Supremacy: Canelo vs Golovkin preview
It's the undisputed boxing event of the year - Saul 'Canelo' Alvarez vs Gennady 'GGG' Golovkin for middleweight supremacy. Chris Williamson previews what looks set to be a titanic struggle in Las Vegas...
Ever since Saul 'Canelo' Alvarez moved up to middleweight almost two years ago to dethrone WBC/ lineal champ Miguel Cotto, media and fan pressure for the Mexican to fight Gennady Golovkin - the Kazakh wrecking machine who has dominated the 160lbs weight class for most of the decade - has grown in intensity.
That the pair will settle the debate on Saturday night at the T-Mobile arena in Las Vegas two years after the Cotto bout will surely make for a more exciting, more even contest. Golovkin would have been the overwhelming favourite back then, whereas today a poll conducted by Mick Gill for the current issue of Boxing Monthly magazine saw an expert panel favour the young Mexican by 17 votes to 13. Once the votes of Boxing Monthly writers in our latest 'Big Question' feature are factored in, Canelo edges proceedings by just 22 votes to 20.
The emerging consensus seems to be that Golovkin has lost a step, evidenced in particular during his last display against Danny Jacobs in March where the quick Brooklyn boxer-puncher provided the champion with by far the toughest challenge of his reign in losing a tight unanimous decision (the full fight video is available on the BM website, courtesy of HBO).
Canelo appears to have smelt weakness in his great rival, in much the same way that Sugar Ray Leonard did when sat ringside in Las Vegas 31 years ago as the ageing Marvelous Marvin Hagler turned back the spirited challenge of John 'The Beast' Mugabi. Of course, on that occasion thirty years ago, Leonard's timing was typically perfect.
On the theme of great 80s match-ups, one of many interesting observations George Kimball makes in his book 'Four Kings' is how uncharacteristically meek the great Roberto Duran was in the presence of Thomas Hearns. Of course, Hearns would pole-axe Duran to a second round face-first knockout defeat before either held a middleweight title.
With this in mind, I was interested to attend the London press conference to promote this match and announce the UK TV broadcaster. As it happens, both Golovkin and Alvarez wore the confident, strong demeanour of born winners. No psychological weakness here - this is a competitive match which both believe they will win.
If the general perception is that the now 35-year-old Golovkin is a stock which has reached its ceiling, then Alvarez is being tipped heavily as an appreciating 'buy' share with significant growth potential.
Since the Cotto bout, Alvarez has stopped a couple of smaller Brits in Amir Khan and Liam Smith at or around 11 stone and then jumped to 164lbs to dominate compatriot Julio Cesar Chavez Jr in a whitewash on all three of the judges' scorecards. While Khan's speed provided some problems in the early rounds, Canelo wasn't particularly troubled in any of these bouts. I considered it telling that none of Luke G. Williams' selection of Canelo's five 'most significant' bouts were post-Cotto events. Hardly ideal preparation for the formidable Golovkin, one would think.
As for Golovkin, it speaks volumes to me that his last match was a unification of sorts (the aforementioned Jacobs clash) and that he was seriously considering a home 'tune-up' in the summer against a fighter as highly rated as WBO champ Billy Joe Saunders. GGG is a man who seeks tests - with his greatest challenge now in his sights and having had six months to rest and prepare, I expect we'll see a vintage version of Golovkin.
Golovkin's style has often been referred to - sometimes as a kind of marketing tool - as 'Mexican Style'. In his fine series of articles on the genesis of the sport in Russia and later Kazahkstan, writer Kyle McLachlan explains that the sport emerged in the region from the evolution from a more rudimentary 'wall-to-wall' Russian fighting style which emerged in the nineteenth century, in which two rows of fighters would square off and fight bare-knuckle. This custom, in turn, was later refined when Mikhail Kister translated the English textbook 'Tutorial with Drawings - English Boxing' into Russian and arranged the first gloved boxing match in Russia in 1895.
Golovkin's style is certainly crowd pleasing, with 'GGG' graduating from the smaller theatre at Madison Square Garden to headlining MSG itself in three of his last seven defences. His is an offense of breathtaking yet patient ferocity, a two-handed arsenal attacking from unfamiliar angles, whether high - but legally - to the head or with crunching effectiveness to the body.
Golovkin's impressive KO streak stood at 23 (including retirements) until ended by Jacobs. The referee for the Jacobs fight, Charlie Fitch, once told me that Golovkin's punches (Fitch also refereed GGG's bout against Grzegorz Proksa) even "sound different" to other fighters', while grimacing in a way which left me in no doubt that he meant "harder".
As for Canelo, the Mexican has excellent feet, is probably marginally quicker than GGG and although he has had a long professional career himself he is surely the fresher at 27 years old. His power is very good and his impressive feints have suckered opponents like Khan and James Kirkland into highlight reel KO defeats.
Canelo's CV is strong at 11 stone where he took on challenges - such as member of the 'who needs him?' club Austin Trout - which his commercial leverage didn't require him to. I can't help but suspect his most recent trio of bouts have flattered the Mexican and perhaps even provided a misguided confidence in his followers.
As always with boxing, we must look outside the ring to the administrators before making a considered prediction. First, the host commission is the Nevada State Athletic Commission in what is GGG's first bout in Nevada. By contrast, this will be Canelo's eleventh bout in 'Sin City' and his appearance in the city on either of the two main Mexican national holidays - of which this weekend is one - represents a fruitful bounty for the economy.
Secondly, Golden Boy Promotions are the lead promoters here, a detail which shouldn't matter but often seems to. Third, and pointing in the other direction, Canelo has a long running feud with the WBC since they provided a public deadline for him to agree to the bout with GGG. We can only guess about the relative importance of these factors and let's hope referee Kenny Bayless and judges Adalaide Byrd, Don Trella and Dave Moretti are not the main talking points come Sunday morning.
Canelo reckons this bout is even bigger and more important than his sole loss to Floyd Mayweather Jr in 2013, telling media this week: "The Floyd Mayweather fight was very big, and a very big event. At my age, it was very important and I’ve been in other big fights. But this is the biggest because of all that surrounds it, because of everything that was involved to make this fight. I think this is the biggest fight in this moment and it came at the right moment."
Golovkin, with a daughter born just a week ago - whose birth he missed in favour of a training session with Abel Sanchez - clearly believes the time for talking is over. "I don't want to talk too much," he said at the final press conference, before adding "I bring my belts, all my belts. I feel like a champion. This is my game, this is my fight, I am boss."
This feels like the moment which defines Golovkin's career and I have a feeling he will show that special quality great fighters do in rising to the occasion when it really matters, to show he is the "boss" as he put it. I pick Golovkin to break Canelo down for a late rounds stoppage in a terrific fight which lives up to the billing and establishes him as one of the greatest ever middleweight champions.
Canelo vs Golovkin is broadcast on HBO PPV in the US and Boxnation PPV (included for paying subscribers) in the U.K.