In a recent teleconference with boxing writers, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez was asked about a potential rubber match with Genady Golovkin, known by nearly all boxing fans as “GGG.” Alvarez was on hand to answer questions about his upcoming bout with light heavyweight bruiser and champion Sergey “The Crusher” Kovalev, a fight in itself that is shocking in ambition and impressive in its daring. Yet, even after two fights with GGG, the question of a third bout continues to follow Alvarez wherever he goes.
“I always know what I want, and what I want is what I’m doing now,” said Alvarez. “They may have wanted the GGG fight, but as I said before, he represents no challenge for me, so I don’t feel any pressure (to make the third fight).”
Canelo’s Established Legacy
Alvarez is 1-0-1 against Golovkin and after 24 rounds with the knockout slugger, he is moving up in weight to pursue what many say are greater challenges. It is to his credit that he is not standing still, resting on past glories. But such ambition does not provide clear answers to the question that remains in the rear-view mirror; a question two hard fought contests could not cleanly confirm or deny. The fact remains that many viewers and pundits―HBO unofficial scorekeeper Harold Lederman, for one―had Golovkin winning both fights, although most that saw the second fight note that it was so close that a decision either way would not have surprised them. I had Golovkin winning the first bout, and Alvarez winning the second 115-113. So why would such a game and daring fighter as Alvarez not want to put an emphatic statement on the rivalry?
One consideration could be found in the luster of what is new. His upcoming bout with Kovalev is unexplored and dangerous territory, and for the viewer, that’s exciting. He will be the smaller man in the ring, at a weight and reach disadvantage against a serious slugger known for hurting opponents with heavy shots. For a time, Kovalev was mentioned alongside Golovkin as two of the most dangerous punchers in the sport. With such a new enterprise, many fans will want to tune in to see if Alvarez’s reach has exceeded his grasp at light heavyweight. Additionally, with such a weighty question to be decided at the highest levels of the sport, the pay-per-view numbers are likely to be high. This is professional prize fighting, after all, and no one in their right mind does it for free.
Another reason could be the double-standard of public perception. Golovkin struggled in his last fight against Sergiy Derevyanchenko, earning a decision victory that many felt was undeserved, including Alvarez. “We saw it. Obviously for me, Derevyanchenko won the fight,” said Alvarez. “It was a fight where (Derevyanchenko) really looked well. It was his fight. Regarding GGG, we all know, everyone knows, it’s unnecessary to say more, but he looked slow, and I think I gave everyone a pathway to see how to hurt him, which is (to) the body, and that’s what we saw.”
If Alvarez really does see Golovkin as a lesser version of himself, the reward for winning a third fight might not be worth the risk. Should he win, many will say that Golovkin was no longer in his prime, with age doing half the work for Alvarez. Should he lose, a great many voices will be crying out that Alvarez was never better than Golovkin, and that the judges finally got it right.
These are the kinds of calculations fighters and their handlers are forced to make when so much money is on the line. Boxing is a brutal business and a hard fight can change the fortunes of even great fighters, overnight. One need only remember how incredible Meldrick Taylor looked before his first fight with the legendary Julio Cesar Chavez. In that bout, Taylor had arguably won every single round, until Richard Steel waved off the fight and handed Chavez the victory after a last second knockdown. After that fight, Taylor was never the same; the physical damage that had been done to him took a tremendous toll. When coupled with the fact that he was the product of the Philadelphia fight philosophy (training as war for the war), the flame that had been Taylor’s career, while burning twice as bright, ended up being snuffed out almost overnight. This is a known danger in the world of professional fighting, both boxing and MMA. When fighters climb through those ropes, they may be playing cowboys and indians for real, but they aren’t doing it recklessly. Nor should they.
Why not make the fight anyway?
So, why does it seem to many, including myself, that this is still a fight that should be made? Neither man really needs this fight, especially from a financial standpoint. After that second fight with Alvarez, Golovkin could have taken a cue from the great Marvin Hagler and simply walked away from the sport, living a life of luxury and privilege few ever know. Should Canelo lose his upcoming fight against the much larger Kovalev, he could leave his gloves in the ring, walk away and live a rich life, never looking back over his shoulder.
So, why? Unanswered questions and bragging rights.
Professional fighters live a life that exists in contradiction to the rest of us. They do what they do for a myriad of personal reasons, but at the heart of it all, combative sport is designed to answer the question: who is better? As Trinity from The Matrix said: “It’s the question that drives us.” But why does the question mean so much? Because being in such a demanding and dangerous sport is meaningless unless you can lay claim to a superiority over as many opponents as possible, aka: bragging rights.
Sound too simple or juvenile to be true? Consider: during an interview with “On the Ropes” in 2013, when asked to define the biggest problem facing the sport of boxing in the modern era, “Sugar” Ray Leonard said it simply: “I think champions should fight champions and unify the division, it’s more than just money, it’s bragging rights. Back in the day when we fought, we fought for pride, too. We fought for money, no question about that, but we fought for pride. You stood up for the championship that you owned.”
If both were to walk away from the sport without a third match, Alvarez would be able to say he defeated Golovkin once, by majority decision. Perhaps that is enough for him. But fight fans have always loved the unsung hero, especially from a historical standpoint, and fighters attend that history constantly because the fans never let them do otherwise. Just as Alvarez knows most boxing fans will always think that Pernell Whitaker was robbed by the judges when they scored his bout with Chavez as a draw, so too does he know that many fans still feel Golovkin was robbed when the judges scored their first bout a draw.
If he doesn’t fight Golovkin a third time, he will have to face that question for the rest of his life, especially if he really believes that Golovkin doesn’t pose a real challenge for him. His words may say so, but when he was in the ring with the Kazakhstani, Golovkin looked plenty challenging; so much so, some will argue, that Alvarez had to be given by the judges that which he could not take with his own two hands. That is the kind of historical recollection that is bound to assail a fighter’s pride, no matter if they believe it themselves or not. Indeed; that is the rub. It’s not so much what Alvarez believes himself; it’s what he wants everyone else to believe: what he wants everyone else to know, without question.
Not the same fighter
For Golovkin, his career has been diverted ever since he spent 24 rounds with the brilliant Alverez, unable to knock him out, or even knock him down. Now, he toils in the shadow of Alvarez. If he is to find any independence in his career, he must get a third fight with Alvarez, and win convincingly, lest he always be remembered as the second-best fighter in the division. In the rematch, it was Alvarez that stood in the center of the ring, willing to slug it out, toe-to-toe, “Mexican style.” This is what Golovkin had openly hoped for heading into the rematch, but when Alvarez obliged him, he couldn’t do anything significant with the opportunity. Considered the man with the heavier hands in the ring, Golovkin was forced to rely on his jab continuously, in both bouts. The vaunted firepower that had seen him notch 23 victories in a row by KO or TKO was rarely on display in any fashion that would make a viewer think Alvarez was in any real danger. Golovkin did land some hard shots, especially in their second bout, but Alvarez was never in danger of being knocked down. In fact, when Golovkin would land a good shot, Alvarez bit down on his mouthpiece and returned fire, slinging hard leather, causing Golovkin to err on the side of caution and defend himself by stepping out of the pocket. If anything, it appeared that Alvarez had far more faith in his chin that Golovkin had in his own. In that second bout, many was the time that Alvarez would land a hard hook to the head or body and suddenly, Golovkin was back to circling, pumping the jab, avoiding that “Mexican style” fight that he had sought so vocally.
And thus, the question remains unanswered, at least in any clear terms. What both fights did prove is that both Alvarez and Golovkin are incredibly courageous and skilled fighters with thunderous power and a deep desire to be the best. Hopefully, they can channel that desire and aim it at each other one final time. If they don’t, they will be forcing their advocates to debate a question they should have answered themselves, in the ring.
Watch the epic second war between Canelo and GGG!