very disrespectful to Dimitry Bivol. I don’t think he wants to turn up, necessarily, with everyone saying, ‘Oh, you’re fighting’, so, I think you’ll hear from him if Saul wins on Saturday.
“It’s very personal. You’ve never heard Gennadiy Golovkin talk badly about any fighter, apart from Saul, and you don’t really hear Saul talking badly about any fighter apart from Triple G. It just got to a stage where Triple G probably said, ‘I need to make this fight now’, and Saul received an offer and said, ‘I’ll take it, and I’ll look forward to knocking him out.’”
Even Eddy Reynoso, Alvarez’s trainer, and perhaps the one individual who has a greater interest than Hearn in maintaining his fighter’s focus – not least after being in the corner when Oscar Valdez was so comprehensively beaten by Shakur Stevenson as recently as April 30 – recognises the extent to which Golovkin remains prominent in their thoughts.
“He says it’s very important because the first one was a draw,” he said. “The second one was obviously a split decision for Canelo. Triple G was not happy with the result. Canelo was not happy with the result.
“So this [a third fight] is definitely what’s gonna call it a done deal. A lot of people are saying that Gennadiy is an older man but they should look at who he just beat [Ryota Murata] in Japan. So he’s still very much able, and very capable to give anybody a good fight.”
Not that all three of them, separately, weren’t polite enough to point out the necessity of victory on Saturday before Alvarez-Golovkin III, which mid-fight week in Vegas has continued to be described as the “biggest fight in boxing”, can be delivered. Each no doubt recognises the threat Bivol poses. It’s just that even with an opponent of the calibre of the 31-year-old Russian, even if Golovkin is avoiding the T-Mobile Arena, the Kazakh’s spirit is considerably more difficult to evade.
“It’s step by step,” said Reynoso. “[Canelo] understands that there’s commitments already signed up for, but right now, they have a razor-sharp focus on Bivol. Gennady is not even a second thought at this point in time.
“First, Dmitry Bivol.”