Canelo vs Golovkin II: The Last Word

It was three years ago today that boxing finally got the rematch it needed: Golovkin vs Canelo II. The word ‘finally’  here is a loaded one, with various connotations, and it applies equally to the interminable wait suffered by action-starved fight fans after it became crystal clear that the two best fighters competing at 160 pounds were Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and Gennadiy Golovkin. That was back in 2015, when Alvarez defeated Miguel Cotto, but for various reasons a Golovkin vs Canelo showdown did not happen until September of 2017.

And when Gennady Gennadyevich Golovkin vs Santos Saúl Álvarez Barragán, Part I, finally did go down, it left a bad taste in the mouths of fans hungry for some coherence in the sport they love. The fight itself was lively and highly competitive, but the judges made a mockery of it. While the vast majority saw the Kazakh as the clear victor, the official tally was a split draw, accompanied as it was by the outrageous scorecard of one Adalaide Byrd, who tabbed Canelo the winner by an absurd eight points.

Golovkin vs Canelo
Few dispute that Golovkin was the clear winner the first time around.

So, when the rematch finally happened (after Canelo had tested positive for the performance enhancing drug clenbuterol and then endured a meaningless, back-dated six month suspension), there was the sense by some that finally it was time for some overdue justice and payback for Gennady Golovkin. Instead, though it was a twelve round classic and one of the best fights of recent years, not to mention our Fight Of The Year, it was inconclusive, with the judges scoring it for the Mexican, while the vast majority of ringside press saw it for the Kazakh.

It is our conviction that few writers captured the zeitgeist of this moment in recent boxing history better than our own Robert Portis, so on the anniversary of a truly great fight, we once again offer his excellent take on what he views as the unfulfilled promise of the Golovkin vs Canelo rivalry. Check it out:

It took our own Mr. Portis a few days to collect his thoughts on Canelo vs GGG II, and while at first he handed in roughly ten thousand words of random thoughts, reflections, conclusions and arguments, in the end he managed to distill that sad ruin of an essay into something a bit more comprehensible. Herewith seven take-aways following the astonishing and thrilling and yet, for Portis, dispiriting event that was the long awaited rematch between the two best middleweights in the world.

Canelo felt he had something to prove and he proved it by fighting “Mexican Style.”

Canelo can fight on the front foot; Gennady can box on the backfoot …
For the rematch, Canelo and Golovkin reversed the roles they assigned themselves the first time around. Last year, the Mexican adopted the role of boxer/counterpuncher while Golovkin endlessly stalked. But this time, Canelo pressed forward from the opening bell with blistering combinations and forced Golovkin to fight off his back foot, in passing earning the respect of Golovkin’s trainer, Abel Sanchez, who in the buildup to this fight accused Canelo of being a runner. Yes, Canelo’s wonky right knee, which sported some kind of sleeve or brace, may have been a factor in the Mexican’s gameplan and restricted his mobility, but whatever the case, it was an unexpected tactical gambit from Alvarez.

Meanwhile, the Kazakh complied admirably in an unfamiliar position: his counters were both accurate and powerful, and when trading tit-for-tat with the Mexican, he often got the better of it with his stinging jab and hurtful power punches. By performing effectively against an attacking Canelo, Golovkin also proved wrong Canelo’s trainer, who before the fight had called Triple-G “a donkey that doesn’t think.” In short, Canelo vs GGG2 gave us a very different scrap from the first duel, a reminder of the versatility of these two elite middleweights, and proof of the depth of their fighting game.

…and it made for one hell of a battle. 
The role-reversal played a huge part in delivering a scintillating encounter that more than made up for all the mamadas we had to endure to get to Golovkin vs Canelo II, an engrossing and intense battle contested at an extremely high skill level by both warriors. It’s clearly a solid candidate for Fight Of The Year, and easily overshadows the original chapter in terms of sustained action. Pretty much every round from the seventh onwards had fans on the edge of their seats, with rounds nine and twelve definitely in the running for Round of the Year. Featuring plenty of fiery exchanges, minute-by-minute shifts of momentum, and more than a handful of intense, close rounds, Alvarez and Golovkin earned their big, fat paychecks and then some.

Both warriors have iron chins.
Yet another reason Canelo vs Golovkin II was such a thrilling matchup is that with the violence ratcheted up to eleven, and with both gladiators looking to settle personal scores, both fighters endured what are usually fight-ending power shots as if their mandibles were composed of high-grade steel. But even after making use of every weapon in their arsenal, neither yielded ground, neither visited the canvas, and both fought to win until the very end. It’s the kind of stuff fight fans yearn for every time a so-called megafight is announced; thankfully, this time the megafight lived up to our expectations. Any more talk of either one of these guys being afraid of the other—or of anyone else in the vicinity of the middleweight division—is unabashed trolling.

Canelo fought the fight of his life, but that doesn’t mean he won.
Even though both middleweights performed admirably last weekend, it was Canelo who earned more plaudits, not only for earning the judges’ nod via majority decision, but by his change of tactics and for standing toe-to-toe with Golovkin for long periods of time. Meanwhile, it is widely perceived that Golovkin merely performed the way we expected him to. But an argument can be made that—despite posting the best performance of his career so far—Canelo simply didn’t deserve to have his hand raised at the final bell. This is because Golovkin not only outworked Canelo in a majority of rounds, but also connected more consistently.

The Mexican might have landed the more eye-catching shots, but Golovkin is the one who managed the fight with his jab while barely allowing any of Canelo’s scoring shots to go unanswered. The general consensus seems to be that Canelo improved his form just enough to make the rematch a much closer encounter than the first fight, but not enough to earn a decision. Reinforcing this perspective is the fact that of eighteen media outlets scoring the fight, ten saw Golovkin as the rightful winner, seven scored it a draw, while only one scored it for Canelo.

The Las Vegas cash-cow bias is alive and well.
Which brings us to the ugly side of megafights: controversial decisions. As per usual following a close fight these days, cries of robbery! inundated social media once the verdict was announced, this despite the fact Canelo getting the points victory isn’t anywhere near the top of the list of the worst decisions of all time. That said, what really bothers those of us who saw Golovkin outwork Canelo last weekend, is that even though a majority of fans and media members believe the Kazakh did enough to defeat Canelo in both fights, only a single judge’s card out of a possible six has been in his favor in this rivalry so far. To put it mildly, something is rotten in the state of Nevada.

In fact, to see just how statistically odd it is to not have seen a single card last weekend in favor of Golovkin, check out this reddit compilation of 59 cards from media members, with only two (!) favoring Canelo, and a whopping forty calling it for Golovkin. Whether conscious or subconscious, the scoring bias on the part of the judges in favor of the sport’s cash king is simply undeniable. Keep in mind, this decision maybe wouldn’t bother us so much if Canelo didn’t already have a history of being favored in close fights. Not only did the judges award him victories and suspiciously wide cards in close fights against Austin Trout and Erislandy Lara, he somehow received a draw card in what was essentially a shutout loss to Floyd Mayweather back in 2013.

Saturday was far from the first time Canelo got the benefit of the doubt.

Time is definitely on Canelo’s side.
An exciting, high-octane fight, controversy, and truckloads of money are an excellent recipe for a repeat, so we may see a Canelo vs Golovkin trilogy match sometime soon, but then again, given recent history, there’s as much reason to think it won’t happen. What is certain is that the longer the bout is postponed, the more Canelo will benefit, as Canelo is still improving, while Golovkin is only getting older. To wit, a large majority of observers believed Golovkin earned a decisive victory last year; for the rematch, the range of acceptable scorecards included anything from GGG winning by four rounds to a draw. Hence, for the rubbermatch we could expect the gap between the Kazakh and the Mexican to narrow further, perhaps even making Canelo the clear favorite in the buildup. Don’t feel too bad for Golovkin, though: after spending years in search of quality opponents and big purses, he has now cashed two eight-figure paychecks within a year, with the promise of more to come.

Will we see Chapter Three? It appears unlikely.

But only in boxing can obvious greatness be denied.
The only way to be a truly great boxer, one destined for the Hall Of Fame and the history books, is to face and vanquish other great fighters. Until last week, Gennady Golovkin was undefeated and had owned some version of the middleweight world title for six years or more. But the most prominent characteristic of his reign was how so many of his rivals managed to avoid him, and thus he was denied a chance at the victories which would have cemented his legacy. How many pundits would have picked Canelo or Miguel Cotto to defeat Golovkin back in 2015, when the Kazakh was clearly overdue for a chance at undisputed domination? Precious few, no doubt. Certainly neither liked their chances very much at the time. Thus both ducked Golovkin, and thus the best fighter in the division had to wait and wait, and then wait some more, for a showdown with the lineal and undisputed championship on the line.

Peak Golovkin steamrolls Macklin.

Now his legacy is, to some degree at least, in question, as the record books show that when he finally had a chance to capture the undisputed middleweight title of the world, he was held to a draw by Alvarez before losing to the Mexican a year later. The unfairness of this scenario is enough to make any fight fan who truly cares about the integrity of boxing, or what little of that is left, to weep. The simple truth is that Golovkin deserved better, much better. Here was a fighter who ducked no one, who in fact sought out matches against the toughest competition. He had earned the big paydays and the big chances that finally came his way, but in the end was denied the unequivocal triumph he deserved. This type of thing just doesn’t happen in other sports. Golovkin is now 36-years-old; his best days are clearly behind him. And while its tragic that he did not have the chance to test himself when he was at his best against the best, it’s equally tragic that years from now the assessment of his achievement will be tainted by these unfair and inaccurate scorecards.

How might Canelo have fared against prime GGG?

Here is what should have happened: either Sergio Martinez or Miguel Cotto defends against Gennady and suffers defeat and immediately Canelo mans up and challenges the Kazakh power puncher, and he too falls at the feet of a peak Golovkin. And the boxing world debates and evaluates and celebrates a new boxing legend, one who can be compared to Hagler and Monzon and Ketchel. But it didn’t happen and the reason to lament this is not because it is unfair to Golovkin, but because it is unfair to boxing. The whole point of sports is to celebrate excellence, to witness great victories and noble efforts and pay tribute to them. As it stands, we should be celebrating the greatness of Gennady Golovkin right now after he proved himself in two tough wars with a gifted and formidable opponent. But we cannot. And that’s a damn shame.

— Robert Portis  

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12 thoughts on “Canelo vs Golovkin II: The Last Word

  • September 21, 2018 at 1:41 pm

    Oh, boo-hoo for poor lil’ GGG. If he wanted to win he should have fought more, as even Abel says.

  • September 21, 2018 at 3:58 pm

    GGG won both fights. While Canelo made it more competitive this time around, he always gets the benefit of the doubt while double standards have always been applied to Golovkin and the goal posts moved each time. History will show who the true, clean champ was and it isn’t the Cinnamon shaded one. This is why boxing will never be a mainstream sport again because it can’t get out of its own way.

  • September 22, 2018 at 12:12 am

    You’re just as biased as the judges and media. In your minds GGG won the first fight and there’s no way that Canelo can beat him. So if Canelo failed to knock GGG out it’s impossible for Canelo to beat GGG in your world.

    That’s fine…But when Ali fought Norton 3 times, or SRL outpointed a champion and took his belt without doing a smidgen of the leather Canelo laid on GGG (look at his face) or Floyd was up on the cards before he stopped McG, despite not fighting for 3 rounds that’s ok.

    Boxing is a sport of opinions. The meaning of sport is to test one athletes opinions against another. Our opinions don’t matter because we can’t fight for GGG or Canelo. So it shouldn’t be that hard to grasp…that despite you keen eye….others disagreed with you and in this case, you only have GGG’s jab to fall back on.

    I submit those jabs can’t be the defining factor in the scheme of things because this isn’t olympic style boxing!! And maybe if GGG had a prettier, more flashy form of defense where you could SEE how ineffective his defense was making Canelo you’d have a point.

    But you forget that when GGG throws a punch and lands it well your bias takes over and you see how more effective he was while a Canelo fan does the same. A contest of inches and opinions.

  • September 22, 2018 at 3:17 pm

    Our hearts ache not to accept the cruel reality of how boxing matches are and have been decided since queensbury rules were instituted.

    Quick background – I was an amateur competitor for many years in the state of Connecticut, home to a tiny but thriving boxing community and a number of high profile carvers of 9’s & 10’s. (you should see the houses these folks live in)

    Boxing nationally and globally is a small, money fueled community. Promotion companies dole out perks; access and VIP experiences etc. to judges in various shapes & forms within its low-profile confines. The absence of a unified governing body allows the various assemblage of organizations and plutocrats to operate freely in and around the sport.

    There is a shared interest within that community of protecting the its own best financial interests. I.e. that of the sports biggest cash cow & best known, never-shy-for-the-spot light former world champion promoter.

    Team GGG is expected to be grateful with the 50 million dollars & counting they wouldn’t have come close to receiving without their orange haired foil & get over it. Period.

    How else to subvert public & expert outcry around a Canelo victory than awarding it by the absolute tiniest margin available; two scorecards in his favor by a single point! (I realize an SD win could be considered a tinier margin than a MD win, but a 114-114 tablet further denies submission of any hard evidence that the appointed and anointed masons might have seen it the other way like Moretti had it last time). The golden promoter and organge cash cow can admit how close it was, how fair it was, and ultimately walk away with the all important win in optimally damage controlled environment.

    A loss could have massively damaged the money making potential of a “official” passing-of-the-torch, Mayweather v. Canelo re-match next May 5. One that would result in a whole lot of money in many important peoples pockets.

    Of course this all overshadows the fact that both men accounted themselves as truly great middleweights & fought to the best of their said abilities that night. What happened inside the ring was a true gift for fight fans in every respect. And begrudgingly as it may be, they both had to leave the ring with complete respect for the pugilistic skills of one another.

    Do I feel like GGG battered Canelo over the second half of the fight? Thats certainly how I saw it. GGG, maybe a tad diminished, summoned & displayed all of his best. Was I in awe of the way Canelo leveraged his flashy style while demonstration tremendous focus, preparation & ring smarts in winning the first half of the fight? Of course!

    All that matters, but as a fight fan I’m letting go of the scores. They can’t truly reflect what happened in the ring that night – they were written long, long ago – over 150 years.

  • February 27, 2021 at 12:50 am

    Since when does the media call the fights? These GGG fanboys still can’t get over the loss. That same night, they asked all these people who won and they all said Canelo including Miguel Cotto, Duran, Ray Leonard, Foreman, Tyson, Barrera, Andy Lee, Jorge Linares, Andre Ward, Errol Spence, Sergio Mora. Who cares what the media thinks?

    • October 20, 2021 at 3:17 am

      I’m not blind. He beat Canelo fair. You know he did.

  • February 28, 2021 at 3:13 pm

    Excellent article.

  • March 7, 2021 at 6:55 am

    I thought the rounds won by each figher were clearer in the rematch but the fight was more scrappy and Canelo got a lot of credit from the judges for coming forward. Golovkin deserved more credit for battling on the back foot, fighting tactically, and using Canelo’s aggression against him. This was a great fight, and Canelo looked terrific, but Golovkin was a clear winner for me, 8 to 4, maybe 7 to 5. I think you have to be very generous to find six rounds for Canelo. Anyway, it is in the past. If they fight again, it will be to a serious disadvantage of the slowing down Golovkin. But that is boxing. The chance for the right result came and went twice, in my view. I love Canelo’s improvement and dedication and I will support him from here on. Although I am sort of counting GGG out, he may have one more great show left in him. No one since that first fight has had the acumen to disturb Canelo the way he did for twelve rounds. Bring on fight three! Good, balanced article in my view.

  • September 17, 2021 at 3:52 am

    Alvarez vs Golovkin 2 may very well be *the* most memorable fight of the past decade, not only because of the greatness of the fight itself, but it also seemed to be the point at which boxing shifted back into the mainstream more.

  • November 10, 2021 at 12:26 am

    Watching both of these fights as a boxing fan not as a Alvarez or GGG fan. I am completely neutral. That being said both of these fights were almost impossible to judge by the human eye. After watching the first fight 3 times I had it 116-112 for GGG and after doing the same for the 2nd fight I had it 115-113 for GGG. They were both very close but the fact out of 6 judges over both fight only one judge had scored it for GGG by the narrowest of margins is proof that there is something crooked going on and if you need further proof just look at Birds scorecard from the first fight. There is no possible way that anybody who watched that first fight would give 10 rounds to Alvarez. That is just laughable because Canelo didn’t win 10 rounds over both of the fights!!!! In all honesty GGG should have got the decision in the first fight and if that happened there would have been little controversy with the 2nd fights scoring but unfortunately that didn’t happen.


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