Tonight (Sat., Sept. 16, 2017), Canelo Alvarez faces Gennady Golovkin for several Middleweight boxing titles. In terms of name value and potential for historic action, it is the best boxing match of the year, with only Andre Ward vs. Sergey Kovalev coming close. More than that, it’s an engrossing story. It may not always be satisfying and it may have some sections in desperate need of a beta reader, but it certainly deserves a capable storyteller.
Unfortunately, I’m what we’ve got.
Canelo Alvarez is as atypical a Mexican star as we’ve seen in some time … and not just in appearance. Though he bears several of his country’s trademarks — most notably an antipathy for livers matched only by foie gras wholesalers and late-stage cirrhosis — his is a patient sort of destruction more similar to dissection than Julio Cesar Chavez’s pressure cooking.
From 2011-2014, he showed a similar kind of uniqueness when it came to risk-taking. After hitting a rut that saw him brutalize what was left of Kermit Cintron and Shane Mosley without really advancing his career, Alvarez saw money fights with Victor Ortiz and Miguel Cotto go up in smoke thanks to Josesito Lopez and Austin Trout, respectively. Rather than take his business elsewhere, Canelo elected to reward the victorious and face them in the ring.
Nobody who isn’t selling something will claim that Lopez was a threat, but Trout certainly was, a tricky and durable southpaw who had made the normally all-action Cotto look pedestrian. After scraping past him, Canelo took on Floyd Mayweather, bounced back from that loss with a savaging of Alfredo Angulo, and then earned major props by facing the junior middleweight division’s boogeyman: Erislandy Lara.
Lara, as skilled as he is fan-unfriendly, presented about as big a gap between risk and reward as one is likely to find. Canelo deserves all the credit in the world for facing the division’s other heir apparent and beating him.
Then the wheels started to wobble.
James Kirkland is a genuine head-knocker in his own right, but a toxic stylistic matchup and Kirkland’s own repeated losses to himself left his fight with Canelo drama-free. After that highlight-reel finish, Canelo finally got his shot at Miguel Cotto with the WBC middleweight belt on the line.
The WBC mandatory challenger? Gennady Golovkin, who accepted step-aside money and assurances that he’d face the winner. Canelo beat Cotto and immediately vacated rather than face Golovkin. He remains at odds with the sanctioning body.
Then came the inexcusable farce that was Canelo vs. Amir Khan, the decided “meh” that was Canelo vs. Liam Smith, and the joke that was Canelo vs. Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.
It doesn’t help that Canelo’s team’s rhetoric, including the laughable claim that Canelo had to “acclimate” to 160 pounds and his empty trash talk to Golovkin after the Khan knockout, oscillated between eye-rolling and downright insulting.
It’s honestly a shame how much goodwill Canelo and his team have squandered because Canelo is a damn fun fighter to watch. Against an opponent incapable of staying out of the pocket, his onslaught is downright artistic and, even against upper-tier fighters unwilling to give him an easy target, he has spurts of eye-catching brilliance.
He’s going to need quite a few of those.
An Absence of Malice
The very first time I heard of Gennady Golovkin was when, due to the cancelation of UFC 151, I was looking for something to cover. I sent my boss the following message after being intrigued by Gregorz Proksa vs. Gennady Golovkin.
Without UFC 151 or really any other MMA action tomorrow, you want coverage of this fight? No big names, but it’s two solid fights and the one of the main event fighters has an 87% KO rate.
Proksa was actually the one who caught my eye — I recognized his name from following Bad Left Hook coverage of his fights with Kerry Hope. Golovkin was a curiosity, an ostensible force of destruction with a hilariously incongruous face.
Then he turned Proksa inside-out.
Since then, Golovkin has emerged as one of the most charming fighters in the sport. His haphazard English and sheer positivity make his merciless brutality all the more astounding. He doesn’t seem to hold any ill will toward his opponents; in fact, he showers them in praise, obliterates them with contemptuous ease, and then walks away with a massive, genuine smile on his face.
Recently, though, the Kazakh juggernaut has looked mortal. An undersized Kell Brook appeared to sting Golovkin before his own skull succumbed to Golovkin’s power and Daniel Jacobs was able to seemingly outbox and outmaneuver his foe for long stretches of their fight.
Golovkin is now 35 years old. He has this fight because — for the first time since his worryingly competitive 2011 fight with a faded Kassim Ouma — the concept of him tasting defeat doesn’t provoke laughter. It is the most important fight of his career; if he loses, he is a hideously dangerous fighter without a belt to his name. There are no money fights left for Gennady Golovkin if he does not emerge victorious.
Not Enough Gun
“Power” is the first word on any would-be analyst’s lips when discussing Golovkin. It is the easiest trait to perceive; anyone, no matter how clueless about the sport of boxing, can watch someone scramble a man’s neurons in a single blow and recognize that he is to be feared.
That power, bolstered by a jackhammer jab, is what makes this an improbable task for Canelo Alvarez.
Canelo needs a stationary target to be the phenom he’s billed as. All you need to do is watch him tee off on a cornered Josesito Lopez, then watch him fruitlessly chase Erislandy Lara. When the opponent’s not there to be hit, he goes from “phenomenal” to “very good.” He can win those sorts of fights, of course, but he wants nothing more than to force his opponents to exchange with him, preferably with their backs in the ropes and their heads in the full upright and locked position.
He simply cannot do that against Golovkin. Canelo’s punches are hard, sharp things that connect with the crack of shattering timber. Golovkin’s punches are the sort that make opponents reconsider every single decision that brought them into the ring with him. Nothing encapsulates this better than Curtis Stevens lying on the canvas and realizing he has made a terrible mistake.
One could point to Golovkin’s oft-porous defense as a sign that Alvarez could come out ahead in these sorts of exchanges. The thing is that Golovkin has absorbed punches from an apocalyptic puncher in David Lemieux without flinching and took the best Curtis Stevens and Daniel Jacobs could offer with equal aplomb. Canelo has never fought a man with comparable thump; Angulo, Kirkland, and Cotto are not enough to prepare him for Golovkin.
If Alvarez elects to fight in the manner most comfortable to him, he has the most powerful fists in the division waiting for him. Canelo Alvarez cannot be Canelo Alvarez against this man without facing ruin.
Canelo does not have Daniel Jacobs’ length, footwork or fluidity off the back foot. Losing the game of chicken means he’ll be at the mercy of Golovkin’s jab until he slows enough for the real firepower to find its mark. His only hope is to break Golovkin, a feat bigger and stronger men than he could not accomplish.
Canelo has behind him the might of Golden Boy Productions and one of the world’s great boxing cultures, but even the hopes and dreams of an entire nation can’t reach a man lost in the thunder.