LAS VEGAS, Nevada — Joyce Carol Oates observed that boxing is the one sport that you don’t play. True to Oates’ words, there was no playing tonight in the slugfest of a rematch between Saul “Canelo” Alvarez (51-1-2, 34 KOs) and Gennady “GGG” Golovkin (38-1-1, 34 KOs)
In his halting English, Golovkin has always said that he likes to produce “a big drama show” for his fans. With the middleweight title belt at stake, he and his partner in violence certainly did that before a sellout crowd of 21,965 at the T-Mobile Arena.
There were mariachi bands and pandemonium in the streets of Las Vegas as Mexican fans celebrated Alvarez’s majority decision victory. But like their first showdown in September 2017 the decision was controversial, with many ringside observers and boxing experts grimacing and opining that the result should have been a draw or a GGG victory. However, what was not controversial was the fact that this white-hot contest was far superior to their initial meeting.
After the 2017 battle, Alvarez was roundly criticized for running from Golovkin, for failing to battle in the risk-taking, aggressive style considered traditional for fighters from south of the border.
Making a number of adjustments from the first tiff, Alvarez proved the more versatile fighter. This time, he was the aggressor, stayed off the ropes, jabbed perhaps twice as much as he did in the first fight, and scored more power shots than his rugged rival.
It could be that undefeated Father Time was tugging at Golovkin’s robe on Saturday night. After tipping his hat to Canelo, even GGG’s trainer sighed, “It is obvious that Gennady is not the same fighter he was five years ago.” GGG looked slower than Canelo and though renowned for his preternatural knockout power, his blows lost steam as the fight wore on. Though smaller, Canelo was able to walk through a number of GGG’s fusillades.
In the eleventh frame, after his trainer warned him that he was behind on the cards, Golovkin seemed energized and intent on going for the stoppage. He wobbled Canelo badly with a combination and momentarily pinned him to the ropes. But Alvarez showed great whiskers and by the end of the frame, came back winging shots rather wildly, but winging them nonetheless.
In this close encounter, and unlike in their first fight, Alvarez kept his hands high. He landed snapping uppercuts and right hands that did not seem to hurt the Kazakhstan native but were enough to mire his offense.
Golovkin did his usual masterful job of planting his jab on Canelo’s kisser and he scored with bushels of right hands and left uppercuts. Such shots have been sufficient to lay almost all of the opponents that Golovkin has faced horizontal but Canelo weathered the hurricane blows, even though he suffered a nasty cut over his left eye in the eight round.
Boxing is a vehicle of self-knowledge. You soon learn how much punishment you are willing to take to win. The Mexican star as well as his fervent fans found out tonight that Canelo is willing to dig deeply into the reservoir of his will. Whomever you think should have had his hand raised, Alvarez earned his red badge of courage under the klieg lights and another badge for being able to create and stick to a boxing game plan.
After the scores were announced 115-113, 115-113, 114-114, and before he stepped out of the ring, a subdued and clearly disappointed Golovkin said, “I am not going to say who won tonight, because the victory belongs to Canelo according to the judges. I thought it was a very good fight for the fans. I thought I fought better than he did.”
Feeling vindicated, Canelo effused, “I showed my victory with facts. He was the one who was backing up. I feel satisfied because I gave a great fight. It was a clear victory.”
Late tonight, the cigar-crunching cynics are grousing that the debatable end to this big-drama show is intended to raise the curtain for a sequel. Given the quality of this fight, you would not hear me grousing about a rematch. It is one of the best matchups in a sport that, for all the talent and quality, has literally slipped off the back pages of the Sports section.
While boxing is wildly popular in Mexico and in the U.K., where 90,000 are likely to punch a ticket to the upcoming heavyweight title scrap between champion Anthony Joshua and Alexander Povetkin at Wembley Stadium, the power brokers in professional boxing in the U.S. are still searching for that one pugilist—an Ali, a Tyson, or a Mayweather—who can attract that casual crossover fan, a fan who, with the right gladiator, might be culled into buying one pay-per-view fight per year. And make no mistake about it, pay-per-view is where all the big money is in the hurting game.