Life is lived in several stages, and the art of prizefighting is no exception. This notion, was undoubtedly, evident on September 17th, when Kazakhstani knockout artist Gennady Golovkin and Mexican superstar Canelo Alvarez met for the third time, at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. The WBA, WBC, IBF, WBO, and The Ring super middleweight titles might have been on the line that night, but the personal rivalry between the two stars far outweighed any championship that was up for grabs.
Back on September 16th, 2017, which was the date of their first bout, the highly anticipated fight garnered a level of excitement that is not often seen in the sport anymore. Alvarez, although only twenty-seven at the time, had already won forty-nine fights. His one loss, which was to former pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather, occurred when Alvarez was only twenty-three years old, and still years away from his prime. Regardless of the loss, many agreed that the fight happened at a stage in Alvarez’s career that he was not yet prepared for and that Mayweather took advantage of his experience, and his opponent’s lack of experience, to coast to a one-sided victory. Despite the loss, many still view the red-headed Mexican as a star in the making, and the future of the sport. Subsequent wins over James Kirkland, Miguel Cotto, and Amir Khan further solidified the public’s opinion that Alvarez would be the man to carry the sport into the future.
Leading up to the original super fight with Alvarez, thirty-five-year-old Gennady Golovkin was ranked as the second-best pound-for-pound fighter in the world by The Ring. Golovkin, who won a silver medal at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, as a middleweight, was a fan-friendly fighter with a streak of twenty-three knockouts. Known for his exceptional punching power, Golovkin had gained a reputation as a pugilist that could walk his opponent down, and end a fight, in brutal fashion, at any given moment. Violently ending his fights against David Lemieux, Dominic Wade, and Kell Brook had turned the unassuming boxer from a mere champion into a household name. A unanimous decision against the dangerous Daniel Jacobs, in front of a packed house of 19,939 fans, brought the middleweight to the forefront of the sport. With this notoriety came the distinct accolade of being simply known by his initials, “GGG”, or “Triple G”.
Their first fight between the two stars took place in front of a sold-out crowd of 22,358. Golovkin came into the ring that night as the WBA (super) IBF, IBO, and WBC middleweight champion. At the time, Canelo was recognized as The Ring middleweight champion. Although many might think that a magazine’s opinion, regarding whom should be the champion, should carry much weight, The Ring championships had gained a reputation as the ones that signified who the true champions really were, without the cumbersome alphabet soup sanctioning bodies needing to be attached to them.
While there were no knockdowns in the fight, when all was said and done, it was widely regarded by fans and the media as living up to the hype. Post-fight CompuBox numbers showed that Golovkin, who was considered the slower of the two combatants, actually landing more punches (218 out of 703), or 31%. However, Alvarez proved to be more accurate, landing 169 punches out of the 505 that he threw (33%). While the fight was somewhat close, most thought that Golovkin landed the more effective blows, and deserved the nod, despite most agreeing that Alvarez won the last three rounds. Regardless of public or media perception, however, the judges had made their determination. When all was said and done, the scores were 113-115, 114-114, and 118-110. These scores resulted in a split draw, which led to some controversy, which is not unusual in such a well-publicized fight. Judge Adalaide Byrd’s score of 118-110, in favor of Alvarez, was especially ridiculed. During the post-fight interviews, both fighters expressed their desire for a rematch. Such a matchup required a definitive winner, and in that regard, the fans did not get what they paid for.
The inevitable rematch took place the following year, on September 15th. The original fight date was to happen on May 5th, but Canelo had failed a drug test for Clenbuterol, which is often used by bodybuilders during their “cutting” weight cycles. The T-Mobile Arena was, once again, the stage. Both fighters came into the ring one pound under their weight for the original fight, and both were still considered the top two middleweights in the world, one year removed from their first encounter. During the gap between the fights, fans of both fighters had been bickering about who the true winner of the original fight really was. Golovkin had fought one bought, against Vanes Martirosyan, prior to stepping back into the ring against Canelo. Much to the surprise of no one, Golovkin was able to score a second-round knockout of the former light middleweight and middleweight challenger. Martirosyan was chosen as a late replacement for Alvarez, following his withdrawal from the rematch with Golovkin, in the wake of his positive drug test. Canelo, on the other hand, had no tune-up fights, prior to the rematch.
In front of another sellout crowd, the two combatants once again fought an intense fight, although Canelo had altered his style, and was perceived as being more aggressive, this time around. When all was said and done, Alvarez proved to be the more accurate puncher that night, landing 202 of the 622 punches thrown, 33%, to Golovkin’s 27%, landing 234 punches to the 879 thrown. And, despite being labeled as a “runner” by Golovkin’s camp, Canelo actually out landed Golovkin in power punching. The judges ended up giving the decision to Canelo, by majority decision. Two judges had the fight 115-113 for Canelo, and one saw it 114-114. Adalaide Byrd, thankfully, was nowhere in sight. After the fight, both fighters showed great respect for each other and expressed interest in a rubber match. While the fight generated fewer pay-per-view buys than the first fight, it generated more revenue. This was due, in large part, to the HD broadcast of the fight being priced at $84.95, which was a significant price hike from the first encounter. And while the live gate also produced fewer tickets sold than the first fight, it still grossed the fourth largest grossing gate in Nevada’s rich boxing history, which is no small accomplishment by any measure.
During the gap between the second and third fights, Canelo had further established himself as a star in the sport, and a major box office attraction. Wins over Daniel Jacobs, Sergey Kovalev, Callum Smith, Billy Joe Sanders, and Caleb Plant had all brought boxing’s new “golden boy” to new heights. His eleventh-round knockout over Kovalev, for the WBO light heavyweight title, in particular, had shown the world that the 5”8 superstar could dominate in weight divisions that had much larger fighters in its ranks. However, his momentum was halted on May 7th, 2022. On that night, Canelo was matched with Russian Dmitry Bivol. Bivol came into the fight as a +400 underdog, with most believing that the little-known WBA champion would be yet another notch in the Mexican Star’s belt. However, Bivol didn’t follow the script. When all was said and done, the underdog from Russia had out landed Canelo in every round of the fight. Bivol’s victory appeared to be a clear and decisive one. However, in the post-fight interview, Canelo stated that he didn’t think he lost the fight and that he wanted a rematch.
Golovkin had also managed to keep himself busy, leading up to the rubber match with his rival. Victories over lesser-known opponents like Steve Rolls, Kamil Szeremeta, and Ryota Murata had managed to keep the ring rust off of Golovkin, who turned forty years old in April. Although these fights were decisive, his ninth-round TKO over Murata being a prime example, which also helped him to unify the division, Golovkin and his camp still longed for a decisive victory over Canelo. What better way to close out the twilight of Golovkin’s career than a definitive victory over his greatest adversary?
Perhaps the hype for the rubber match did not meet the standards that were set in previous bouts, but the anticipation was still palpable. With Canelo’s recent defeat, and Golovkin reaching his forties, fans seemed less enthusiastic for the rubber match than in their previous bouts. And with Golovkin moving up in weight, for the first time in his illustrious career, many wondered if he would be able to succeed against the faster Canelo, with a heavier frame.
As the first round progressed, it became immediately apparent that Golovkin was not his old self. His movements and punches were noticeably slower, and he was unable to put pressure on the smaller and quicker Alvarez. Alvarez used quick combinations and flashy power punches to throw off Golovkin’s timing. Golovkin never appeared to be able to get into his rhythm and was unable to attack Canelo’s body.
As round after round went by, the gap in the scorecards widened. Most appeared surprised, to various extents, that the fight appeared to be so one-sided. Canelo’s hand speed was making all the difference, and the pro-Canelo crowd in Las Vegas had plenty to cheer about. As the later rounds commenced, Golovkin’s corner appeared to stop giving their fighter specific, tactical advice, and began to simply tell him “let your hands go”. It was becoming increasingly evident that a decision in their favor would not be forthcoming, and that a knockout is what would be needed. Beginning in the ninth round, Golovkin began to let his hands go, and started to apply pressure to his younger opponent. However, by then, it was too little and too late. Although Golovkin was able to claim the “10” on a few of the scorecards, heading towards the final bell, the judge’s decision seemed all but certain. Canelo was officially announced as the winner of the fight, with scores of 116-112, and two separate scores of 115-113. Most fans and members of the media were puzzled by the 115-113 scores, as many felt that it was nowhere near that close. However, regardless of the narrow gap, Canelo was able to acquire the first unanimous decision victory of the three-fight series.
As the scorecards were read, Golovkin nodded his head in approval, seemingly agreeing with what he was hearing. The two fighters embraced in the middle of the ring, after the fight. Their feud being ostensibly over, they were able to share a moment of peace, now that a decisive outcome had been reached.
So where do Alvarez and Canelo go from here? The most likely options would either be a rematch with Bivol, or a showdown with David Benavidez, who is undefeated. A matchup between the two, at 168 pounds, is the biggest possible fight that could be made, at that weight. Other viable options include Artur Beterbiev and Jermall Charlo. Regardless of whom Mexico’s biggest boxing star fights next, he will do so with a weight lifted off his shoulder. Now that he has emerged victorious from his rivalry with Golovkin, he’ll be able to move on in his career, without questions or regrets. At just thirty-two years old, Canelo still has a lot of gas left in his tank, and money to make.
As for Golovkin, his future is, obviously, more in doubt. Golovkin’s claim to fame has always been his punching power, which is largely regarded as the last thing a fighter loses, as the years progress. Although Golovkin is still a big name in the sport, he might lack the desire to keep going, at this stage in his career. If Golovkin was to hang up his gloves tomorrow, who could blame him? He accomplished so much in the sport, and, seemingly, has nothing left to prove. And yet, a fighter’s ego is a funny thing. Perhaps Golovkin wants to end his career on a high note, and not watch his opponent’s hand get raised, instead of his. Surely, there is still enough left of the old “GGG” for a spectacular knockout, and a sensational ending to a renowned career that’s sure to land him in the Boxing Hall of Fame in the future. Competition feeds on rivalries. When the best match up against the best, everyone wins. Canelo and Golovkin have, unquestionably, been two of the greatest stars of this generation. To see them square off, in a trilogy of fights no less, was what the sport desperately needed. In this day and age, when contract disputes and arguments over money have halted several blockbuster fights from happening, it’s comforting to know that there are still real warriors out there that are not afraid to test themselves, time after time. May this trilogy of fights inspire future generations to seek out equally great opposition, in hopes of solidifying their own legacies.