A popular champion with an impressive résumé opts to move up to challenge a fearsome and dominant middleweight champion in a huge money bout that causes the sporting world to stand still.
It is not, though, the epic battle many hope it will be. The fight turns out to be far more tactical, a chess match rather than a slugfest.
The long-time middleweight champion gives a good account of himself, and many believe he won the fight and retained his belts. But the smaller man boxed smartly, moved plenty and scored enough to make plenty of knowledgeable boxing people believe he won.
If it sounds like the first bout between long-time champion Gennady Golovkin and Canelo Alvarez from Sept. 16, 2017, which ended in a controversial split draw that satisfied exactly no one, it could be.
But it could also be the epic match that took place 30 years earlier a block down the street in Las Vegas from T-Mobile Arena where Golovkin and Alvarez fought to their disappointing draw on Sept. 16, 2017, in which Sugar Ray Leonard eked past Marvelous Marvin Hagler in a bout debated to this day by the boxing literati.
“[Alvarez vs. Golovkin] was so close,” Leonard told Yahoo Sports. “My assumption is, they each had too much respect for the other. They didn’t throw punches with enough conviction because they each knew the other guy could hit.”
Leonard won a split decision over Hagler that has many eerie similarities to Alvarez-Golovkin I. Just like in the Alvarez-Golovkin fight, in which judge Adelaide Byrd favored Alvarez by an impossibly wide 10 rounds to 2 margin, judge JoJo Guerra scored the Hagler-Leonard bout for Leonard, 10-2.
The other two judges scored it 7-5, with Lou Filippo seeing it for Hagler and Dave Moretti, who will judge Alvarez-Golovkin II, for Leonard. No one could dispute a 7-5 card either way in Hagler-Leonard.
“I had Triple-G winning by a couple of points the first time,” Hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach told Yahoo Sports. “I thought he was more efficient and he landed the better shots. But there were a lot of close rounds in there.”
Canelo’s significant advantage over ‘GGG’
The script changes, though, with Alvarez-Golovkin II, since Hagler retired in disgust following the loss to Leonard, moved to Italy and never boxed again.
Leonard fought rematches with Roberto Duran and Thomas Hearns and particularly in Duran’s case, he learned from it.
“I worked very hard to get ready for Duran the first time, and I thought I won the fight,” Leonard said. “But as much as we worked on things, there was nothing like being in there with him and understanding what he does by seeing him do it.”
Alvarez and Golovkin will each have that advantage in the rematch, but Alvarez will have one more advantage that each of the four experts Yahoo Sports spoke with figures will be significant.
Alvarez turned 28 in July. Golovkin is 36. And while Alvarez is in his prime, the experts Yahoo Sports spoke with – Leonard, Roach, trainer Derrick James and boxer Sergio Mora – believe Golovkin’s best days are behind him.
Golovkin insists his age isn’t a factor, and his trainer, Abel Sanchez, concurs.
“My training camp went great,” Golovkin said. “I feel very good. My body, my speed, my power, everything is coming back. I feel like I am 25 years old.”
Sanchez said the only concession he has made to age is to have Golovkin spar a bit less than he used to do.
“I do train everybody similarly,” Sanchez said. “They work together in the strength and conditioning, but in the sparring, obviously we modify that as a fighter gets a little bit older, just so that we don’t leave things in the gym. But he still works as hard as he’s always worked. It’s just a matter of me making the schedule so that it’s best for him.”
Despite that, Mora, Roach and James picked Alvarez to win the rematch. Leonard declined to pick a winner but by his words, it seemed obvious he is leaning toward Alvarez as well.
Why the experts are picking Alvarez over Golovkin
James said he saw doubt in Golovkin and Alvarez was able to consistently counter. James said that Golovkin also needs to set his feet to punch and that it could be telling against someone as smart and as savvy as Alvarez.
“I was surprised because in the first fight, I saw Golovkin fight with a lot of doubt and apprehension,” James said. “When he’d throw shots, Canelo would counterpunch him, which a lot of people didn’t see. But Canelo threw short uppercuts and short right hands on the inside that were landing and I think caused the apprehension you saw.
“But here’s the thing: Golovkin doesn’t throw punches unless his feet are set and planted. He can’t box and move, and in a fight at this level, against a guy like Canelo, I think you have to be able to box and move. He has to be able to punch when he’s going forward, but he’ll walk you down, stop and then punch. He can punch and keep moving and that’s going to be a factor in this fight.”
One of the criticisms of Golovkin in the first fight is that he didn’t go to the body enough. Golovkin is renowned for his body punching and stopped Matthew Macklin and Daniel Geale with crippling body blows.
He didn’t make that commitment against Alvarez, which many in the Golovkin camp attribute to Canelo’s decision to stay on his bicycle most of the fight. Mora, though, said there is a simpler reason.
“The reason he was leery of going down there with Canelo is that Canelo is an excellent catch-and-counter guy with the uppercut,” Mora said. “He did that a lot with Chavez Jr., and Chavez Jr. as we all know loves to go to the body. He wasn’t going to the body much either because of that catch-and-counter. It’s a lethal combination and it’s really quick by Canelo.
“He catches the body shot with the right elbow and then he comes with the uppercut and then the hook. It’s split-second, and maybe that’s what Gennady was leery of.”
Roach said he believes Golovkin needs to incorporate more movement into his attack and said he felt Golovkin needed to throw combinations and not be just one-and-done with his punches.
“Gennady is my friend and I’ll be rooting for him, but I think he has slowed down and isn’t as active and I think that’s going to hurt him,” Roach said. “I hope he wins, but I think Canelo is a very smart fighter and a pretty complete fighter. I don’t think Canelo is a big enough puncher to finish him, and I think it would be a mistake for Canelo to go for a knockout.
“I thought Gennady won the first fight, even though it was close, admittedly. I will be rooting for him to win this one, but I think Canelo may take it.”
Mora noted that Alvarez is a big step up in competition from the opposition Golovkin has faced throughout his career. Golovkin defeated Daniel Jacobs, whom Mora conceded is elite, but most of his other opponents were a notch lower than Alvarez.
“A lot of times, Gennady wins rounds in his fights on sheer pressure, but you have to remember, this time, he’s fighting the Golden Goose,” Mora said. “Pressure in and of itself isn’t going to be enough. And look, Canelo is one of the true elites in boxing. It’s not like going through guys like [David] Lemieux and Vanes [Martirosyan]. Canelo is a pound-for-pound guy and he’s in his prime.
“Canelo has been known to run out of wind and you saw it a bit in the first fight, in those middle rounds. He had to slow down and catch his wind. If he’s worked on his endurance like he says, I think the fight is there for him to win.”
James pointed to the age difference, as well, for why he’s taking Alvarez.
“Honestly, I think Canelo may beat him,” said James, who has done a brilliant job training IBF welterweight champion Errol Spence Jr. Gennady is getting older and slower and I don’t think he’s a guy on great legs.
“Nobody will say that Gennady’s not a good puncher, because he is. And it should be a good fight. But Canelo is smart and he can move and if he sticks to his plan and boxes, I think he’ll do it. I think it’s going to be a great fight – at least I sure hope it is – I’m not saying Gennady has no chance. Canelo showed he’s a good boxer and if he boxes, I think he will do it.”
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