By Michael Rosenthal
Gennady Golovkin and Canelo Alvarez fight for a second time on Saturday night in Las Vegas. Here are some questions I have going into the fight.
CAN ALVAREZ OVERCOME THE EVENTS OF THE PAST YEAR?
Alvarez has been through a lot since he fought Golovkin last September. The decision that gave him a draw was ridiculed by many of those who thought Triple-G did more than enough to win, which diminished a solid performance on the Mexican’s part. The banned substance clenbuterol was found in his system leading up to the original rematch date of May 5, which he blamed on tainted meat. He was suspended for six months by the Nevada State Athletic Commission, the fight was off and he has been the target of incessant criticism since. And Alvarez will have been out of the ring for a full year, the longest hiatus of his career. Rust could be an issue against a beast like Golovkin. It will not have been easy for Alvarez to put all that aside and be the fighter we’ve come to know. I’m guessing he’ll be OK. He’s only 28 but has been a pro – with the same team – for 13 years; he has the experience and support to handle anything.
WILL GOLOVKIN’S AGE BE A FACTOR?
Triple-G has overwhelmed many good, but second-tier middleweights for most of his otherworldly career – including 23 consecutive knockouts – but he looked human in his biggest fights, a close decision over Daniel Jacobs and a draw (albeit a controversial one) with Alvarez last year. Why? The obvious answer is quality of opposition. Even the greatest fighters cease to be dominating against some foes. Sugar Ray Leonard vs. Thomas Hearns and Roberto Duran comes to mind. It’s not fair to expect Triple-G to blow away the likes of Jacobs and Alvarez, especially after he arguably did enough to win both fights. Another possible reason for Golovkin’s less-than-overwhelming performances might be his age. He’s in his mid-30s, a stage when many fighters have begun to slow down. I doubt that Golovkin’s age will be a significant factor on Saturday – older athletes seem to be performing at a high level these days – but one never knows.
WILL THE ANIMOSITY BETWEEN THE FIGHTERS CARRY OVER INTO THE RING?
The back-and-forth trash talk leading up to the fight has been particularly nasty. Golovkin and members of his camp have attacked Alvarez’s integrity every chance they got and Alvarez responded with his own venom each time. The promoters undoubtedly have encouraged their fighters to let the comments fly in an effort to sell the fight. And I have no doubt that Golovkin and Co. are trying to get under Alvarez skin, perhaps in an effort to draw him into a firefight. A lot of the animosity seems genuine, though. These guys obviously don’t like each other. I don’t think that will play a decisive role in the fight. Golovkin and Alvarez are smart, seasoned pros who will put emotion aside and follow their fight plans. That said, I can see the bitterness emerging if one gets the other in trouble and tries to finish him off. It’s not hard to imagine either fighter thinking as he fires off blows intended to end the fight, “I’ll teach that bastard.”
DOES GOLOVKIN NEED A KO TO WIN?
Anything is possible in boxing but only the most cynical among us believe the judges will screw Golovkin after what happened in the first fight. The judges for the rematch – Dave Moretti, Glenn Feldman and Steve Weisfeld – are highly respected, which is why they were selected by Nevada State Athletic Commission officials. The last thing Bob Bennett and Co. want is another controversy, which would attract more scorn to Nevada and boxing. If the fight goes the distance, I believe the scoring will more or less reflect what happened in the ring. I have a related question: Will the fight go the distance? Golovkin and Alvarez have among the best chins in boxing, which makes it difficult to imagine either of them being stopped. If it happens, it probably will be the result of an accumulation of punches that prompts the referee to step in.
WHAT DOES A GOLOVKIN VICTORY MEAN?
A victory for Golovkin would be a breakthrough for the unbeaten Kazakhstani, as strange as that might seem at this stage of his career. He built his reputation as a force of nature by stopping one opponent after another but hit a wall against his toughest opponents, barely beating Daniel Jacobs and drawing with Alvarez. That leaves Triple-G without a defining victory at 36 years old. Golovkin did outpoint Jacobs, for which he deserves credit, but his inability to dominate the New Yorker shattered any notion that he was unbeatable. The first fight with Alvarez should’ve been his breakthrough victory, at least according to consensus, but the judges spoiled Golovkin’s day by scoring the hard-fought bout a draw. Fortunately for him, Golovkin has a second shot at Alvarez. If he has his hand raised this time – particularly if he can end the fight inside 12 rounds – he will have the defining victory that has eluded him.
WHAT DOES A GOLOVKIN LOSS MEAN?
If Golovkin legitimately loses on Saturday, he might never live up to the reputation he built over the last decade-plus. We’ll never forget his incredible run through the middleweight division, which guarantees him a place in the International Hall of Fame. We’ll also never forget that he will have fallen short in his biggest challenges, even though most people feel he was cheated in his first fight with Alvarez. Triple-G will have a long reign as a middleweight titleholder and a string of thrilling knockouts but not a single defining victory. How many great fighters have suffered that fate? Very few, if any. Of course, his career wouldn’t necessarily be over. He might be able to lure Alvarez into the ring for a third fight, particularly if the fight on Saturday is close. And there are other options: a rematch with Jacobs and a meeting with Jermall Charlo or Billy Joe Saunders. But the fight on Saturday could be his last best chance to prove how great he is.
WHAT DOES AN ALVAREZ VICTORY MEAN?
A victory over Golovkin would go a long way toward vindicating Alvarez, whose reputation took a damaging hit after his failed drug tests and six-month suspension early this year. If he wins, he will have proved to his doubters that he could beat the baddest 160-pounder in the world without the help of performance-enhancing drugs because he is now in the strict Voluntary Anti-Doping Association drug testing program. At the very least, Alvarez bashers will have less ammunition to use against him. The failed drug tests will never go away entirely but the memory of them will fade over time if Alvarez remains in the program and continues to win. And, of course, a victory on Saturday sets up some intriguing possibilities. Alvarez vs. Jacobs? Alvarez vs. Saunders in a title-unification bout? Alvarez vs. Charlo? There would be many big fights and big paydays in the Mexican star’s immediate future.
WHAT WOULD AN ALVAREZ LOSS MEAN?
If Alvarez loses to Golovkin on Saturday – particularly if he loses badly – his detractors will crow, “He’s a fraud!” They will suggest unfairly that he has been a dirty fighter all along even though he had never failed a drug test before this year. They will say he lost his three biggest fights, once to Floyd Mayweather Jr. and (ignoring the draw) twice to Golovkin. They will say he was never as good as he was billed. The rest of us will have a more measured reaction if Golovkin wins. If Alvarez comes up short in a close fight, he will have lost to the best middleweight of the era. No shame in that. A one-sided or knockout loss would be harder to explain but even that wouldn’t necessarily be disastrous. Again, it’s Golovkin. Alvarez is young. He’ll have more opportunities against first-rate opponents to prove he can win without PEDs. And, win or lose, he almost certainly will retain most of his earning power. That would be a comforting consolation.
WHAT ELSE IS AT STAKE?
Golovkin will be defending his WBC and WBA middleweight titles. He has held one major title or another since 2014, when the WBA elevated him from what it calls its “regular” champion to “super” champion. Alvarez held the WBC title from November 2015 to May 2016, when he gave it up rather than being forced to face Golovkin at that time. The Golovkin camp also proudly points out that a Triple-G victory would give him 21 consecutive defenses, which would break Bernard Hopkins’ middleweight record of 20. That’s misleading. He made five of his 20 defenses as the “regular” champion, which almost no one recognizes as a major title. Felix Sturm was the WBA’s “super” champion during that period. That means Golovkin has made 15 successful defenses, not 20. This isn’t a knock on Golovkin; honestly, it isn’t. I just feel it’s important to call the WBA’s “regular” title what it is – bogus. The titles are diluted enough as it is.
I thought Golovkin was too big and strong for Alvarez going into the first fight but I was proved wrong. Triple-G won the fight, according to consensus, but it certainly wasn’t a mismatch in terms of size; Alvarez took Golovkin’s best shots and kept coming in a close, give-and-take war. I don’t expect anything to be different in the rematch. Golovkin will be the aggressor, jabbing and following with power shots to the head. Alvarez will move and counter, using his speed and superior boxing ability to his advantage. They will land roughly the same number of punches. And I feel the fighters will be equally determined, Golovkin trying to right the wrong of the first decision and Canelo attempting to stick it to his doubters. The difference in the second fight, I believe, will be the scoring. I think Golovkin will do just enough to win but this time he will be rewarded.