The rematch between Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin was bound to be as big as the first one, even without everything that has happened since the final bell rang on that electric night in Las Vegas a year ago.
After all, they are the two best middleweights in the world. Beyond that, they are two of the best fighters, pound for pound, in the entire sport. And beyond that, they are superstars, with Canelo one of the most popular figures in all of boxing, while Golovkin is a lesser but still notable attraction in his own right.
They made themselves — and each other — even richer when they met on pay-per-view. Their fight was close, competitive and enjoyable. No matter the result, a sequel seemed both irresistible and inevitable.
And then came one controversy, just minutes after the final bell.
And then came another, months afterward.
And then came plenty of bad blood, taking an already heated rivalry well past its boiling point.
The close and competitive bout was reflected on two of the judges’ scorecards. One judge had Golovkin ahead, 115-113, or seven rounds to five. Another had it 114-114, a draw at six rounds apiece.
But the third judge, Adalaide Byrd, raised eyebrows with her 118-110 score for Alvarez, giving Canelo a whopping 10 rounds while awarding Golovkin a mere two. Her scoring it for Alvarez — no matter what her score — meant that it was a split draw. The fight still would’ve been a draw had she given another four rounds to Golovkin.
That would’ve been fair. And that still would’ve had some fans crying robbery.
Not every draw is unacceptable. Not every debatable decision is a robbery. Not every close round is a certainty on the scorecards. So many on press row and on Twitter reported having Golovkin ahead at the end, the 116-112 winner. That, too, is a realistic score.
Most rounds are easy to score, though not always. A responsible observer is also going to note those swing rounds where the margin of victory is narrow. At the end of the fight, you need to look at those swing rounds and see what the potential range of acceptable scores would be.
Sometimes every round in a fight has a clear winner and loser. That wasn’t the case in Canelo vs. GGG. There were enough close rounds that you could score the fight 116-112 for Golovkin and still see 114-114 as reasonable.
The rematch would’ve done good business anyway. Now it had the extra selling point of unfinished business between the fighters, a rivalry in need of a resolution.
They were supposed to fight again this past May. That fight was called off, however, when Canelo tested positive for a banned substance that is also occasionally found in beef in Mexico. Canelo pointed toward tainted meat, to no avail. He was suspended for six months, leaving just enough time for a rematch to still take place over the traditional big boxing weekend coinciding with Mexican Independence Day.
That’s this Saturday. We’re here at last.
We’re here after a year of seemingly unceasing debate from fans, after a year of a seemingly never-ending stream of interviews and news stories with the fighters, with their trainers, with their promoters, all tearing into each other with intense disdain.
We’re here, and once the bell rings in the main event at the T-Mobile Arena, none of that will matter.
This fight won’t be won with words, but rather with actions. And those actions will give the winner the final word.
Golovkin, who built his reputation thank to his vaunted power, will want to lay those heavy hands on Alvarez more often, and with more effect. Alvarez boxed capably last year, dodging and blocking and countering, and holding up well when GGG did land.
Fighters with power believe that one punch can change a fight, but they still need to give themselves a better chance of having that one punch land, and land in the right place at the right time.
Golovkin didn’t go to the body enough last year. Doing so this time around could help limit Alvarez’s mobility and set up further punishment. Golovkin also picked up points on the scorecards when he began to throw more punches, outworking Alvarez in stretches.
He’ll need to be better on defense, too. Canelo has fast hands and was able to land flush. While Golovkin took Canelo’s punches fine, he won’t want to give Alvarez those kinds of openings and opportunities.
Canelo, meanwhile, will want to go back to what worked for him in the early rounds — hitting and avoiding getting hit. He just needs to do more of each, which of course is easier said than done, and to continue doing so down the stretch.
His speed advantage could be helped by the passage of time. They are each now a year older, which means that Alvarez is still in his prime at 28 while Golovkin is 36, still in good shape but not necessarily what he once was even 12 months ago.
But despite the age difference, it was Golovkin who often outworked the younger man. Canelo needs to make sure that all three judges notice the difference each round between what he’s done and what Golovkin did.
In the first fight, he boxed well along the ropes, dodging and blocking shots, but still allowed the judges to give preference to the man doing more on offense. He should seek a better balance of offense and defense in those moments, dishing out counters and making sure the judges know who won each exchange.
The action was close. The rounds were close. The fight was close. It’s best for each man to remove the ambiguity.
Whichever man can do that more this Saturday won’t win controversially. He’ll win conclusively.