Sunday, September 17, 2017

Opinions and Observations: Canelo-Golovkin

At the conclusion of Saturday's entertaining bout between Saul "Canelo" Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin, both fighters raised their arms believing that their efforts had led to victory. Golovkin was the busier fighter, throwing over 200 more punches. He had his best stretch of the match in the middle rounds. Canelo neutralized Golovkin in the early-going and ended the bout with flurries of blistering power punches. Like the fighters, the three judges were split in their perception of the action. Dave Moretti saw Golovkin winning the fight 115-113. Don Trella scored it a draw and Adalaide Byrd somehow had Canelo as the victor by a score of 118-110 (more on her later). The majority of press row scores ranged from 116-112 in favor Golovkin to a 114-114 draw (I had Golovkin winning 116-112). 

I found two facets of the fight particularly surprising: 
  • On a punch-for-punch basis, I think that Canelo was the more successful boxer. 
  • Canelo's conditioning was much worse than expected. 

Canelo's counters were consistently the best punches in the fight. In the center of the ring, he had sustained success whenever he let his hands go. Canelo demonstrated his command of every power punch in his arsenal, connecting with left hooks to the body, uppercuts and straight right hands. 

His counters had their desired effect, often forcing a break in Golovkin's offense and making him retreat or reset. Throughout the fight, Golovkin was extremely mindful of limiting Canelo's opportunities for countering. In the first third of the bout, Golovkin was unwilling to fight in close and even as the fight turned into a battle of power punches, Golovkin didn't march in with reckless abandon. Yes, Golovkin was offensively-minded during the fight, but he wasn't as successful in his forays as he had hoped. There were periods of caution from Golovkin throughout the match. 

Despite success in the center of the ring, Canelo had retreated to the ropes by the fourth round. Throughout much of the next six frames, the ropes were most often his home base. Roy Jones pointed out during the HBO telecast that it wasn't necessarily a function of Golovkin forcing Canelo to the ropes but more likely a decision of Canelo's own making. With all respect to Jones, who in my opinion is the best American boxing commentator working today, his analysis was off in part. Yes, Canelo voluntarily withdrew to the ropes, but increasingly his actions were based out of necessity and not out of preference. He just didn't have the stamina to fight for three minutes a round. He'd cover up along the ropes and try his best to defend himself but overall those were losing moments for him during the fight. 

Canelo's corner implored Alvarez to stay away from the ropes but round after round he returned there as a way to sustain himself. With an eight-year age advantage (27 vs. 35), one wouldn't think that the prime-aged fighter would be the one with conditioning challenges, but Canelo just didn't have the energy reserves to match Golovkin's effort and work rate

Canelo has had conditioning problems in the past, especially in fights against Austin Trout and Erislandy Lara. At the time, many of his struggles were attributed to his size in the junior middleweight division. Stories surfaced of his struggles in making weight. That theory was further supported when he fought a number of contests at a limit of 155 pounds, just over the junior middleweight mark.

In 2015, Canelo didn't have any conditioning problems against Miguel Cotto (fought at 155 lbs.). He seemed strong at the weight and maintained his agility throughout the match. With his performance in that fight, pesky questions about his conditioning subsided. 

Saturday's fight was contested at the middleweight limit of 160 lbs., five pounds north of his most recent forays in the middleweight division. In theory, that should've been a comfortable weight for Canelo. However, Saturday's fight didn't evince that. Canelo couldn't sustain his effort through large portions of the match.

Canelo needs to improve his strength-and-conditioning regimen. Looking bulky in the ring, perhaps his thick musculature leads to early onsets of fatigue. The fourth round is far too early for a world-class boxer to gas out. And it wasn't as if Golovkin had been pressing Canelo earlier in the fight. Canelo's team needs to evaluate their current training program; the status quo isn't working.

Maybe Canelo's problems with conditioning will always be an issue for him in his career. Some fighters look capable of going 24 rounds while others have problems sustaining their efforts through 12. Against top opponents Canelo will continue to have vulnerabilities unless significant changes are made in this area.

Canelo and Golovkin succeeded at various points in the fight but each was unable to assert sustained dominance. Golovkin fought tentatively in the first three rounds and couldn't match Canelo's effort in the final two frames. Perhaps paying too much respect to Canelo early in the fight, Golovkin neglected Alvarez's body and didn't seem fully comfortable letting his hands go until the middle rounds. 

Once Golovkin hit his groove, he demonstrated his greatness. Featuring a non-stop attack and fantastic footwork, he unloaded on Canelo with an array of power shots; his pressure was relentless.

Throughout the fight, Golovkin exhibited strong boxing fundamentals and a high Ring IQ. If one was inclined to give him rounds in the first quarter of the fight, his jab, the foundational punch in the sport, was the reason. Throughout the match he did an expert job in varying the pace and force of his shots. Mixing in jabs, softer right hands and power shots, he probed Canelo's defense and found openings. 

However, Golovkin's success in the middle rounds didn't have its desired effect on Canelo in the final third of the fight. Had he done more damage, the possibility of a successful late-round Canelo stand would've been far less likely. 

As for Canelo, he heeded the call from his corner before the 10th round and closed the fight well. Tagging Golovkin with combinations at the start of each of the final three rounds, Canelo found energy reserves when he needed them the most. His work in the Championship Rounds staved off a loss. Despite the conditioning deficiencies that he had demonstrated earlier in the match, he dug down in the fight's final moments and did his best work. 

Ultimately, Canelo-Golovkin was a well-contested fight that showcased the best of both combatants. Canelo's combinations and punch placement are among the best in the sport. Golovkin maintained his reputation as one of boxing's premier offensive fighters. The bout featured a number of swing rounds, especially the 1st and the 10th. In a final analysis, each fighter did have a case for victory. I think that Golovkin's claim had a better foundation, but it was still one comprised of sand and dirt instead of stucco.  


Despite an excellent effort from both fighters, Canelo-Golovkin I (yes, there will be a rematch) will forever be known as the "Adalaide Byrd Fight." Her 118-110 scorecard in favor of Canelo marred a compelling bout. Byrd's scorecard diverged so wildly from a defendable range of scores that the only conceivable explanations were incompetence or corruption. 

Byrd has been a bad boxing judge for some time. Examining her judging history one will see a number of strange scorecards. It's not that she has a bias necessarily for the "money" fighter; she's just someone who can be wildly erratic. The Executive Director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC), Bob Bennett, has fielded complaints about Byrd's performance in the past. (Top Rank recently tried to have Byrd removed from judging Lomachenko-Walters.) However, Bennett saw no pressing need to take action. Most likely now, after a push from his political superiors in Carson City, he will. 

Bennett has not distinguished himself during his time at the NSAC. He has retained poor officials under his watch despite years of substandard performance. We can name the bad officials in Nevada – Robert Hoyle, Adalaide Byrd, Vic Drakulich, and Russell Mora – yet, they continue to get assignments week after week. 

Earlier this year, Bennett and the NSAC broke a long-standing practice in boxing by allowing junior middleweights Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor to wear eight-ounce gloves during their fight, a move seemingly at odds with the mission of a state athletic commission, which is tasked with protecting the health and safety of combatants. Even on a more basic level, Bennett and the NSAC allowed Mayweather-McGregor to happen, a fight between an undefeated champion, perhaps the best boxer in the world, and a novice who had never had a professional boxing match. If there were sanity in the world, that fight would've been nothing more than an exhibition, with further regulatory controls put in place – not an actual boxing match with additional protective measures lifted. 

But, money talks and one must concede that Bennett has helped to usher in three enormous boxing events into Nevada this year. Mayweather-McGregor, Canelo-Golovkin and Canelo-Chavez Jr. were wildly successful at the box office, adding millions into the coffers of Nevada, its government and the NSAC. 

With that said, government officials loathe scrutiny. They don't want the general public to see how the sausage gets made. When scandals happen, such as Byrd's scorecard, there becomes a call for greater accountability and transparency, something that very few involved in Nevada politics would like to entertain. 

The powers that be in Nevada don't want reporters looking into how Bennett and the Commission assign judges, how officials are evaluated or the Commission's procedures when objections are made with their officials. The state can't have people poking around into who the NSAC's Commissioners are, how they were appointed, what business relationships they might have and whether potential conflicts of interest are occurring.

Because of these factors, I expect Byrd to get sacrificed at the altar. Perhaps if Bennett gives the public some red meat, calls for additional oversight and transparency will subside. Byrd has served the state of Nevada for decades as a judge and her husband, Robert, continues to receive top assignments as a boxing referee. Out of respect for the Byrds' service, perhaps Bennett will not publicly flay Adalaide, but in all likelihood she will be removed from her position – and that information will eventually get leaked to a friendly reporter in the coming weeks. 

If I were Bob Bennett, I'd take this opportunity to get my house in order. For as many plaudits that Bennett has received for bringing in money to the state, those accolades aren't enough to counterbalance the Nevada political class's aversion to increased scrutiny and transparency. The powers that be would easily sacrifice a big fight or two a year (or even Bennett) in favor of keeping the opaque status quo. 

Bennett should take this opportunity to do the following things
  1. Bring in an outside consultant to help him evaluate Nevada's boxing officials and announce this move publicly.
  2. Expand the NSAC's existing initiative to add new officials.
  3. Allow more exceptions to Nevada's residency requirements to ensure that only top officials are working major boxing events. 

These steps will provide the public with more confidence in the NSAC, which will in turn help to keep interlopers away from the Nevada political patronage system. Bennett needs to address the following questions: Does the NSAC have transparent evaluative criteria for their boxing officials? Can they be easily communicated in case of an open records request or a legal proceeding? Or is it a black box? Outside help could create stronger criteria for evaluating and retaining officials. Clearly, the current practices haven't led to better officiating. 

Bennett and the NSAC have already instituted a training program to add new officials, both judges and referees. However, that training will take years to complete and there may need to be some housecleaning with its existing officials in the interim. He should expand the program to make sure that they get the numbers needed for the next generation of officials (it's also a scary thought that Adalaide Byrd has been one of the officials who has helped to train prospective new judges). Nevada doesn't need a handful of new boxing officials; it needs batches of them.  

The state also has strict residency requirements for its boxing officials. For big title fights, the NSAC will at times bring in an out-of-jurisdiction judge to mollify the sanctioning bodies and the "away fighters" (Don Trella, from Connecticut, was such a judge on Saturday). However, Nevada rarely allows out-of-state referees (Jack Reiss, from California, did ref a few fights in Nevada in May of 2016, a recent exception). Unfortunately, Nevada doesn't have enough quality referees for the amount of boxing matches that occur in its jurisdiction. Thus, Drakulich and Mora continue to get assignments because of the parochialism of the NSAC and the prerogatives of state officials. This needs to change.

It may take a few years until a new batch of homegrown officials is ready for the bright lights of Vegas. In the interim, the NSAC needs to ensure the integrity of its professional boxing matches. The NSAC has always prided itself on its self-sufficiency but it's time to bite that bullet and reach out for help. Boxing and Nevada need each other, but they also need each other to function properly. The NSAC is a problem commission at the moment. If changes aren't made, Bennett and his cronies in Carson City can only hurt the sport, which in turn will negatively influence a state dependent on entertainment and tourism to stay afloat.

Bennett has a tough task ahead of him. Although his tenure hasn't inspired much confidence that he can right the ship, his own job security might depend on it. And self-preservation can be a great cure for inertia. 

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of 
He's a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
@snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook. 

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