LAS VEGAS – One year ago this Mexican Independence Day weekend, boxing fans got a fight we had longed for — the long-awaited showdown between unified middleweight world champion Gennady Golovkin and former champion Canelo Alvarez. It was an event that matched two of the world’s elite pound-for-pound fighters in a bout universally expected to be highly competitive and action-packed.
We had waited nearly two years for the showdown and when they finally met at the T-Mobile Arena they delivered an outstanding battle waged at the highest level, and one that did gangbusters business: 1.3 million pay-per-buys and a $27 million gate, third-biggest in boxing history.
When the fight was over, most viewed GGG as a close-decision winner. Then came the horror of judge Adalaide Byrd’s all-time horrendous 118-110 scorecard in favor of Alvarez. Combined with Dave Moretti’s logical 115-113 card for Golovkin and Don Trella’s 114-114 card, which on the surface looked reasonable but didn’t stand up to a review of how it was arrived at because he gave the seventh round — perhaps Golovkin’s most dominant (one even Byrd gave GGG) — to Alvarez. In the end, the fight was a less-than-satisfying draw and, after a hard negotiation, the rematch was set for May 5.
The promotion for the rematch was off to a strong start, but in February news broke that Alvarez tested positive for the performance-enhancing drug clenbuterol in voluntary Anti-Doping Association-administered tests. Alvarez said it was because he ate contaminated meat in his native Mexico, but the fight was canceled and the Nevada State Athletic Commission suspended him for six months.
Golovkin (38-0-1, 34 KOs) lashed out at Alvarez (49-1-2, 34 KOs), accusing him of using PEDs both for the 2017 fight and in preparation for the rematch. Golovkin went on to face replacement opponent Vanes Martirosyan on May 5 and drilled him in the second round, while the idle Alvarez had knee surgery to remove a bothersome cyst.
After a brutal renegotiation of terms, the rematch was put back together for Saturday (HBO PPV, 8 p.m. ET) — once again at T-Mobile Arena — but the respect Canelo and GGG once had for each other was gone. They sniped at each other nonstop and GGG continued to pound Alvarez about the failed tests, as did GGG trainer Abel Sanchez. It was so bad they refused to hold a joint news conference to announce the fight and wouldn’t face off with each other at Wednesday’s final pre-fight news conference.
“I have to win convincingly. It has to be a knockout to erase any doubts,” Alvarez said. “I’m very motivated for this win. I’m confident, but not overconfident, about my opponent because I know who he is, but I’m confident in my preparation.”
The rematch has become a grudge match of the highest order, and another tremendous action fight with stakes as high as ever is expected.
“If Canelo gives me a chance and fights like he claims he will, I will knock him out,” Golovkin said. “It is time for the Big Drama Show.”
This is your ESPN.com ringside seat for the fight.
Golovkin has been upset since the first fight was declared a draw, believing he was robbed of the victory. Alvarez’s failed drug tests have Golovkin even more ornery. And Alvarez, insisting he hasn’t used PEDs, feels wrongly accused.
Before the first fight, there was a genuine respect between them. It seemed as though they actually liked each other, and Golovkin spoke about seeing a time when they could go out to eat with each other and have their children play together. Those feelings are long gone.
“What I’ve always really wanted to do, I want to punish him,” Golovkin said. “I want to have a fight and punish him for all the bad things that he and his team have done, so basically to put him and his team in their place.
“Was I upset that Canelo failed two drug tests? Yes, but I was more upset at Canelo’s team. The excuses they gave, their attitude, and Canelo’s reaction. It showed that they have no respect for the sport or the fans. They showed their real faces. They are fakes. I do not feel anger toward him because the rematch was canceled the first time, but I did lose all respect for him.”
GGG has gone so far as to say he won’t even shake Canelo’s hand after the fight.
“Nobody knows how it’s going to end, what’s going to be the result, but nobody is going to congratulate anybody, that’s for sure,” he said.
Alvarez, 28, has said — point blank — he doesn’t respect Golovkin, 36, a Kazakhstan native who fights out of Santa Monica, California.
“The respect that we had was lost,” Alvarez said. “He crossed the line with his statements, with what he said, with the excuses, with all the crying from his team. So the respect, it was completely lost, and that’s how it will continue. In fact, this loss of respect and their statements and what they all said, this will help me to give 100 percent and give that extra push to leave it clear that I’m the better fighter.”
Alvarez added, “I’m bothered by all the stupid things they’ve been saying. I don’t know which one to laugh about or get angry about at this point. But their statements are all excuses for the loss they will take this Saturday. I have been using all of these statements as motivation for my fight on Saturday. I know that it can be dangerous to go in the ring with a hot head, but I have experience. I know how to use this anger in the ring intelligently.”
Golden Boy Promotions CEO Oscar De La Hoya, who had his own share of grudge matches when he was an active fighter, such as his feud with Fernando Vargas, said he has not seen Alvarez so pumped up to get his hands on an opponent.
“This fight is something different. This fight is personal,” he said. “I’ve never seen Canelo so angry. He really wants to knock Golovkin out. As a promoter, I want to see him knock Golovkin out.”
Gennady Golovkin reflects on his first fight against Canelo Alvarez and looks ahead to the rematch on Saturday.
Had the rematch taken place May 5, Golovkin would have been aiming to tie the middleweight title defense record of 20 set in 2005 by Bernard Hopkins, who happens to be one of Alvarez’s promoters as a Golden Boy partner.
Instead, GGG tied the record when he smoked Martirosyan. Now Golovkin can break the record he and Hopkins share by scoring the biggest win of his career.
“The two best middleweights going mano a mano for all the marbles,” said Tom Loeffler, Golovkin’s promoter. “Gennady is going for the all-time consecutive title defense record to further burnish his place as the top pound-for-pound fighter of his era.”
Golovkin has held a belt since 2010 (making him boxing’s longest-reigning active titleholder) and, at one point, he had unified three titles before being stripped of one of those belts. He’s well-aware he’s on the brink of history.
“It’s very important for me to beat this record,” Golovkin said. “Basically, it’s like two types of victory — to beat Canelo and to beat the record. For me, it’s the most important goal at this point.”
De La Hoya hopes Alvarez keeps Hopkins and GGG tied.
“Bernard Hopkins wouldn’t be any happier if Canelo — when Canelo — stops [GGG] from breaking his record,” he said. “Obviously, that’s a huge feat in his career. Bernard Hopkins is going to be rooting for Canelo even more so because his record’s on the line.”
With the familiarity these two fighters now have with one another after their fight only a year ago, both will need to make at least minor adjustments to show the other a new wrinkle.
“I did my fight. I did what I set out to do. I did what I trained to do,” Alvarez said of their first fight. “But I’m going to do the necessary adjustments and the necessary things to win. This man just likes to talk. He likes to talk a lot and bring up every excuse possible, but you’ll see what Canelo Alvarez is all about and what he’s capable of doing.”
If there is cause for Alvarez supporters to be confident, it’s how he closed out the first fight with a strong final few rounds — almost as if he had figured Golovkin out.
Alvarez believes the 12 rounds he spent in the ring with GGG will pay big dividends Saturday.
“The first fight gave me the guideline for the second fight,” Alvarez said. “I know that I can do many things in the ring against him. I know that I can hurt him. I hurt him in the first fight, and I’m going to hurt him even more in the second fight. My objective is the knockout and I’ll be looking for that from the opening round.
“Golovkin knows who I am. He knows who I’m about. Let me put it even better — he still doesn’t know how much more I have left to show. I’m looking forward to showing him that (Saturday).”
“You can adjust to your opponent’s style, and that’s the beauty with Canelo is that he knows how to adjust,” said De La Hoya, “Unlike GGG that only fights one way, and that’s coming forward.”
Sanchez said the changes on their side won’t be major.
“Some adjustments obviously will be made. I think the changes are going to be minimal, but I think it’s all going to depend if Canelo brings his courage.”
One change both fighters need to make is to go more often to the body. They are both devastating body punchers and neither employed that attack enough last year.
“The body attack was absent on both sides,” Sanchez said. “Canelo is a very good body puncher and did not throw any body punches.”
Tale of the tape
Golovkin: 20 consecutive middleweight title defenses, tied with Bernard Hopkins for most all-time in middleweight division
Golovkin: Outlanded Alvarez 218-169 in total punches landed and 108-55 in jabs landed in their first fight, according to CompuBox
Golovkin: Lands 10.4 jabs per round, most among CompuBox tracked fighters
Golovkin: Lands 39.1 percent of total punches, second-highest percentage among CompuBox tracked fighters
Alvarez: Eight-fight unbeaten streak since his only professional loss to Floyd Mayweather in September 2013; six of the eight are current or former world titleholders
Alvarez: Landed 42 percent of power punches against Golovkin according to CompuBox, highest percentage by a Golovkin opponent
Alvarez: 10-1-1 (7 KO) in world title fights, 12-1-1 (4 KO) against current or former world titlists
Alvarez: No. 2-ranked middleweight and No. 5-ranked pound-for-pound fighter according to ESPN at time of suspension
Canelo a runner?
Canelo Alvarez describes how his relationship with Gennady Golovkin has deteriorated and the circumstances around his suspension for clenbuterol.
Sanchez has continually poked at Alvarez by saying he ran from Golovkin in last year’s fight. Alvarez is a natural counter puncher, so perhaps Sanchez is just trying to get in his head so he’ll stand more in front of GGG.
“The last fight between Gennady and Canelo was a real contrast of styles,” Sanchez said. “Gennady had to chase Canelo, who boasted that he was the true Mexican warrior, around the ring. It reminded me of the four-corners offense those old Dean Smith-coached basketball teams used to play. I’m seriously considering asking the Nevada Athletic Commission to install a 24-second clock to force Canelo to engage. Compare the activity between the fighters in their first fight. Gennady did everything in that fight. Gennady wasn’t the one who got booed by the fans when those crazy scorecards were announced.”
“It would be nice if Canelo came to fight this time,” said Golovkin. “I don’t believe what he says about how he will fight me this time. He said the same thing before our first fight. I will definitely be more aggressive in this fight.”
Chepo Reynoso, Alvarez’s manager and assistant trainer, stuck up for his man.
“It’s been Abel who has heated things up with his statements regarding Canelo and that he runs, but a fighter can’t run in the ring, you run on the racetrack,” he said. “In a fight you can’t run. Maybe he moved a little bit, showed some movement just to show his quality as a fighter, but I think that he moved really well. We’re relaxed, we know what we have to do, and we haven’t been doing any insults.”
Rafael’s prediction: Golovkin by decision.