Sunday, September 18, 2022

Opinions and Observations: Canelo-Golovkin 3

Canelo-Golovkin 3 completed a trilogy that was a vivid demonstration of the life cycles of a boxer. On one side of Saturday's matchup stood the warrior in winter, Gennadiy Golovkin, 40, unable to pull the trigger for the most of the fight, lacking confidence to throw punches with conviction. His opponent, Saul "Canelo" Alvarez, was unquestionably better and a deserving victor on the night (he won by unanimous decision), but even he, at 32 and with 62 professional fights, looks to be in transition from the summer phase of his career to his autumn. 

When Canelo and Golovkin first fought in 2017, many in boxing were legitimately concerned for Canelo's well-being. At the time, Golovkin was perhaps the sport's supreme bogeyman. Although most believe that Canelo didn't deserve a draw in that fight, he did far more than survive, he competed. He was much improved in their rematch, an enthralling nip-and-tuck affair in the center of the ring. And four years later, he was the one left standing; his old foil just didn't have much left. 

Saturday's fight wasn't an advertisement for the beauty of the sport; it was a reminder of what it can take out of its participants. But I won't think of it as a sob story. Both made eight figures for the fight, and they had gotten to this juncture in their respective careers because of nights of excellence in the ring, with their 2018 rematch serving as a shining example. And although Saturday's fight failed to deliver the goods, Canelo and Golovkin have more than earned their place on boxing's grand stage.

Canelo's left hand was dominant against Golovkin
Photo courtesy of Ed Mulholland

Canelo had a clear case for winning eight to ten rounds on Saturday. Although not dazzling with activity, he was consistently more accurate and his best punches had more of an effect. In particular, his left hand caused Golovkin problems all fight. Canelo was able to better Golovkin's jab with his own. Golovkin was so concerned with defending Canelo's jab that Canelo found ample opportunities to land his left hook. As the fight progressed, Golovkin just didn't know which type of left hand was coming.  

Canelo learned two valuable lessons from his loss earlier this year to Dmitry Bivol. Not every shot needed to be thrown with KO intentions. Notably, when Alvarez did go for the home run, very few of those punches landed cleanly. When he kept things shorter and within the flow of the fight, he had far more success. Canelo also relied on his countering abilities, which wasn't the case against Bivol. His counters tamed Golovkin and just the threat of them made Golovkin reluctant to take risks in the first half of the bout. 

But there were also concerning signs regarding Canelo's performance. He was noticeably less energetic in the fight's final third. Golovkin had his best round of the fight in the ninth and belatedly he started to gain confidence. Yes, Canelo had a big lead at that point; however, he didn't seem too interested in matching Golovkin's intensity. Canelo closed the 12th well, but overall, he lacked vigor in the second half of the match.  

Golovkin's performance could best be summed up with unenviable words and phrases: hesitancy, lack of confidence, erosion of athleticism. Even when he landed his best punches of the fight in the ninth and the eleventh, they barely put a dent in Canelo. In their first bout in 2017, Golovkin's aggression and hard punching drove Canelo to the ropes in retreat. But when Golovkin had his moments of success on Saturday, I felt that they were more a function of Canelo taking breaks; he was never seriously threatened. Golovkin's best punches of the fight were his left hook and right uppercut, which aren't necessarily his best two shots. His jab wasn't particularly accurate or piercing. His straight right hand wasn't a factor. He didn't go to the body at all. 

After the fight Golovkin stated his intentions of continuing his career. He still holds two major belts at middleweight (Saturday's fight was at 168), but at 40, it's unlikely that there will be too many memorable triumphs left in his in-ring career. Fortunately for him, middleweight is one of the worst weight classes in boxing and of course there could always be a voluntary defense or two against the jetsam of the division. But when next he's in against a legitimate top opponent, I wouldn't like his chances. 

Golovkin's career is one filled with enormous pleasures and profound regrets. There was no precedent for a Kazakh prizefighter becoming a bona fide draw in the United States; yet Golovkin's fists and indomitable spirit crashed through that barrier. He was a ferocious puncher, a happy warrior and someone who was easy to root for. He built a sizable following destroying those brave enough to get in the ring with him. Unfortunately, major portions of his career were marked by the fights that didn't happen. In his salad days, Sturm, Quillin, Martinez, Cotto and Saunders avoided him. But after his prime Golovkin wound up not fighting emerging threats such as Demetrius Andrade and Jermall Charlo (there's an out-of-the-ring example of a boxer's life cycle). 

His first fight against Canelo WAS a robbery, but he could have had losses against Derevyanchenko and Jacobs. He made a lot of money, was on TV all the time, and made a huge mark in the sport. Perhaps it wasn't to the degree that many boxing fans were hoping for, but don't cry too much for him. It's not as if he was some anonymous boxer who toiled away in the sport's hinterlands. Golovkin is a boxing success story, a great example of how talent can only be suppressed so much. Even without notable dance partners throughout much of his prime, Golovkin still developed a significant following. Boxing will never be a meritocracy, as Golovkin's career has demonstrated, but the fact that he achieved as much as he did points to the sport's ability to reward talent, from wherever it emerges. 

Canelo and Golovkin embrace after the fight
Photo courtesy of Ed Mulholland

With Saturday's win Canelo continues to hold all four major belts at super middleweight, but after the fight he sounded exhausted, both physically and mentally. He indicated that he may need surgery on his left hand. Perhaps the break will do him well.

I think that his performance on Saturday will be a sign of what to expect in this next phase of his career. No longer a high-volume guy or someone who wants to be active all three minutes a round, Canelo needs to make every punch count while still winning rounds. Bivol and Golovkin were reminders that although Canelo's punching power is formidable it doesn't solve all of his problems. It's possible that Canelo will still have excellent nights left in the ring, even likely, but he'll need to select matchups carefully to remain at the top level of the sport. Opponents who rely on volume and athleticism will continue to be difficult for him and won't be any easier as he ages.

The Canelo-Golovkin series did not end on a high note, but there is much to take from the trilogy. If you want to see a fighter who was able to make the Great Canelo retreat out of necessity, then I present to you Gennadiy Golovkin in their first fight. And if you want to see an all-time great middleweight battle, the rematch is yours to enjoy. Or, if you are one to luxuriate in the shithousery of professional boxing, you will find enough bad judging for your tastes, and examples of a Golden Goose bending the sport to his will. 

But I know what I'll remember: Golovkin's sublime performance in their first fight and the war that was their rematch. There was greatness in this series – two nights where I saw something special. And for me, that's why I'm here.

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.comHe's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook. 

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