The Middleweight Mess Redux

In February of last year The Fight City staffers engaged in a no-holds-barred conversation about the sorry state of the middleweight ranks. The division in which such names as Sugar Ray Robinson, Marvin Hagler, Harry Greb and Stanley Ketchel forged their legends had been thrown into disarray by catchweight fights, mismatches, and the fact so-called champions kept ignoring each other like strangers in a crowded downtown bus. And wouldn’t you know it? Here we are almost a year-and-a-half later and the division is arguably in an even worse state than we found it back then. Our editor Michael Carbert and staffer Rafael Garcia discuss why.

Boy, do we ever miss the good old days.
Boy, do we ever miss the good old days.

Rafa: So there’s good news and bad news. The good news is both Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin have announced their next fight. The bad news is that–as mostly everyone expected–they won’t be fighting each other. Instead, they’ve tapped a couple of Brits as dancing partners, as the Mexican will face WBO super welterweight titlist Liam Smith on September 17 in either Vegas or Texas, while the Kazakh takes on IBF welterweight champion Kell Brook in London the week before. What do you make of these matches?

Michael: Well, let’s take the Alvarez vs Smith match first. To me, this fight simply confirms all of our worst suspicions about Canelo. For a while it seemed as if he was a throwback, a guy who would fight anyone, anytime. Strongly backing up this impression were two matches in particular: Austin Trout and Erislandy Lara. Both contests were risky and it seemed Canelo was eagerly seeking out such challenges. These were two skilled boxers and we got two highly competitive contests as a result. But at the same time that he showed this apparent eagerness to test himself, Alvarez also exhibited great skill at taking full advantage of the day before weigh-in, as well as forcing catch-weights on his opponents.

Whatever happened to the Canelo who didn't mind taking risks?
Whatever happened to the Canelo who didn’t mind taking risks?

In fact, looking back, are Canelo’s recent fights defined more by a willingness to take on serious challenges, or by a desire to always have an edge in size, weight and power? Part of the reason we all howled at the Amir Khan fight was it was such a shameless move to once again ensure Canelo had all the physical advantages while taking on a fighter who everyone knew had a fragile chin. Now, with Liam Smith, Canelo appears to be rubbing boxing fans’ faces into their own dashed hopes that Alvarez could and would be this wonderfully ambitious champion. It’s a match that makes no sense unless one buys into this idea that Alvarez isn’t a real middleweight, but we all know he puts on 15 to 20 pounds between the weigh-in and the fight. But even if you do buy that baloney, what has Smith done to merit this opportunity or cause anyone to think he has a chance of winning? The one way the choice of Smith does make sense is that he is a fitting addition to the group of opponents who figure most prominently on Canelo’s record, namely, smaller guys with little punching power.

It looks like even ‘Beefy’ can’t make sense of this match-up.

Rafa: The fact that Canelo was so willing to face Lara and Trout—even against Oscar’s wishes—but has so far refused to step up against Golovkin says lots about his team’s risk management practices. The absolute worst thing Lara and Trout could have conceivably done to Canelo was box his ears off, which would’ve been a humbling experience, but one that he could always recover and learn from. On the other hand, the absolute worst thing Golovkin could conceivably do would be to put such a beating on Canelo that he derails his career for good. After all, Alvarez is still in his formative years in boxing, and his prime is still, very likely, ahead of him; the dude is only 25. There’s lots of potential fights in his future, many of them surefire blockbusters. Why risk all that by rushing into the Golovkin fight in 2016?

That said, the Mexican and his backers earned every bit of mudslinging that’s come their way. Canelo has no business holding The Ring and lineal middleweight titles, and the decent thing to do at this point would be to vacate them like he vacated the WBC trinket. As for the Liam Smith fight, I was surprised in the selection, but not by the fact it was someone other than Golovkin. Canelo and Oscar made it abundantly clear in the run up to the Khan fight that they didn’t want to face Golovkin this year. Thus, in the immediate aftermath of the Khan knockout I fully expected Oscar to reach out to Bob Arum to negotiate a fight between Canelo and Manny Pacquiao, in what would’ve been an even more successful money-grabber than Canelo vs Khan.

Canelo vs Pacquiao
Rafa had anticipated ‘Pacnelo.’

Recently we’ve learned that Manny Pacquiao will most likely fight again in November, and his promoter is actively looking for a dance partner. I believe the only reason Oscar didn’t approach Arum about making Pacquiao vs Canelo is because between Uncle Bob and the Golden Boy there’s been yet another falling out arising from the fact Arum has cozied up to Haymon’s PBC—after first attempting to sue Uncle Al’s pants off—while Oscar is probably still pissed off at Haymon for stealing about 85% percent of his stable not that long ago.

So here we are, with Canelo facing Liam Smith in yet another pointless mismatch, leaving Golovkin hanging once again. So what did the Kazakh and his team do? Well, once again, they signed up for a fight with the only guy who dared raise his hand, something no top middleweight dared do. It fell to a British welterweight—a very good one, no doubt—but one with little experience at the top level, and at a real size disadvantage, to take on the Golovkin challenge. Many fans believe that, much like Canelo vs Khan, Golovkin vs Brook is a fight with a foregone, and painful, conclusion. What are your thoughts on Golovkin vs Brook?

GGG vs Kell

Michael: Well, as Sean Crose and others have made clear, Golovkin really didn’t have much choice. He wants to stay active, he has a September date set with HBO, and he needs an opponent. Word was Chris Eubank Jr. was going to get the title shot and he certainly talked a good game in recent weeks, but according to Eddie Hearn, he and his father balked at the offer and demanded more money. So the offer went to Brook and he accepted it. So there’s two talking points to address: Eubank vs Brook as respective opponents, and the comparisons to Khanelo. Honestly, I see Brook as potentially a tougher challenge for GGG than Eubank for the simple fact he is a sharper, more mobile boxer with quicker hands. Style-wise, there’s no doubt that Eubank would suit Golovkin just fine, whereas maybe (and I stress, maybe) Brook’s speed and movement might present some problems for the champion. Of course the smaller man is a huge underdog and there’s little reason to think Golovkin won’t walk him down and batter him into submission, but while Eubank in my view would be a dead man walking when the opening bell rang, I think Brook might make it interesting.

Khan was the perfect (relatively) low risk opponent
Is the outcome of GGG vs Brook as predictable?

As for comparisons to Khanelo, the context of the two matches is completely different and no one can criticize Golovkin for taking this fight. It is a well-known fact he has been ready and willing for months to fight Alvarez. The reason so many objected to Khanelo was because it was an obvious duck, not because the match itself wasn’t interesting. That said, Khan’s fragile chin is a well documented fact, as is Canelo’s weight-bullying ways, and also Khan, having started out as a lightweight, is a smaller man than Brook. The fact there will be a so-called weight check the day of the fight precludes any weight bullying from Golovkin, so while Canelo vs Khan was essentially a match between a puffed-up welterweight and a light heavyweight, Golovkin vs Brook will likely involve, at worst, a ten pound weight differential. Brook is bigger, tougher and a harder puncher than Khan. It’s a much better match than Khanelo, though even if that were not the case, Golovkin deserves no criticism for the fact no middleweight has the guts to fight him and as a result this is what we’re left with.

Brook tags Porter.
Brook defeating Porter.

Rafa: I’m not crazy about Golovkin vs Brook for the same reason I wasn’t crazy about Canelo vs Khan: I believe it’s a disservice to the talents of both the Kazakh and the Mexican to face considerably smaller men over which they hold egregious advantages in weight and power. That being said, I believe Golovkin vs Brook is a marginally better fight than Canelo vs Khan was, mainly because Brook is arguably the best welterweight today (this based only on the eye-test, since the only top fighter he’s defeated is Shawn Porter). And going by what we see on social media, this opinion is shared by many fight fans, but interestingly enough bookies opened up betting lines on Golovkin vs Brook by tagging the Brit with very similar odds to the ones Khan faced against Canelo. Make of this what you will.

Now, it has to be said that despite his ever-rising popularity and eye-catching ring exploits, Golovkin continues to struggle to secure top opposition. Billy Joe Saunders and Danny Jacobs flat out refused to get in the ring with him, and the same goes for Canelo Alvarez. Super middleweight Gilberto “Zurdo” Ramirez tried to steal Canelo’s thunder by saying he’ll step up and face Golovkin, which sounded awesome to Mexican fans, but only until they learned he’s only willing to do it next year. So what is Golovkin to do in the meantime? Most will grudgingly admit at this point that seeing Golovkin–one of the most dominating and exciting active champions–fight a welterweight is better than not seeing him fight at all. But it’s hard to see how a victory over an undersized opponent–coming on the heels of a demolition job against a 70-to-1 underdog in Dominic Wade–will help augment Golovkin’s legacy.

It's the fight everyone wants to see. Which means we may never see it.
It’s the fight everyone wants to see, but in boxing that means almost nothing.

There’s a Simpson’s episode where, after seeing his only opponent drop out of a competition, Homer celebrates his victory by declaring the two sweetest words in the English language to be “De-fault!” In stark contrast to the sentiments of an oafish buffoon, finding a middleweight king by that method has turned out to be a bitter and frustrating endeavor. Will we ever see an end to the middleweight mess that began when Miguel Cotto demolished a one-legged Sergio Martinez two years ago? Is there hope Canelo will prove us wrong by facing Golovkin in 2017? Or will we just continue down the road of neverending mamadas?

Michael: My guess is neverending mamadas. Because when you’ve gone this far to avoid a fight, why stop now? There’s no incentive to stop ducking once you start; witness Floyd avoiding Pacquiao for a full five years and then getting the biggest payday in the history of sports. Golovkin is counting on public pressure to force Alvarez to finally face him, but Canelo has shown he won’t be pressured by anyone. Plus, since Canelo is the only genuine star attraction left in the Golden Boy stable, there’s every incentive for Oscar to avoid this fight. The funny thing is, I think Canelo would give GGG serious trouble, and even if he loses, he could still cash in on a rematch. But clearly that’s not the way top fighters think anymore. I hope I’m wrong, but my guess is Alvarez doesn’t sign to battle Golovkin until the Kazakh starts to look something less than awesome, which could be two or three years from now. How pathetic is that? And to think he’s the lineal middleweight champion of the world. As my friend Robert Portis would say, Harry Greb must be spinning in his grave.

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