Since Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao trolled the sporting world to the tune of six hundred million dollars two years ago, boxing fans have craved a superfight. A true blockbuster. An era-defining showdown worthy of the big billing. And no, that circus a few weeks back doesn’t count. The mega-fight of 2017 goes down on Saturday.
While it’s true that Gennady Golovkin and Canelo Alvarez aren’t in the same stratosphere of fame as the aforementioned stars, they are certainly closer to their respective primes; Floyd and Pac were 38 and 36 when they finally locked horns; GGG and Canelo are 35 and 27. 12 years to the good.
Middleweight ruler Golovkin may have narrowly outpointed New Yorker Danny Jacobs in his last fight, but lest we forget, Jacobs is a legit top contender and delivered a career-best performance. Before that, the superhuman Kazakh had overpowered and demolished everyone in his path. Chopped them down, smashed their eye sockets, left them howling on the floor from excruciating body shots that pulped their internal organs.
As for Canelo, he’s gone from strength to strength since being subjected to a masterclass by Floyd Mayweather four years ago. Still young, yet 51 fights deep into his career, he is poised in the eyes of many to finally inherit the middleweight mantle. That ropy showing vs Jacobs has convinced them that Golovkin’s aura of invincibility is no more. Canelo – clever, compact, patient, powerful – is the one to take him down.
This match has all the ingredients of a classic. You have the murderous puncher versus the savvy technician, the stalking KO artist against the wily counter-puncher. The MayMac freak show undoubtedly tossed some shade on this event but there can be no question about the combatants’ skill and will and might.
The only uncertainty is whether we’ll be treated to an absorbing, high-wire spar chess match like Leonard vs Benitez or an all-out dogfight in the mould of Hagler vs Hearns. Realistically I’m hoping for something in-between. The principles are too clever and strategic to recreate ‘eight minutes of mayhem’ from 1985, but I don’t see them cancelling each other out either. With any luck we’ll witness some fierce exchanges as well as deeply tactical warfare.
Prior to Golovkin’s last fight, the only people you could find who gave Canelo a shot were Mexicans. Now the terms you see bandied around are “50-50 fight” and “pick ‘em”. The rank outsider has gone from having no chance to being a roulette spin away from an amazing victory.
So what’s changed? Perception. Gennady’s failure to smash through Jacobs like a wrecking ball has caused observers to wonder if perhaps Canelo can also survive this juggernaut. Jacobs did more than just survive of course; some had him shading the fight. For 12 rounds he popped his jab, moved smartly around the ring and largely succeeded in keeping the Kazakh menace contained. His technique was sound, his flurries were well-timed and he had enough mustard on his shots to prevent Golovkin from fully hitting his fearsome stride. Ultimately, though, Jacobs lost.
The Miracle Man has been a middleweight his whole career, but there is an argument that so too has Alvarez; he merely chose to chip an extra six pounds off his powerful frame. And there is a sense, too, that Alvarez is better equipped than Jacobs to go the extra yard and hand Golovkin his first defeat. After all, he is the younger man by three years; he is more experienced; and he has scored several dynamic victories, from his violent KO of James Kirkland to his impressive triumphs over Miguel Cotto, Erislandy Lara and Austin Trout.
If Golovkin is entering the final phase of his career at 35, Alvarez is still very much in the middle of his. But is he in the prime of his life or just approaching it? That’s up for debate, but few would insist that Golovkin’s prime is ahead of him. Thus the younger, fresher man will be happier about the timing of this bout than his elder.
But it is through no fault of Golovkin’s that he’s had to endure a five-year wait to contest the lineal middleweight championship. Sergio Martinez wanted no part of him, nor did Miguel Cotto; and Canelo famously relinquished his WBC title rather than face him. To my mind Golovkin is defending his belts – all four of them – against Canelo, not the other way round.
As with any much-anticipated prizefight, disagreements are rife among boxing’s public. Some say this one comes at the perfect time for Canelo, citing his growing maturity and sharpening attributes, but others point out that his recent victories have done nothing to prepare him for the potential tsunami coming his way. Let’s face it, he learned nothing from coasting to a shutout win over a weight-drained, just-back-from-the-wilderness Chavez Jr. And he learned even less in bowling over Liam Smith and Amir Khan before that. Golovkin, meanwhile, went to Brooklyn and decisioned a pumped-up, tactically strong Danny Jacobs, in a fight from which he learned more about himself than if he’d scored an easy knockout.
Might the venue be a factor? Las Vegas is Canelo’s stamping ground: he’s fought in Sin City in six of his last eight. Golovkin, amazingly, has never competed in boxing’s capital. New York, California, Monte Carlo multiple times, but never Vegas. Still, it would be surprising if the especially bright lights daunted the quiet, imperturbable Golovkin. Nerves don’t besiege a king who enters into his court.
Both principals are masters of what the great A.J. Liebling called ratiocination – forming judgements by a process of logic. Canelo has always had an old head on young shoulders. Even as a 20-year-old under the sage tutelage of Chepo Reynoso he was measured and composed, rarely pushing or pressing beyond a tempo he could control. It is this attribute – along with his hard javelin jab, world-class body punching and exceptional timing – upon which he will rely to slay the Kazakh.
Golovkin, for his part, will do as he always does: motor forward, attempt to dictate with his own ramrod left and create openings for the straight right, the detonating right hook and the chopping left to the liver. That may sound like a guileless strategy, but it is far from it. Golovkin is intelligent, accurate, a masterful judge of distance. Throw in the awe-inspiring power and you have one hell of a puzzle to solve. It’s no wonder he’s never lost.
In the wider scheme of things, Golovkin vs Canelo is a boon for boxing, pitting the best against the best. This does not happen as often as it should, though Crawford vs Indongo and Ward vs Kovalev deserve applause. The impact on the sport, in real terms, naturally depends on what kind of spectacle we witness. When a fight lives up to its billing, as happened recently with Klitschko vs Joshua, it solidifies into legend and becomes part of the sport’s rich historical tapestry. When it under-performs — think Mayweather vs Pacquiao or De La Hoya vs Trinidad and countless others — it leaves a very bitter taste.
The need for this match to truly deliver is perhaps greater in light of two things: the fact that it arrives on the tail of Mayweather vs McGregor, and the fact that there’s no obvious contender waiting in the wings. This is the defining match of either man’s career and the reality of that statement makes it imperative that a great fight unfolds. Who knows, they might never again get the opportunity to have a truly big showdown.
For Golovkin, a win justifies the hyperbole and hype that has enveloped him during his tear through the middleweight division. He has made 18 title defences to date, two less than Bernard Hopkins’ record (1995-2005), but his résumé lacks star quality. Canelo checks that requirement off the list and brings Gennady within touching distance of B-Hop’s benchmark. It would be monumental.
You could say the stakes aren’t so high for Canelo. He already has three super-welterweight titles in his trophy cabinet, not to mention the WBC middleweight strap. He is young enough to rebound from defeat, as he has done before. What he cannot afford is to be struck like a deer in the headlights by the magnitude of the occasion. That happened against Mayweather, when the passivity of his performance betrayed the incendiary Mexican way. If he goes down, he must go down swinging. Do that and he can lose with his head held high.
But of course Canelo won’t see it that way. Beating Golovkin puts him in the history books with the all-time Mexican greats. It makes a mockery of the criticism he suffered after shirking Golovkin last year. It lends credibility to the idea that he was too green to beat Mayweather. And it makes him the greatest middleweight in the world.
The stage, as they say, is set. Let’s hope for a classic. — Ronnie McCluskey