On separate cards over the weekend, boxing superstars Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and Gennadiy Golovkin saw action for the first time in 2020 as they looked to shed some ring rust and add to their famed careers. And, maybe, get set for a third and final clash, Canelo vs Golovkin III, the trilogy fight. Or so we might hope.
First, on Friday night in Florida, and without a live audience, the Kazakh power-puncher faced Poland’s Kamil Szeremeta to fulfill his IBF middleweight title obligation. Under normal circumstances this would’ve been a widely derided matchup, as it’s hard to find a reason to justify putting Szeremeta in the same ring as Golovkin outside of sanctioning organization shenanigans. However, given Golovkin’s age of 38 and the fact he was coming off a career-long layoff of fourteen months, the encounter would grant fight fans the chance to see just how much (or how little) Golovkin still resembles the wrecking machine he was in his prime.
Meanwhile, on Saturday night Canelo squared off against Britain’s Callum Smith in front of a reduced capacity of some eleven thousand at San Antonio’s Alamodome, in an attempt to add a legit super middleweight title to his trophy case. In his first appearance since his knockout of Sergei Kovalev in November of 2019, Canelo met arguably the top prizefighter at 168 pounds in Smith, who held obvious advantages in height and reach. With three belts at stake, Canelo vs Smith represented a genuine best vs best encounter, despite the five-to-one odds in the Mexican’s favor.
Golovkin made easy work of an overmatched Szeremeta by fighting behind a disciplined jab, picking his spots to attack upstairs with power punches, and diligently pounding the Pole’s body. It was a comprehensive performance from Golovkin, who scored four knockdowns before Szeremeta’s corner stopped the contest after the seventh round ended. While game and brave, Szeremeta’s fists failed to deter Golovkin in any way and GGG took advantage of the opportunity to showcase his famed offense: his jabs were stiff and punishing, his right hands looped and powerful, and he sagely disguised his right hand uppercuts by throwing them behind his left hook, constantly scoring with them and making Szeremeta’s head turn skywards.
Meanwhile, Golovkin evaded incoming fire by relying on head movement and on his trademarked parrying and blocking. At the end of the night, it was clear that Szeremeta did not belong in the same ring as Golovkin, just as it was clear that the aged Kazakh still has enough left in the tank to call himself an elite fighter. A case could be made that circa 2015 Golovkin would’ve dispatched of Szeremeta inside of four rounds; that it took him longer than that is proof positive that the Kazakh is nearing the twilight. But it’s a testament to his outstanding fighting attributes and dedication to the sport that even this version of Golovkin would be favored against most of the top fighters at middleweight and super middleweight.
The very next night, Canelo and Smith battled for top dog status in the super middleweight division. The sheer differential in size between the Mexican and the Brit was a big part of the marketing for this fight, and indeed the contrast was stark once both fighters faced each other in a cleared ring. However, it soon became evident that height and reach advantages are reduced to zero if not employed properly, just as they can be nullified by a master boxer-puncher with tons of experience at the top level.
The pre-fight banter was that Smith’s best chance would be to bring the fight to Canelo and impose his physicality over the naturally smaller man. But instead Smith found himself constantly retreating and paying continuous visits to the ropes, which gave Alvarez the chance to trap his quarry and go to work. Canelo’s body punching is perhaps the best in the sport today, and he used it efficiently and methodically against Smith, punishing his midsection, making him lower his arms, and then working upstairs. It’s a delight to watch a skilled warrior at the top of his game dismantle an opponent, and that is precisely what Alvarez did to Smith.
The Mexican’s feints and footwork are instrumental to his attack, and they all worked to perfection last night, allowing him to cut the distance and set up energy-sapping body punches and eye catching power shots upstairs. Uppercuts and right hands landed consistently and marked up Smith’s face, eventually causing crimson to stain his previously pristine white trunks. At the same time, Canelo evaded most of what Smith sent his way thanks to his head and body movement; the rest he just absorbed with nary a sign of trouble, providing further proof of an imperturbable chin that neatly complements what appears to be the best version we’ve seen of Canelo yet.
By defeating Szeremeta, Golovkin fulfilled his mandatory obligation and re-established his status as a top middleweight. What comes next is less clear, though options abound. A rumor has the Kazakh facing off against Mexico’s Jaime Munguia next March in what would be an appetizing matchup, but one Triple G would be expected to win given his much more polished boxing skills and considerable experience at the top level.
That being said, in his post-fight interview Golovkin mentioned being open to any name that makes sense “for the fans,” which likely means he’s looking to collect the biggest paydays possible. The good news is that any top middleweight would make for an enticing match against Golovkin, whether it’s Jermall Charlo, Demetrius Andrade or even Ryota Murata. The great news would be if Gennadiy is determined to make that trilogy fight with Canelo finally happen. If we’re talking match-ups that make sense “for the fans” and for Golovkin’s bank account, surely that’s at the top of the list. Or so we might hope.
As for Canelo, he has finally earned the right to say he is a legit four division champion, with three of those titles being of the lineal variety, a remarkable achievement, one that serves to cement the Mexican’s status as the number one pound-for-pound fighter in the world. Impressively, at only thirty years of age, Canelo has already forged a Hall of Fame career and appears to be only getting better, adding wrinkles to his game and eliminating weaknesses one by one. Even the stamina issues of which he’s been accused in the past seem to have faded into irrelevance; against Smith, Canelo was in control from beginning to end, and one had to look hard to find a single round to score for Smith.
Alvarez recognized as much during his own post-fight interview, stating he sees himself as being at the top of his game in his current form, and looking forward to unifying the rest of the belts at super middleweight. While he didn’t commit to any single opponent for his next engagement, significantly, he didn’t rule out Golovkin. That doesn’t mean the trilogy fight will necessarily happen: at this point of his career Alvarez is working as a free agent, and will surely take the biggest opportunities that come his way. Al Haymon’s PBC, struggling as it has to sell pay-per-view fights, is no doubt eager to get into the Canelo business, specifically by matching him up with their own Jermall Charlo. But like everyone else, they’ll have to get in line.
Also in that line will be Eddie Hearn and DAZN, who are of course salivating at the prospect of Canelo vs Golovkin III. Despite Golovkin’s advanced age, and despite Canelo’s disdain for his Kazakh rival, the trilogy fight is the one that will make them more money than any other right now. And when that money is put on the table, how can Canelo say “No”? After all, the chaotic Canelo vs Golovkin rivalry is a marketing tool unto itself, and even if Alvarez opens as a clear favorite, the way their styles mesh in the ring is a can’t-miss attraction. All these reasons make a rubber-match more likely to happen than not and make this past weekend’s fights a mere prelude to what is both a trilogy fight and a legacy showdown, one for the history books. Or so we might hope.
— Rafael Garcia