Canelo Vs. Golovkin 2: Role Reversal

In boxing, nothing is ever over. There is no finality. Every gesture is open-ended, every thought unfinished. The setup is the punch line, the buildup the payoff. In boxing, the medium is the message.

Like some type of sadistic Rube Goldberg device, every fight sets up the next. There’s always a rematch or a rubber match to be had. There’s tune-ups, stay-busy fights, comebacks and cash-outs. They’re all dominos set to fall, just waiting to be told which direction. Not even retirements are permanent. Walking away from boxing simply means stepping aside until another opportunity presents itself. There is no now, only next.

It leaves you asking what the point is. Not as in “why do we bother?” but literally, what is the focus? Is it simply to entertain? Is it merely a violent soap opera whose writers are never more than a couple hours from either side of a hangover? Or is it actually to determine who’s the best? A self-policing society to see who can tilt the scales of punishment more toward the given side than the received.

If it’s the former, to provide entertainment, then the rematch between middleweights Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and Gennady “GGG” Golovkin on Saturday night from the T-Mobile Arena in  Las Vegas was a rousing success. If it’s the latter, to dictate who’s the better prizefighter, then it was, dare I say, pointless. As the 12 rounds they fought Saturday night and 12 the preceded it last September have shown, there is little that separates the two inside in the ring.

Coming into the fight, the conventional wisdom was that Golovkin (38-1-1, 34 KO) would have to back Canelo up and, like a Tuesday night at Kelly Pavlik’s house, sink as many body shots as possible. For his part Canelo (50-1-2, 34 KO) was expected to fight off the back foot, counterpunch and, also like a Tuesday night at Kelly Pavlik’s house, make his dance partner piss blood by banging away on the inside.

In effect, the exact opposite took place. From the opening bell it was clear Canelo would be the aggressor, forcing GGG to fight off the back foot and in the process making him more uncomfortable than Kelly Pavlik at the O’Doul’s brewery.

I’m probably getting close to being done with Kelly Pavlik metaphors now. Probably.

As the bell for the first round rang and the anticipation in the arena reached a swelling crescendo, the two fighters set the stage for their upcoming 1980’s body swap movie, starring Matthew Broderick and Donny Bonaduce. It was a step above a feeling-out round but tactical nonetheless, with both guys trading jabs from the outside and circling each other like Kelly Pavlik on a Tues-……you know what? Forget it.

About a minute into the second round, Canelo landed a short left hook that got GGG’s attention, much to the delight of the predominantly Mexican crowd at the T-Mobile Arena. They traded shots from the outside with Canelo getting the better of it.

As the page turned from the early rounds to the middle ones, the story of the fight was Canelo’s aggression and the circumspect nature of GGG’s response. As Golovkin’s face attempted to answer the question “What would happen if you blindfolded James Franco and gave him an economy size Botox needle” the temptation to think that the Kazakh mutant was finally starting to feel the weight of each of his 36 years was definitely there for the skeptics on hand. It wasn’t so much of a capitulation as it was an acceptance. Canelo is eight years Golovkin’s junior but in boxing years he’s the Harold to his Maude. Would he beat GGG to death with his bare fists like Harold did Maude in the movie?*

*I never actually saw the end of the movie but I’m assuming that’s what happens. No spoilers.

As the sixth round came to a close and Golovkin invited Canelo fight him inside with a simple wave of his hand, it was clear the fight was only now truly starting. The aggression that Canelo showed early on was about to be reflected back upon him. As the screws quickly tightened on both men the drama ratcheted up at an equal pace.

After the seventh round, one in which both fighters landed huge uppercuts on the inside, GGG’s trainer, Abel Sanchez, could clearly be heard telling his charge that he was losing the fight. This may have been the case but like the plumber after a Tuesday night at Kelly Pavlik’s house, no one was envious of the job the judges had in front of them.

The eighth round saw Canelo, now solidly in retreat mode, land a couple of nice hooks off the back foot but also sustain a nasty cut on the outside of his left eye. The cut only got worse as both fighters began throwing fastballs in the ninth round. Canelo attempted to slow the pace by digging to the body and it was the finger in the hole of the dam he needed to get the round back to his tempo.

Let’s take a moment here to appreciate who these two men are as fighters. The only three people alive who had any insight into the scoring of the fight were the ones being paid to do so. Either guy had reason to believe he was ahead but a belief is just a hunch and these aren’t men who are comfortable leaving things to fate. In boxing, as in war, your plan is only as good as the one you have to back it up. Two is one and one is none, as the old saying goes. Luckily for us, both GGG and Canelo’s plan B is to empty the gas tank and burn the fumes. From the tenth round on they did just that.

A huge rally from GGG put Canelo in a place he spent a large portion of the first fight and one he vowed to avoid in the rematch; on the ropes. Golovkin backed the younger fighter into the ropes and unloaded uppercuts and straight right hands to any open area of skin he could find. A straight right hand a minute into the round sent Canelo reeling and for the first time in the fight he appeared hurt. GGG wasn’t able to close the show as Canelo quickly recovered, proving the old adage that your heart is useless without the chin back to it up.

As the final round began the fighters met in the center of the ring with a knowing look that this won’t be the last time they touch gloves to start a round. The pattern from the previous 11 rounds continued as Canelo came forward and did his best to keep Golovkin walking backwards, to varying degrees of success. GGG pecked away at the cut on Canelo’s eye while throwing right hands down the middle. Both men finished the fight on their feet, just as they started it.

As the scorecards were read in Canelo’s favor (114-114, 115-113 and 115-113) it felt almost inconsequential. The event we just witnessed turning to a memory in real time as the thoughts almost immediately turned to a third fight between the two combatants. There is no now, only next.

After 24 rounds of tactical punishment at the highest levels of the sport, we are no closer to knowing who the better fighter is. And you know what? That’s okay. These two could fight ten more times and we may never know. Only Golovkin’s eight year head start on his march toward the grave and the erosion of his skills therein could ever separate them.

As a contest to determine who is the superior prizefighter, the Canelo/GGG rivalry is pointless. When measured in entertainment value however? It’s priceless.

Post Mortem

  • I have no idea what in the hell you do with a fighter like Jaime Munguia. As an opponent, a promoter, or a god damn nutritionist, I simply have no clue how to deal with someone like him. He’s an absolute monster and there’s no one in or around his weight class I wouldn’t make him even money or worse against. The problem is going to be figuring out what that weight class is.
  • David Lemieux does a lot of shit wrong inside the ring, punching isn’t one of them. My god can that wacky Cannuck can punch. And what a treat it was watch him do it to the side of Gary O’Sullivan’s fat, Irish head. The only disappointing thing was that it didn’t send his mustache spinning like a cartoon bow tie but I guess you can’t have everything you want in this shitty life.
  • Great to see Chocolatito Gonzalez do what he does best again and put a fellow midget to sleep. Usually you have to go to the humane society to see that up close. If Chocolatito is entering the senior’s tour stage of his career and just goes on starching no hopers for another couple years with no fights of any consequence I’m fine with that. He’s an all time great and deserves a soft touch or two. Next stop, Canastota.
  • If HBO remains in the boxing business and continues to do PPV events, they need to come up with a contingency plan for an undercard full of quick knockouts. I love Jim Lampley like he’s my own overly sensitive step father but the only person who wants to hear him talk, uninterrupted, for 90 minutes straight is his therapist and that’s because he’s getting paid to do so. Granted, half of that paycheck is going towards Kleenex so it evens out.



(Photo by Ed Mullholland for HBO; via)