Mexican Meat and Kazakh Beef - Golovkin vs Canelo: A Rematch Enhanced
Put aside your McDonald's, bin your Rustler's Burger and tell Just Eat we're engaged for the evening - we're being wined and dined on the world's finest steak Saturday night. For the second time in a year Gennady Golovkin and Saul 'Canelo' Alvarez dance under the Las Vegas lights at the T-Mobile Arena - for our entertainment, a lorry load of cash and perhaps a chance to convince the world that boxing judges have open eyes and closed pockets, rather than the other way around. (On that note, it is to be hoped that Adalaide Byrd is left standing just behind Louis Walsh in the job centre queue for out of work judges). Far from going stale in the 12 months since the first fight, this blockbuster has been seasoned by some serious spice that exceeds even the cheekiest of Nando's and has created a 'beef' so big even Canelo would think twice before gorging on it.
Our journey to this point began with the announcement of the inexplicable scorecard alluded to above, in which Golovkin was given just two rounds of an entertaining clash that most felt he won with a reasonable cushion and even some of his toughest critics felt he shaded. That Canelo is the 'draw' in this fight is indisputable and many, including Golovkin's coach Abel Sanchez, felt Byrd's 118-110 card reflected a pre-existing bias that would have made the Mexican moneymaker the victor even if Golovkin had dished out an Ivan Drago-styled beatdown. On its biggest night, when boxing was supposed to show itself in its best light, particularly in the shadow of Mayweather-McGregor weeks before, the evils of the game had somehow reared their ugly head once again. As usual in such circumstances, once the outrage and despair had settled came the realisation that there was only one solution to this problem. Instantaneously a fight that would have made a compelling rematch, became an inevitable one. Perhaps it was the perfect characterisation of boxing after all - chaos that can only end in a re-run that offers the audience the chance of the satisfying conclusion it craves and the fighters an even bigger payday. Ask the bank managers of Carl Froch and George Groves just how helpful controversy is in selling a rematch.
Full steam ahead the promotion train travelled, seemingly towards the story's conclusion on Cinco De Mayo weekend. Both fighters remained respectful, perhaps even more so now having spent 12 rounds in each others company, but adamant that this time they would produce a definitive ending that would eradicate any doubts. Then it came. The moment that would alter the tone of the whole event and make the scoring controversy look like a minor indiscretion. Failed drug tests for Clenbuterol found in Canelo's system in February 2018 were revealed in April, just a month before the second showdown. Canelo's withdrawal from the fight while a hearing was carried out left the world waiting in the dark and Golovkin scratching around for a late replacement - an uninviting proposition at the best of times and a predicament that must have left Golovkin's promoter, Tom Loeffler, with a feeling of despair only the most seasoned 5-a-side captains can sympathise with.
To Canelo's credit, as justification for the failed tests he did not disclose an asthmatic struggle that had dogged him since childhood despite never having mentioned it before, (therefore seriously harming his chances of a future position on the Tour de France). However, he did divulge that Mexican meat had been a prominent feature in his training camp (presumably for the first time ever?) and this would provide the only explanation for the failed tests. Whatever the reasoning provided, it is clear that Golovkin and his team are less accepting of Canelo's explanations than the Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC), who chose to give Canelo a backdated one-year ban, leaving him free to fight on Mexican Independence Weekend on 15 September should he be able to find one or two members of the public willing to watch him and an opponent willing to make millions of dollars - a punishment that should encourage all boxers to avoid any drug-related controversy! Once Canelo had pulled out of the initial rematch date, he was unlikely to fight again before September anyway so the NSAC's ban was essentially as effective as a Premier League ban for the entirety of July. Regardless of if you question whether the punishment fits the crime, or if there has even been a crime at all, we've been left with two fighters chomping at the bit to get their hands on each other - Golovkin with a steely coldness in his eyes that perhaps hasn't been seen so vividly since Curtis Stevens dared to get 'serious' at the press conference before their fight - and Canelo scorned, full of spite at how his previously immaculate image and honourable reputation had been dragged through the mud by these allegations. What was once just a battle for supremacy at boxing's top table; a fight for the ages in which excitement was built on the clash of styles, rather than any personal needle, has now become all of the above rolled into one with a bitter grudge match. Both men are wounded animals, at their most vulnerable and yet most dangerous. Both feel wronged and have something more to fight for this time. If an 'edge' was conspicuous by its absence the first time around, there is no risk of such an occurrence this time.
To some, Canelo's explanations are valid - Mexican meat has become notorious over the years for contamination of various substances, catching out dozens of athletes in the process. To others, this excuse doesn't wash - one part of the camp seeing this as negligence from a multi-millionaire athlete who was either ignorant of these warnings from the past or willing to take such an unnecessary risk - the other part of the camp seeing the whole thing as a convenient excuse repeatedly used by past drug offenders and ultimately about as believable as two Russians visiting Salisbury for tourism purposes, (read the news if you don't get that one). Whether you like how the fight came about or not and whether you think a more serious ban for Canelo would have provided a more adequate deterrent to drug use in boxing, (regardless of your thoughts on his innocence), the fight is here - and whether we care to admit it, we're more excited than ever. It's the perfect blend of guaranteed entertainment and unanswered questions; the gritty toughness of both men, their glittering skill sets - the counter-punching skills of Canelo meeting the relentless pressing force of Golovkin. Will both men be able to take the jaw-dropping shots each took in the first contest? Whether he was cheating or not, will the drugs scandal and subsequent time out effect Canelo physically and mentally? Will Father Time catch up with Golovkin? Both men showed clearly in given rounds HOW they could beat the other and Saturday night will be a test of who can impose this will for the entirety of the contest. If one prediction can be made with confidence, it's that our unanswered questions should have definitive conclusions by Sunday morning. Until then, enjoy your steak - it's a rare treat in boxing.