Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Canelo-Golovkin: Keys to the Fight

One of the most anticipated fights of the year takes place at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Saturday between Saul "Canelo" Alvarez (49-1-1, 34 KOs) and Gennady "GGG" Golovkin (37-0, 33 KOs). The matchup has been brewing for nearly two years since Alvarez dethroned Miguel Cotto to become the lineal middleweight champion. Although Golovkin had wanted to face Alvarez immediately after that fight, Canelo and his promoters had other ideas. All sorts of shenanigans ensued. In an unusual step, Golovkin was installed as Canelo's mandatory for the WBC belt even though Golovkin was a current, unified titleholder through other sanctioning organizations. Eventually, Canelo gave up his belt instead of making his mandatory obligation. He wound up fighting Liam Smith at junior middleweight and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. at super middleweight. 

As has become the norm throughout his career, Golovkin struggled to find opponents while waiting for Canelo. He fought a welterweight in Kell Brook and dispatched lightly regarded Dominic Wade. Earlier this year, Golovkin had a very challenging fight against Daniel Jacobs, a secondary titleholder who had periods of sustained success during their match. Golovkin squeaked by with a close, unanimous decision. That fight might have significantly changed Golovkin's perception in the sport. Suddenly, he was revealed to be a mortal. His long knockout streak had ended. His punches didn't seem to have the same impact. More than a few suggested that Canelo and Golden Boy Promotions finally agreed to the Golovkin fight because of GGG's struggles against Jacobs. 

Naturally, there will always be speculation about these matters but what's far more important is that one of the best matchups in the sport is happening. Both Golovkin and Canelo are ranked on every pound-for-pound list. Although Canelo may have been too green in his 2013 loss to Floyd Mayweather, he's developed into one of the best boxer-punchers in the sport. Golovkin still possesses a plethora of knockout weapons and is one of the best offensive talents in boxing. Canelo will have age and the crowd on his side while Golovkin should have significant advantages in reach and one-punch knockout power. 

Quite simply, it's a mouth-watering matchup. Below are the Keys to the Fight. My prediction will be at the end of the article. 

1. Golovkin's jab

Golovkin controls opponents with his jab. Although his career has featured numerous highlight reel knockouts, his stick is his most effective punch. It's hard, he places it expertly and it allows him to open up with his power shots. In his close win over Jacobs, it was his jab more than any other factor that led to Golovkin's victory. That fight also demonstrated another interesting point. When Golovkin's power wasn't landing consistently, his jab was enough to win rounds. It helped him defeat a bigger and far more athletic opponent. 

On Saturday, Golovkin will have advantages in height and reach (don't believe Alvarez's dubious height statistics that are floating around the Internet). He'll use the jab in the early rounds to establish range and to find soft spots in Alvarez's defense. It will behoove Golovkin to stick with the punch throughout the fight. It will help him score in dead moments in the bout and keep Canelo's punch volume down.

Alvarez will need to minimize Golovkin's jab. Although there are a variety of ways to neutralize the jab, Alvarez will need to pick the tactic that will best enable him to establish primacy in the fight. Yes, perhaps Canelo will use the ring at times to get out of the pocket. At other points, I'm sure he'll want to get in close to bang the body. Perhaps the best strategy in neutralizing Golovkin's jab will be to counter with hard power shots. Canelo can duck the jab and fire off a straight right hand to the body. He can also slip it to the inside and shoot an overhand right or a right uppercut. 

Canelo is a gifted counterpuncher and he's fantastic at using an opponent's aggression against him. In certain ways, the predictability of how Golovkin initiates offense plays into Canelo's hands. However, Canelo is going to have to be precise with his counters and be willing to take shots in order to land his own. 

2. Body Punching

Body punching is a strength for both fighters. Canelo hits the body with every punch that's imaginable, often in clever and unusual combinations. He's also an expert at mixing up head and body punching during a combination, making it extremely difficult for his opponents to defend his offensive forays. Golovkin goes downstairs with single shots, and they can be absolutely paralyzing. 

In this matchup, it might be a question of who cries "uncle" first in terms of body punching. Both will want to go downstairs throughout the fight – Golovkin to curtail Alvarez's movement and exuberance, Canelo to weaken a mature fighter. It will be fascinating to see who can better take the other's best shots to the body. It's worth pointing out that Jacobs had success going to the body against Golovkin. At certain moments in that fight, Golovkin elected to leave the pocket and reset instead of taking more shots downstairs. Perhaps Canelo can follow in Jacobs' footsteps, or maybe that was just a case of Jacobs' significant size advantage playing a role. 

3. Canelo's chin

We all know about Golovkin's chin. In OVER 28 MILLION AMATEUR AND PROFESSIONAL FIGHTS HE'S NEVER BEEN DOWN...we know the drill. His chin speaks for itself and it's been a huge advantage throughout his career. He's walked through the best shots from power punchers such as Curtis Stevens and David Lemieux. One shot won't do him in. 

Canelo hasn't faced power close to Golovkin's level. It's one of the great unknowns in Saturday's fight. Through this point in his career, Alvarez has demonstrated a sturdy chin but Golovkin's power represents an entirely different proposition. It may be that Golovkin's heavy hands are enough to lead to a stoppage. Perhaps more likely, they will preclude Canelo from executing on offense at points in the fight. Either way, Golovkin's power is a significant threat. Although Canelo's defense has improved over the last few years, he's by no means a master in that area. He'll be hit with power throughout the fight. But can he take it?

4. Canelo's corner

It's no secret that in Canelo's biggest fight to date against Floyd Mayweather, his corner, led by Eddy Reynoso, had a poor night. Claiming to have Plan B, Plan C and Plan D for Mayweather, Canelo moved around aimlessly for most of the fight, following Mayweather without a clear understanding of how to execute. Canelo was certainly a fledgling on the world stage back then, and that fight perhaps highlighted Reynoso's inexperience as well. 

Both Canelo and Reynoso performed much better against Cotto in 2015. There, they had a clear grasp on what they needed to do to win. Holding his ground in the center of the ring, Alvarez let Cotto come to him, whereby Canelo would counter with an array of impressive shots. Canelo pasted Cotto entering and leaving the pocket. 

GGG presents different challenges and opportunities than Mayweather or Cotto did. He's a significant knockout threat but he's also there to be hit. Canelo can fight in a number of styles. He can box, in-fight, trade in the pocket and win from range. It will be fascinating to see which strategies Reynoso employs. Perhaps more importantly, what happens if Golovkin has early success? Can Reynoso and Alvarez make the needed adjustments? They've demonstrated that they can come up with good game plans (they had the right idea versus Erislandy Lara as well) but can they adjust during a fight? 

5. Potential Decline for Golovkin?

At 35, Golovkin is no spring chicken. He's boxed for forever and although he hasn't taken a tremendous amount of punishment as a professional, think about all the training camps and tough rounds of sparring that he's had to endure (many years ago, Alvarez was one of Golovkin's sparring partners).

Certainly Golovkin didn't look his best against Jacobs. He didn't take shots as well as he once had. Perhaps more distressingly, at points in the fight he was oddly tentative. Was this a case of not being able to pull the trigger or was it a one-off situation against a very capable and game opponent? 

Golovkin's reflexes will be a very important part of Saturday's fight. Can he still exploit openings when he sees them? Will he be able to pick off shots during Canelo's thunderous combinations? These factors will play a large role in determining if he will be able to achieve victory. 

6. Canelo's home-field advantage

Canelo will have the crowd. He's the A-side of the promotion. He has a judge (Dave Moretti) who has turned in very favorable scorecards for him. In short, the intangible factors for the fight will certainly favor him. 

Golovkin must enter the ring on Saturday with the knowledge that every close round could likely go to Canelo. GGG will have to throw more than he might want to, work through fatigue and not let Canelo off the hook. Until the fight ends, Golovkin can't afford to let up whatsoever. 


Golovkin's jab will be the decisive punch in the first three rounds of the fight. He'll sting Canelo repeatedly with the punch. Alvarez will try to counter early in the fight but he'll need some time to master the range needed to land with authority. 

Eventually, Canelo will get his timing down. Single shots to the body and impressive counters upstairs will start to change the trajectory of the fight. Both will have moments in the middle rounds of the bout with combinations and eye-catching power shots; the fight will certainly pick up in its intensity. In an unexpected twist, I expect Golovkin to resort to boxing in the final third of the bout, and the switch will be successful. 

Ultimately, I think that Golovkin's piston-like jab and his intelligent offensive forays will be the determining factors in the match. Alvarez will certainly win some rounds and have moments of sustained success during the fight but there won't be enough of them to earn the victory. I also expect the judges to score the fight much closer than the boxing writers will. 

Gennady Golovkin defeats Saul Alvarez by majority decision.

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.com 
He's a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.

Email: saturdaynightboxing@hotmail.com
@snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook. 

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