By Lyle Fitzsimmons
Three weeks after the Money circus finally left Las Vegas, it was the fight to save “real” boxing.
And for nearly every one of 36 minutes, it delivered.
In fact, it wasn't until a few minutes after the final bell that the first Gennady Golovkin-Canelo Alvarez middleweight matchup yielded even the slightest disappointment.
When Michael Buffer announced that judge Adalaide Byrd scored the fight 10 rounds to two in favor of the Mexican-born challenger, it drew boos even from a partisan crowd that had cheered Alvarez's every move since he'd entered T-Mobile Arena.
Nevertheless, though the knee-jerk reaction to a split-decision draw was that Golovkin had been denied a career-defining win, the next second's reaction was unanimous:
These guys needed to get together again, and soon.
Because it was a good fight.
And even more so, because it made the most sense for both of their careers.
All feedback from the fighters indicated they agree, which brings us to Saturday’s second act.
“Of course, I want a rematch,” Golovkin said, suggesting Alvarez hadn't provided the toe-to-toe brawl he'd promised. “I want a fight. Rematch or next fight, I want a real fight.”
Trainer Abel Sanchez, too, ratcheted up his charge’s rhetoric.
“(Alvarez) fought 40-some fights in a manner of an attacker, the typical Mexican fighter that comes forward and knocks people out and is in great fights,” he said, “and all of a sudden for this fight he becomes a Mayweather, a Mayweather type of fighter, or let’s say a Lara kind of fighter that’s just moving and running and fighting out of desperation instead of trying to do the things that he said he was going to do. He was going to try to knock Golovkin out, and in order to do that you’re going to have to be at range. You’re going to have to be there to knock somebody out.”
A defiant Alvarez, who contended the controversially wide margin from Byrd was warranted, insisted he'd be happy to duplicate the effort more violently in a second go-round.
“Of course,” he said. “If the people want it. We'll fight in the second one, but I'll win again.”
Given their statuses as the lineal and the most decorated champions at 160 pounds, respectively, Alvarez and Golovkin headed back into the Las Vegas desert having no other opponents in the weight class who'd provide anywhere near the same hook as the other.
They were considered Nos. 1 and 2 in the division by the Independent World Boxing Rankings, The Ring and nearly every other listing entity worthy of mention before the first fight – and even though Alvarez’s issues with drug testing have since bumped him from those pedestals – the follow-up buzz remains real.
The network gave the initial matchup a two-episode 24/7 treatment, not to mention an “Under The Lights” pre-fight special with Max Kellerman and Roy Jones Jr., and it'll devote similar website, app and television time leading up to the 8 p.m. curtain raise of Saturday’s four-fight pay-per-view package.
The T-Mobile Arena was crammed to 20,000-seat capacity the first time around, a day after the weigh-in drew a similarly full house at the MGM Grand. And that pay-per-view card went for $79.99 a pop.
Meanwhile, the division's holdout title claimant – WBO champ Billy Joe Saunders – fought before just 7,500 fellow countrymen in defense of his belt in London on the same day, a fight that was available stateside on the YouTube page linked to challenger Willie Monroe Jr.'s promotional company.
Alvarez made $5 million last year while Golovkin made $3 million.
By contrast, when Golovkin fought Monroe in 2015, he made only $1.5 million.
From an in-ring perspective, we’ll see Saturday if 364 days was too long for him to wait.
Many assumed Alvarez was waiting for the unbeaten champion to age a bit before finally signing on for the first fight, and, at 28 years old to Golovkin's 36, it would seem he's got time on his side approaching the next installment. The younger man was clearly faster with his hands and feet in Rounds 1-12, and he'll still be far closer to his logical prime for Rounds 13-24.
“I think Canelo would love Round 13,” HBO’s Jim Lampley said.
“GGG needs to cut off the ring quicker and more aggressively, make Canelo face his power head on and not slip away along the ropes. He also must take the risk of throwing more body shots. If he does that he is the better fighter, if not the door is open.”
Alvarez told Kellerman he didn't feel Golovkin's vaunted power, and Golovkin hasn’t gotten quicker.
He, though, is still a three-belt champion, and while Alvarez would surely find more beatable dance partners if he chose to return full-time to 154 pounds, none would represent the competitive challenge he maintained was his prime motivation in taking the step to 160 in the first place.
These guys have made it clear that they're after greatness in the ring and are willing to push themselves to achieve it. After all, rivalries are some of what greatness is made of.
Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier fought three times.
Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez fought four times.
And to former featherweight champion Kevin Kelley, who shared analyst duties on RingTV.com's broadcast of the first fight, nothing else makes sense for either man.
"Who else would they fight?" he asked. "Who else would you want to see them fight?
* * * * * * * * * *
This week’s legit title-fight schedule:
WBC super lightweight title – Fresno, California
Jose Carlos Ramirez (champion/No. 14 IWBR) vs. Antonio Orozco (No. 3 WBC/No. 24 IWBR)
Ramirez (22-0, 16 KO): First title defense; Five KOs in six fights in Fresno (6-0, 5 KO)
Orozco (27-0, 17 KO): First title fight; First fight scheduled for 12 rounds
Fitzbitz says: Not a lot to separate these two. Ramirez has the belt, while Orozco has the resume. The vibe here is that Ramirez, with the home-field advantage, has more upside. Ramirez by decision (65/35)
IBO/WBA/WBC middleweight titles – Las Vegas, Nevada
Gennady Golovkin (champion/No. 1 IWBR) vs. Canelo Alvarez (No. 1 IBO/No. 2 IWBR)
Golovkin (38-0-1, 34 KO): Eighteenth IBO title defense; Second fight in Las Vegas (0-0-1, 0 KO)
Alvarez (49-1-2, 34 KO): Thirteenth title fight (10-1-1); Held titles at 154 and 160 pounds
Fitzbitz says: I picked GGG the first time around and thought he deserved the decision. He’s another year older and farther from the KO machine, but not so far that he’ll lose here. Golovkin in 10 (70/30)
WBO junior middleweight title – Las Vegas, Nevada
Jaime Munguia (champion/No. 4 IWBR) vs. Brandon Cook (No. 3 WBO/No. 32 IWBR)
Munguia (30-0, 25 KO): Second title defense; Fourth fight outside of Mexico (3-0, 2 KO)
Cook (20-1, 13 KO): First title fight; Lost only previous fight outside of Canada (0-1, 0 KO)
Fitzbitz says: The 20-something champ is the media’s latest slugger of the month, and even though he was exposed a bit last time out, he ought to shine against an overmatched foe. Munguia in 5 (99/1)
Last week's picks: 0-1 (LOSS: Garcia)
2018 picks record: 58-27 (68.2 percent)
Overall picks record: 979-331 (74.7 percent)
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.