In mere hours the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, NV will start filling with fans waving the flags of Mexico and Kazakhstan in what has become a tradition of the North American boxing calendar.
The combatants, Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez and World Boxing Council/World Boxing Association middleweight champion Gennady ‘GGG’ Golovkin, will face off for the second time in a year. In the time that has passed since their first fight tensions have risen between the camps of both fighters to the point where the central theme of the event overall is bitterness.
It began almost immediately after the decision of their first fight, a draw, was announced. It wasn’t so much the actual decision that caused the uproar as it was a close fight, it was more one particular scorecard. While two judges had the bout close (a 115-113 win for Golvokin and a 114-114 tie) Adalaide Byrd scored the bout 118-110 for Alvarez. The score was so ludicrous that even Alvarez’s promoter Oscar De La Hoya scoffed at it. What added fuel to the fire was the sentiment among the majority of media and fans that Golovkin was the actual victor. The negotiations for the rematch scheduled for May 5 were at times strained but still amicable and it looked like the promotion would be smooth sailing to another blockbuster weekend.
Then on March 5 a bombshell dropped in the form of revelations that Alvarez failed two urine drug tests taken on February 17 and 20 for clenbuterol. The aftermath saw Alvarez withdraw from the fight before an eventual six-month retroactive suspension by the Nevada State Athletic Commission was levied on him. It also left Golovkin and his promoter Tom Loeffler not only without an opponent but a possible loss of a payday. Eventually a replacement was found in perennial junior middleweight Vanes Martirosyan after the NSAC rejected the initial suggestion of now World Boxing Organization junior middleweight champion Jaime Mungia as Golovkin’s new opponent.
New negotiations were had between Golden Boy Promotions and K2 Promotions to salvage the rematch. While the fight was was rescheduled it left a bad taste all around. Any respect that Alvarez and Golovkin had for one another has gone away.
It’s understandable how it got to this point as both men lost something.
For Alvarez it was a loss of some integrity. His explanation for the failed drug test was that he ate beef contaminated with clenbuterol and that assertion was backed up by both the WBC and the WBA. For a portion of boxing fans that doesn’t matter.
It doesn’t matter that clenbuterol being used in Mexican beef farms is still a legitimate issue that has caused the National Football League and National Basketball Association to issue warnings to their players about consuming meat while on vacation in the country.
It doesn’t matter that Alvarez has signed up for year round drug testing administered by the Voluntary Anti-Doping Agency, the same body that produced the positive tests in question.
In the mindset of these fans, and Golovkin himself, Alvarez is now and will always be a drug cheat. It’s a stain that Alvarez will likely carry for the rest of his career whether he likes it or not. It’s also given license for Abel Sanchez, Golovkin’s trainer, to make antagonizing statements without much expectation of blowback.
For Golovkin the losses are more concrete. He lost tens of millions of dollars from the May 5 fight falling through and also lost the International Boxing Federation middleweight title, a likely consequence of premium cable network HBO not wanting to give up the date. Otherwise he would’ve likely made a defense against IBF mandatory challenger Sergiy Deveryanchenko in June. The IBF is the only major boxing sanctioning body that consistently enforces their mandatories and after the Martirosyan fight it stripped Golovkin of their belt. Deveryanchenko will now fight Daniel Jacobs, a former Golovkin opponent, on October 27 for the vacant title.
The most important thing that Golovkin has lost in this is the one thing he can’t gain back, time. He is 36 years old, an age that is considered senior in sports. That has caused Golovkin to effectively abandon his quest to obtain all the major middleweight belts in lieu of fights that can make him the most money. He fought welterweight Kell Brook in the United Kingdom after an agreement with Chris Eubank Jr. fell through in 2016. The move mirrored what Alvarez did months earlier when he fought Amir Khan. Golovkin even walked away from an agreement to be able to completely unify the division against WBO champion Billy Joe Saunders last year to fight Alvarez.
The age also may have started to show for Golovkin since the Jacobs fight. That bout was expected to he another highlight reel knockout but ended up becoming a decision win where Jacobs was able to be effective despite being knocked down in the fourth round and losing. The first Alvarez fight showed much of the same and also had no knockdown. While the Martirosyan fight brought back the knockouts but it was against a clearly overmatched opponent who took the fight on short notice.
The fans also lost in this mess. The disdain that both camps have towards each other has made the promotion for the fight a muted affair. The fighters made sure that would not be around each other when promoting the fight until this week. Buffers were placed ensure this whether it was interviews, conference calls, or the public workout in Los Angeles, CA. HBO was not able to tape an episode of ‘Face Off’, a staple of their Pay-Per-View fights.
‘Face Off’ mind you has produced compelling moments including Miguel Cotto blatantly accusing his most bitter rival Antonio Margarito of using plaster on his hand wraps in their first fight.
In one aspect the rematch between Alvarez and Golovkin has become more anticipated. As HBO’s Jim Lampley stated in the latest full episode of his ‘Fight Game’ show this turned from a chess match to a blood feud. Neither man wants to leave it in the hands of the judges once again. Will I cause both men to throw bombs from the start like the classic Hagler-Hearns 1985 bout? Or will cooler heads prevail and we get round 13 of their first fight?
We’ll know in a few hours.