GGG vs Canelo: The fight that sold itself
In case you missed it, it’s fight week. The biggest fight of the year, perhaps decade depending on who you listen to, is upon us. The boxing aficionados at the LAD Bible are even declaring it ‘The Real Fight’ in the wake of the recent May-Mac saga and considering they sold that fight as the fourth instalment of Gatti-Ward we must be in for something special. Indeed, while it may appear to be the snobbish talk of a boxing ‘purist’, Gennady Golovkin vs Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez represents the antithesis of Mayweather-McGregor; a fillet steak to a Big Mac, the Soprano’s against TOWIE and ultimately a genuine 50/50 fight that will see the victor establish supremacy over the boxing landscape.
While there is a time and a place for fast food and reality TV, we’re being wined and dined in an altogether different manner on this occasion and this may be why you’re attention has only recently been grabbed (or maybe is still yet to be?). No trash talk, no strippers packing out the press conferences, we’ve not even had it rammed down our throats just how much money they both have. No rucksacks, no mink coats and we’ve had none of the ‘racial undertones’ that were referenced so often in the build up to the Mayweather-McGregor fight that you were left wondering if this was the name of an up and coming band. Dining at the Ritz is very different to Netflix and Chill.
A stark contrast in every sense, the May-Mac press conferences we gluttonously indulged in have been mirrored by a fractured, cumbersome GGG-Canelo equivalent fundamentally undermined partly by the two protagonists respectful demeanour, but mainly by the serious language barriers that prevent real communication either between the two or to the English-speaking press. Canelo became the fastest rising star in boxing without so much as having to learn the English phrase ‘Pay Per View’ and Golovkin’s limited command of the language, while undoubtedly part of his charm, is not conducive to a flowing press conference. (Indeed an unofficial rumour suggested GGG’s restricted English vocabulary meant that when pressed for an answer he described his wife’s recent labour as a ‘big drama show’, but she handled it ‘Mexican style’ and the child’s full name has ended up as ‘This Is Boxing Golovkin’ on the birth certificate). We’ve therefore been left with a situation where we are getting a closer look into the personalities of their respective translators rather than the fighters themselves – and Oscar left the stockings at home on this occasion, preferring stock answers in favour of his golden goose and saving any animation for questions surrounding the May-Mac event.
(As a side note, the idea of an excitable translator taking over the press conference by screaming “You’ll do nuttin” is one that has tickled this particular writer and would have done no harm for PPV numbers).
Here we arrive at the crux of the issue then. When entering into the May-Mac bargain we accepted the headline-grabbing build up would ultimately be followed by a one-sided fight that could never match the hype. With GGG-Canelo we have accepted a slow-burning build up that will be succeeded by a true mega fight, containing every ounce of skill, heart and action that we could desire. If “Styles make fights” has quickly become an overused phrase for what is a fundamentally accurate point, it cannot be argued that the styles should gel perfectly here, leaving us with as close to guaranteed entertainment as is possible within boxing, (see the Matthysse-Provodnikov fight for why I can never say guaranteed any more), as well as clear, legitimate arguments for why both men can win.
For GGG, had this question been asked 12-18 months ago there can be little doubt that the tidal wave of public opinion would have been in his favour. Battering victim after victim into submission had established him as the clear number one middleweight on the planet and a genuine pound for pound star. Pens were lost and belts dropped in favour of taking up a fight with the man many were dubbing the baddest on the planet. On that note it cannot be ignored that Canelo did relieve himself of the WBC belt (often viewed as the ‘Mexican’ belt) in favour of taking the GGG fight at this point, with his promoter openly indicating the fight (and therefore indirectly meaning his fighter) was ‘not ready’ to be made at this point. Indeed this would have echoed the thoughts of many at the time. Coming off of wins over an ageing Miguel Cotto and an Amir Khan stepping up from welterweight, Canelo was still seen as having the same flaws that Floyd Mayweather had exposed in 2013 – a flat footed style, which could leave him appearing sluggish and lacking ideas at time, as well as very hittable for a power puncher like GGG.
So how much can have changed in this time? Does GGG not still possess all of the advantages many would have suggested back then? His fans will point to the height and reach advantages that Golovkin will enjoy in this fight and the more subtle nuances of his boxing skills, as well as the more immediately obvious edge in power he possesses. If he is able to get that shotgun-like jab established as he did against David Lemieux or the sublime footwork that left the likes of Matthew Macklin and Martin Murray with no room to breathe, Canelo may well find out the hard way just how far off the mark those who label GGG as a simple pressure fighter who just plods forward are. Over 300 amateur fights and an unblemished pro career are not the hallmarks of a flat-footed fighter who takes too many punches and just happens to have freakish power.
For Canelo, the increasingly held belief amongst many that he will pull this off seems to be based largely on the most recent of these fights on Golovkin’s CV. An underwhelming points victory over Daniel Jacobs had much of the world quick to label GGG as being ‘exposed’ and ‘only human’ after all. While such criticism seems harsh (a win over the widely-considered 2nd best middleweight in the world on an off-night isn’t bad going) the nature of GGG’s performance and indeed Jacobs’, seems to have been the final straw in making this mega fight. GGG looked more hesitant than usual, with the first phase of attack rarely followed up with the ferocity and shot selection of the second phase that we are so used to seeing. While having demonstrated a strong chin previously, his footwork and tidy work on the inside means he has rarely been tagged as cleanly as he was in the Jacobs fight also (despite the idea that he has just consistently soaked up punches throughout his career becoming common consensus amongst many – particularly in the USA). Having been unable to get Jacobs out of there, or even look particularly close despite the knockdown, many came to the conclusion this meant GGG’s power had been overrated. We’ll let the highlight reel debunk that myth, as the real cause for concern missed in all that ‘exposed’ hysteria was that Golovkin had been unable to set up or land the clean power shots needed to take out Jacobs. The sublime footwork normally used to cut off the ring was used only intermittently, the jab never got fully established and his shot selection and usually masterful control of distance suffered as a result. Whether you consider this down to a decline in Golovkin or a reflection of Jacobs skills and tactics, or a combination of both, there are clear signs of encouragement for Canelo. Golovkin is 35 years old and despite having a more skilful style than given credit for, there are miles on the clock that can’t be reversed. Ask Roman Gonzalez if you don’t believe time has an effect on even the best fighters. Equally, watch Sergey Kovalev against Andre Ward if you want to witness the effect a more comfortable lifestyle can have on a fighter – are you still the same animal with millions in the bank? Golovkin has a ‘comfortable’ lifestyle in LA (to quote Bernard Hopkins whose opinion is obviously loaded but relevant), so is his motivation the same as a young hungry fighter looking to be the sport’s king for the next decade?
Equally, what Jacobs did well in that fight Canelo can work towards. While never wobbling Golovkin, Jacobs’ power was clearly enough to keep him honest and Canelo’s could have a similar impact; not necessarily hurting Golovkin, but creating hesitation in his work. Jacobs upper body movement was better than people expected and his movement around the ring gave GGG problems pinning him down. On both of these counts Canelo has shown improvements within the last year or so, with wins against Liam Smith and Chavez Jr showcasing a level of speed, sharpness and fluidity that had sometimes been lacking in his work (as most clearly demonstrated in the Mayweather fight). While neither Smith nor Chavez are in Golovkin’s class, it is the improvements and adjustments that Canelo has been able to show that indicate an ever-improving fighter – even if there has been little or no decline in GGG, it would behard to argue he is actively improving at this point.
With all of the above noted, my prediction…a conspiracy theorists wet dream – a draw and we do it all again. Not satisfactory? Okay, I’ll stick my neck on the line and go with Canelo on points. For starters I think if it goes the distance and is anywhere near close they give the nod to Canelo (that judge did give him a draw against Floyd remember) and the argument is swiftly made that Golovkin got the benefit of the doubt against Jacobs so it swings and roundabouts (neither true, fair, nor relevant but this is boxing we’re talking about). At this point in their respective careers I’ve been impressed with the improvements Canelo has been able to make since fighting Mayweather, appearing a quicker, more skilful fighter with multiple facets to his game than the more one-dimensional version that stepped in with Floyd, (though I stop short of labelling this fight a ‘boxer vs puncher’ as many seem keen to do, particularly in the States, as this statement both underrates Golovkin’s skills and paints Canelo as some reincarnation of Pernell Whittaker – which is nowhere near accurate despite his improvements). Canelo’s counter-punching is some of the most effective in the game, particularly when working in close, which will be key against Golovkin as you can’t run from him for 12 rounds. While skills have predominantly been discussed I do also view him as tough enough to ride out storms when required and see him applying the Jacobs tactic of coming in as heavy as possible to soak up as much of the onslaught as possible where required. For Golovkin, I do not see a decline, but simply a stagnation, perhaps as result of age, but mainly due to struggles outside of his control – getting people in the ring with him. A calendar year in which he was only able to take on Dominic Wade and Kell Brook meant the wealth of tools he possesses never had to leave the garden shed. Why box like he can when he knows he can steam roll through an opponent either not good enough or strong enough to trouble him? (Coincidentally, this gave Sky Sports the opportunity to shamelessly bill the Brook fight as some sort of Hagler-Hearns that GGG was lucky to get out of – no mention of a ‘blueprint’ please). Neither of those fights gave him the chance to display his full repertoire and as he found out against Jacobs, it’s hard to dust the tools off and get them back out again when you’ve not needed to in a while and they’ve just been locked away getting rusty. If he is able to, and the skills – that jab, the footwork, the body shots, the power – all work in tandem, then he will win conclusively and in emphatic fashion, perhaps even in first half of the fight, it’s simply that I don’t think he can at this point. (As a self-confessed GGG fanboy I’ll admit to hoping I’m wrong on this occasion).
But this is what happens when you get genuinely great match-ups, anything can happen and there would be little surprise at almost any outcome, so let’s enjoy what is an incredible fight and whatever the result, I only hope to see the word ‘exposed’ being banded around on social media if Oscar loses the plot again.