After the damp squib in Vegas last month, sports fans can look forward to a genuinely enthralling contest Saturday night Gennady Golovkin and Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez finally face in Las Vegas.
Unlike the bland anomaly of a fortnight ago, GGG and Canelo will meet as the two best at their weight, the famed and storied middleweight division of Leonard, Hearns and Hagler. And, unlike the dross that Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao served up two years ago, Saturday’s fight involves two fighters extremely close to their prime, particularly Alvarez, although more on that later.
Thankfully, since the slippery Oscar De La Hoya and Tom Loeffler were finally able to come to an agreement in the spring of this year, this fight has become the most highly anticipated contest of the year for boxing fans.
Anyone who has paid even the remotest bit of attention over the last three years will be aware of charismatic, prize fighter Golovkin, who has ploughed his way unceremoniously through the peripheral characters of the middleweight division.
The top contenders – Daniel Jacobs aside – have sidestepped, talked a lot of shit and ultimately ran from the Kazakh. Honourable mention goes to Billy Joe Saunders and Chris Eubank Junior.
Aficionados of boxing, the likes of Steve Bunce or Frank Lotierzo, could regale you with the various styles and techniques which pervade the pugilistic art. However, for those of us who watch with something bordering on a keen interest or even occasional viewers, nothing gets the heart racing more than a cavalier puncher who values the strength of his hands over any potential weakness in his jaw.
Some fighters come to box, Golovkin largely comes to punch.
There are tales of a barely teenage Golovkin fighting grown men on the streets at the behest of older brothers and based on the subsequent 350 plus amateur fights, young Gennady took to the art with relish. Both older brothers, Sergey and Vadim died in unexplained circumstances serving in the Russian army and according to his promoter Tom Loeffler, Golovkin never divulges on this matter.
Undoubtedly, his experiences in the dark early days of post-Soviet Kazakhstan helped form the devastatingly powerful fighter that hides behind relentlessly smiling eyes.
Golovkin fought long and hard to break the US market, not helped perhaps by American suspicion of anything Soviet-era.
Aided by Loeffler’s K2 Promotions and veteran trainer, Abel Sanchez, it was sometime around 2014 that fans really began to take to this old fashioned, knock-out artist. Since 2015, having helped himself to three belts and sending Miguel Cotto – himself a future Hall-of-Famer – scurrying down a weight, GGG turned his attentions to Alvarez, the toast of the United States, Mexican community.
Alvarez genuinely appeared to be willing to make the fight happen last year but boxing being what it is, de La Hoya wanted to milk his prized cash cow against some fodder. Saturday night may prove otherwise, but history will probably show that GGG was at his peak in late 2015.
De La Hoya obviously realised this and did not want Canelo’s rebuilding period, after his insipid defeat to Mayweather in 2013, to go unrewarded.
Golovkin was absolutely destroying fighters at this stage, former titlist David Lemieux getting annihilated. Instead, in 2016, De La Hoya holding the box office trump card set about organising ‘gimmes’ against the glass chinned Amir Khan and a game but outclassed Liam Smith.
In this period, Golovkin stopped Kell Brook, a man currently suffering from an acute case of sour grapes, in a hugely entertaining bout, marketed brilliantly as an actual contest by Sky Sports.
The triple champion followed this with a laboured victory in March over the awkward, perpetual motion of the underrated Danny Jacobs. There is an argument based on the performances of the past 12 months that GGG has allowed signs of weakness creep into his game.
Brook, a far smaller man, landed on the champion regularly, although Golovkin could counter by saying that in a trade-off Brook would never win and that he was willing to absorb decent shots to get an open look.
Brook’s broken orbital and fight-ending towel from his corner supports this view. What followed in the Jacobs fight, however, would have been more concerning for team Gennady as, despite a fourth-round knockdown, Jacobs actually strengthened as the fight wore on.
Some even tried to stretch the argument, fairly implausibly, that had the belt been on the New Yorker entering the ring then the judges might have decided he had done enough to retain.
Alvarez’s most recent opponent was Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., son of perhaps the greatest Mexican fighter of all time. The fight was built as the ‘Battle of Mexico’ but Chavez brought absolutely nothing to the table and was comprehensively out-boxed and bullied by the smaller Canelo.
In the immediate aftermath of the bout, it was difficult to establish whether Alvarez had been immense or Chavez almost incomprehensibly, insipid.
The truth, as with most of these subjective judgments, lies somewhere in between. Canelo was rampant, comfortably countering from the back foot, dictating almost every exchange and regularly hurting his enigmatic opponent.
Chavez, though, offered an offense that Gandhi would have been proud of and, not for the first time in his career, looked disinterested for large swathes of the contest.
Based on the last twelve months, Alvarez has been more impressive but that merely closes the gap between the two and even though he knocked out Khan in devastating fashion, the Englishman was actually landing plenty of shots.
True, Khan never hurt Alvarez but if Golovkin lands with the same frequency, the fight will finish well within the distance.
It will be interesting to see how GGG-Alvarez performs at the box office. Mayweather and Pacquiao still possessed remarkable box-office drawing power even in the latter years of their careers.
Alvarez is in his prime and has the adoring Mexican community to draw on, while Golovkin’s style is what the masses want, but will the casual American fan tune in for a clash that is not unreasonably being touted as a potential Fight of the Decade?
If the numbers aren’t great boxing promoters will hardly run for the hills. While there are periodic death knells for the state of boxing – AJ Liebling was already decrying the ruination of live cards by TV coverage in the 50s – the sweet science is in the best shape it’s been for 30 years.
The heavyweights, for so long ruled by the monolithic Klitschkos, have risen from their slumber and the welterweights, led by Keith Thurman and Terence Crawford are on the cusp of becoming boxing’s premier division.
However, what people tend to forget is that the Latin American and specifically, the Mexican boxing community is there through thick and thin. Their support is unwavering and boxing will not rise or fall on the back of Saturday’s fight.
However, if nothing else, the numbers will establish viewers preference for a sporting contest or a modern day, insubstantial ‘event’, as witnessed last month.
Picking a winner is harder than it first would have seemed. This time last year, GGG would have been a certainty.
But, kudos to De La Hoya, he ensured the negotiations were protracted and now his man, a year and three fights later, looks a far better boxer.
Perhaps we’ve all looked into the Jacobs fight too closely but recent form is generally indicative.
If Golovkin stays patient, no guarantee, he should be able to break Canelo down but the latter is more powerful than many give him credit for and if Alvarez can establish a rhythm and land some early combinations, the Kazakh will have to deal with problems that have yet to be presented to him.
That said, the lumbering Canelo is not Jacobs, all awkward movement and body angles, and it’s hard to imagine him not being drawn into a proper fight at some point.
These are two genuine warriors, who have fought competitively against men long before they should have been allowed and the suspicion is that Saturday’s fight will ultimately turn into a brawl.
If it does, Golovkin wins hands down but if Alvarez can stay patient and frustrates the bigger man, then it becomes far more difficult to call.
Still, I’ve been on the Golovkin bandwagon far too long to depart at the last stop. Golovkin by decision.
Bill Lonergan, Pundit Arena