Gennady Golovkin, the monster of the middleweight division, vs Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, a superstar of boxing and clearly its future. An epic fight, one of the most anticipated of the last decade or more. On the day of the historic clash I was compelled to go above and beyond my usual daily workout because I was so keyed up for the match and also because I knew I would be indulging in a big way, pigging out and boozing it up; not a typical evening for me, but hey, this was Canelo vs Golovkin, a very special occasion. So that afternoon I ran several miles and did scores of push ups and calisthenics, making sure I earned those chicken wings and beers.
Then it was time for the fight and I gave it my full attention and it’s a good thing I workout religiously because if I had any kind of heart condition I don’t think I would have made it to the final bell. Even after the decision was rendered, I was so riled up, I needed to get rid of that adrenaline rush, so I hit the pavement a second time that day, ran a couple more miles and gunned some more push-ups. I guess that’s my new standard for a great fight; if it’s a genuine classic, I do more roadwork.
Afterwards my body was definitely tired but my mind was restless. I was still replaying the fight and contemplating the decision, but not with any anger or frustration, as is often the case with too many competitive battles of late, the judges’ verdict leaving us all shaking our heads. While I scored it 116 to 112 for Golovkin, there were at least a couple of swing rounds, so a draw is far from a scandalous outcome in this case.
Yes, the cards were all over the place, but decision aside, what really had my attention was the sheer quality of the spectacle which, in my opinion, definitely lived up to all reasonable expectations. This was a great fight. And the bottom line is, a draw means we get to see them do it again. This is good news for fans, for both fighters and for boxing. So let’s take a closer look at the decision, one which has some fans more than a little pissed off. A significant number of people feel Golovkin was cheated of a rightful victory and while I did see him the winner, this was no robbery, it was close. Let’s break it down a bit.
As we all know, the four official criteria for judging a boxing match are:
1. Clean Punching: The ability to land meaningful and legal blows.
2. Effective Aggressiveness: The ability to pursue your opponent and successfully land punches without being hit back every time.
3. Ring Generalship: The ability to impose your will and make your style and tactics define the nature of the fight.
4. Defense: The ability to make your opponent miss either by blocking and parrying, or by slipping and weaving.
Overall, both Golovkin and Alvarez landed their punches with authority, so clean punching is pretty much a wash. That said, while Alvarez at times appeared to land the more telling blows, Golovkin connected more frequently, so GGG edges effective aggressiveness. Alvarez performed better in terms of defense, no doubt about that one, so we have a draw: clean punching could go either way; effective aggressiveness goes to Golovkin, and defense to Canelo. So that leaves ring generalship.
Now there are those who think Canelo got the better of it in this category because they saw a Gennady Golovkin they didn’t expect to see. This is a common error in judgement for fight fans; they assume their expectations of what strategy or tactics a boxer is going to bring to a match corresponds to what that fighter and his trainer are in fact planning to do. It’s understandable to a degree since we can only form opinions on what we know, or what we think we know, but the reality of a high-level boxing match can’t help but be more complex than that.
Here’s a famous example of what I’m talking about: The Rumble In The Jungle. That monumental heavyweight clash between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman in 1974. The whole world expected Ali to dance, stick and move, use the ring, and likely get killed shortly after his 32-year-old legs got tired. This expectation was based as much on Ali’s boxing style as it was on the fact that the seemingly invincible Foreman had annihilated in short order the two powerful fighters who had defeated Ali, Joe Frazier and Ken Norton.
But Ali did the very opposite of what people expected. In the opening round he traded punches with Foreman and the rest of the way he fought off the ropes, unloading on George to steal rounds. Everyone was baffled and mesmerized. Frazier at ringside couldn’t understand why Ali wasn’t moving and using the ring. Angelo Dundee, Ali’s trainer, felt sick to his stomach. Everyone was yelling at Ali to “get off the ropes!” But it worked. Foreman’s strength and power forced Ali to abandon his usual dancing and shuffling, but the change in tactics allowed Ali to take control of the match and finally knock out Big George to regain the heavyweight title.
The point here is to not let your expectations blind you to what Golovkin was doing successfully. Just because a fighter deploys tactics which we didn’t anticipate doesn’t mean he’s lost the initiative or is being dominated. Golovkin’s record, his many knockouts, and his undeniable punching power, had led us to see him as this unstoppable juggernaut. He’s aggressive, relentless, throws plenty of leather in combination, and he’s a great body puncher, and that’s what we’re used to seeing.
But there’s an old adage in fighting arts: what your opponent brings to the match dictates your tactics. Every fight is different because every fighter is different, but no trainer is stupid enough to broadcast his strategy to the public. Why do you think Golovkin and his coach, Abel Sanchez, always do the same drill, over and over again, during media workouts? Because there’s no surprise, no subtlety, in raw power. It’s so easy to understand that even my dog reacts to the thudding sound Golovkin makes when he smashes the focus mitts. But that kind of drill also works to conceal what a trainer and his fighter might actually be working on in terms of tactics and strategy.
To force a boxer to change his style and resort to one that he isn’t accustomed to is one thing, but if that boxer is still the more efficient and effective fighter, than he is not the loser when it comes to ring generalship. I was impressed by Alvarez’s overall performance; he showed a lot of skills and a lot of heart, not to mention durability. And he did force Golovkin to exercise caution, to restrain himself and box more and fight less, to calibrate his power intelligently instead of attacking with abandon. But Golovkin still found a way to impose his will and take control of the fight as it progressed. He outpunched Canelo in almost every round and once he felt comfortable enough in his new adopted style, he was the one, in the end, dictating the terms.
Now having said all that, the decision did not go to Golovkin, but, again, that’s not a bad thing at all. A draw leaves a bittersweet taste in everyone’s mouth and a feeling of dissatisfaction, especially for those rooting for one side or the other. But let’s not forget: boxing is a business, first and foremost. And in terms of business, this is really the best case scenario, believe it or not. Because controversy sells. Ali knew it; Don King knew it; Mike Tyson knew it and Floyd Mayweather made his fortune from it. And let’s be clear: Canelo vs Golovkin is one of the best high-profile match-ups in years and the end result was a truly excellent fight. A draw means we get to do it again and if that wasn’t the case, it would be boxing’s loss.
Yes, I know, 2017 has been a fantastic year for the sport with so many great fights: Kovalev vs Ward, Thurman vs Garcia, DeGale vs Jack, Joshua vs Klitschko, and soon we’ll have the mouth-watering Lomachenko vs Rigondeaux showdown, but the truth is, none of them match Canelo vs Golovkin. The circumstances are perfect for a return, and if Chapter Two is as riveting and competitive as the first, then there’s always the chance we get a trilogy.
So while the outcome of the first Canelo vs Golovkin battle may have left many fans dissatisfied, let’s look at the bright side here and the bigger picture. Gennady Golovkin and Saul Alvarez will meet again, and likely sooner than later. That alone should be enough to put a smile on the face of every boxing fan in the world because matches like this are simply too few and far between in the 21st century version of the fight game. Neither Alvarez nor Golovkin won, but the fans sure did. And we can’t wait for Canelo vs Golovkin II. Who ya picking? — Simon Traversy
Photos by Jeff Lockhart