Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin are perfect boxing foils for one another. Both are supreme power-punchers, both are decent boxers who invite their opponents to hit them as hard as possible. They are the key proponents of what makes an “action fight,” well…an action fight. And when two things make too much sense, there’s less of a circus atmosphere attached to them.
We’re less than a month removed from the peak P.T. Barnum boxing experience that was Floyd Mayweather soundly defeating Conor McGregor as we all expected. For those who plopped money down on that fight, I completely understand, because curiosity has led even myself to some very weird purchases. For those whose money was refunded because of the storm, it was one of the few instances of divine intervention and sheer luck. Thankfully, there’s no storm on the horizon that will deny you the chance to watch the boxing match most of the world is calling the potential fight of the decade.
The reason we bought into Mayweather versus McGregor, beyond the very heightened and wildly ridiculous verbal back-and-forth, is rather simple: Fans want to see somebody, anybody try to knock Floyd Mayweather out. With these two boxers we just want to see a good fight, for pugilists' sake.
Canelo/Golovkin is the opposite of what Mayweather/McGregor was — a superfight between two boxers who are genuinely at the top of their sport and are visible to even the most casual boxing fan. Superfights rarely happen in boxing, and if they do, they occur when either fighter is believed to be past his prime — or both are. There are rare instances to break this, though. Case in point: Mike Tyson versus Evander Holyfield in 1996. Their first encounter was originally scheduled to happen in the early ’90s, just as Tyson had taken supreme command of the Heavyweight division and Holyfield was seen as a potential heir apparent. Had Tyson not been upset by James “Buster” Douglas on that fateful night in Tokyo in February 1990, Holyfield/Tyson I would have occurred in 1991, not 1996. The fight fans got in November of 1996, two months after Tyson fought Bruce Seldon in September of 1996, was a classic upset, a superfight maybe in name but legendary in outcome.
Three years later, in 1999, Oscar De La Hoya and Felix Trinidad had their own superfight when both were the class of the welterweight division; this one came billed as “The Fight of the Millennium.” De La Hoya staked out to a sizable lead over Trinidad before he simply stopped fighting, believing he already had the fight won. Trinidad won by majority decision and while everyone had believed it to be a good fight, that generation’s version of the controversial Marvin Hagler/Sugar Ray Leonard bout, many disputed it.
“The record book will simply say Felix Trinidad won the fight and Oscar De La Hoya lost. But that's a superficial view at best. "The real loser, regardless of what you thought of the official verdict, was boxing," Nigel Collins wrote in his postfight feature for The Ring. "When the spotlight shone the brightest and the challenge was the greatest, neither risked all in the pursuit of ultimate glory, settling instead for a restrained, conservative approach.”
Most of the superfights in boxing since have happened in divisions well below heavyweight; its most celebrated class hasn’t produced an outright box-office draw like Mike Tyson since Tyson’s final meaningful fight, with Lennox Lewis in 2002. For a time, welterweights and middleweights occupied the time as the sport’s pound-for-pound best. There were slicksters like Roy Jones, one of my father’s favorite fighters, who he’d rush to the barbershop to talk up. There was prime Manny Pacquiao, who looked as if he could punch a train and not break his hand; plus Erik Morrales, Marco Antonio Barrera and the era of cherished Mexican fighters. Fans can easily reel off memories or “where were you” moments with Leonard/Hagler. Or the three-round war that was Hagler and Tommy Hearns. Or the middle ground of both, Hearns and Leonard in 1982.
How we got to Golovkin and Alvarez finally meeting in the ring is, of course, WWE-style theatrics. Fans clamored for the two best middleweights in the world to square off but Alvarez relented. He called Golovkin into the ring challenge-style and, in true Mexican fighter sense, "didn't want to f*ck around" with his destiny. Then, just when the buzz for the two hard hitting boxers reached its apex, Alvarez took on secondary competition as tune-ups. Finally in March, Alvarez's Golden Boy Productions team and Golovkin agreed, only after Alvarez dispatched of Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. easily.
Both Golovkin and Alvarez are middleweights. Alvarez’s lone blemish came when he was clearly outclassed by Mayweather in 2013, a man along with Miguel Cotto most boxing experts presumed would give Mayweather a legit challenge in the ring due to their powerful right hands. Golovkin has knocked out 33 of his 37 opponents and has modeled his boxing style, a high-pressure, no-nonsense, action style, after one of Mexico’s more beloved fighters, Julio Cesar Chavez Sr. He punctuated it by announcing in 2014 that this was his style, “Mexican style,” after defeating Daniel Gale via vicious knockout in Madison Square Garden.
Alvarez has fought all of the big names in the sport. He tussled with Cotto in an enjoyable brawl that ranked among 2015’s best fights. He took a lesson and a half when losing to Mayweather. He took on the guy who was supposed to be Mexico’s next supreme fighter, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., and soundly worked him over earlier this year. It’s he who is supposed to be the king of Mexican fighters, the champion to one of the most passionate and preeminent fan bases in all of boxing. All that stands in his way is Golovkin, the star of the division and practically a machine in the ring.
I ventured into the barbershop on Saturday, my usual haven for wild conversations and hypotheticals. Golovkin’s fight with Daniel Jacobs was playing on the television overhead and everyone had an opinion. Some hadn’t seen the fight but were thoroughly entertained because there were few clinches and plenty of punches thrown. Golovkin, who owns a classic nickname in “GGG,” didn’t look his best. Everyone was anticipating the knockout until I spoiled it and said it didn’t happen. The barbers and other patrons shifted their attention to the fight on Saturday.
“GGG is a monster,” one barber said.
“Alvarez may have something for that boy. You remember what he did here against Kirkland?” another spoke up. He was referring to Alvarez’s match at Minute Maid Park, in front of an adoring fan base, in which he brutally knocked out James Kirkland in one of the best knockouts I had ever witnessed.
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From there it moved into a ridiculous hypothetical about someone losing seven hours of their life to Houston traffic during last week’s massive traffic jams and whether or not anyone in the shop believed the story. And just like that, disharmony in the barbershop was back in style.
The arguing briefly commenced with everyone being of the same accord, that they have no idea who is going to win the fight. Unlike last month’s “super fight,” there neither fighter owns a distinctive, clear advantage. Alvarez is younger, Golovkin has the aura of a fighter whom no one wants to fight. Alvarez’s only defeat is to the best boxer of his generation. Golovkin is undefeated and has never truly been threatened as a professional. Something has to give.
Boxing got its pure superfight for the year. There’s no way it can underdeliver.