The biggest boxing match of the year is being called off because of a dispute over contaminated meat. Welcome to boxing in 2018.
Canelo Álvarez withdrew from his highly anticipated (among boxing fans) May 5 rematch with middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin. Álvarez tested positive for the banned substance clenbuterol in two tests he submitted in mid-February. On March 23, the Nevada State Athletic Commission temporarily suspended him. Álvarez, at risk of having his suspension extended, withdrew from the fight on Tuesday. Álvarez said he tested positive because he ate meat contaminated with clenbuterol in Mexico, where farmers sometimes feed the additive to cows.
“I want to clarify the situation,” Álvarez said. “I have always done tests with [Voluntary Anti-Doping Association] before my fights. They are voluntary. I have always agreed to them before my fights and they have always come back negative. I am a clean fighter. On this occasion the results showed small traces of clenbuterol. How did this happen, I don’t know. Unfortunately, there is a public problem in my country of Mexico. Football, cycling, soccer, boxing—people have tested positive for clenbuterol. This can be transmitted through meat in Mexico. Contaminated meat is what caused this. That is my statement. This has happened in all sports.”
Mexican fighters have tested positive for clenbuterol and blamed contaminated meat in the past. Érik Morales did it in 2012, Francisco Vargas did it in 2016, and the NFLPA warned football players not to eat Mexican meat because of clenbuterol that same year.
Golovkin was … skeptical of Álvarez’s reasoning.
”Check him on a lie detector and then we can find out everything,” Golovkin told the Los Angeles Times in March. “Then there won’t be any silly questions about meat, fruit, chocolate. … This guy, he knows. ... You’re asking about meat? It’s nothing about meat.”
Meat or no meat, there’s no fight. Álvarez is likely to receive a one-year suspension that could be reduced to six months, according to ESPN’s Dan Rafael. That timeline would allow for a rematch on the same September weekend the two fought on in 2017, but plenty of fighters are already jockeying to replace Álvarez as Golovkin’s opponent on May 5, including Rhode Island’s Demetrius Andrade (25-0, 16 KOs).
Whoever replaces Álvarez, the new fight is inevitably going to be a letdown from Álvarez-Golovkin 2, which itself was going to have difficulty living up to the hype placed on it after the first fight.
In September, Álvarez and defending champion Golovkin went 12 rounds in a middleweight title fight that ended in a bizarre draw. Judge Dave Moretti scored the fight 115-113 for Golovkin, judge Don Trella scored the fight 114-114, but judge Adelaide Byrd scored the fight 118-110 in favor of Álvarez. That 118-110 scorecard briefly made Byrd a meme and inspired boxing analyst Teddy Atlas to go on a legendary rant on the state of boxing.
The rematch was poised to be the fight of the year, and now it might be years away, assuming it ever happens at all. Álvarez is 27 years old, but Golovkin turns 36 next week (dude needs a good birthday present). Even if the rematch happens down the line, the window where both fighters are still in their prime is closing. A 30-year-old Álvarez defeating a 39-year-old Golovkin in 2021 might not be the definitive conclusion fans are hoping for.
More concerning than Golovkin’s age, his next opponent, and lie detector tests on meat consumption is the state of boxing itself. Canelo-GGG was easily the biggest fight of the year, and now the sport is all but assured a minimum of six months of anonymity. Even if this fight were to have gone through, it’s barely registered on the cultural Richter scale in 2018. The first fight between the two garnered just 1.3 million PPV buys, a fraction of the 4.6 million PPV buys garnered by Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao’s 2015 bout. That Pacquiao-Mayweather fight was big enough to convince many viewers to buy a PPV fight for the first time and boring enough to convince them to do it for the last time. Mayweather needed to return for a circus bout against the UFC’s Conor McGregor to approach those numbers, which isn’t a great sign for boxing’s overall health. Now the sport’s relevance is relying on the title hopes of Gennady Golovkin—which to the average sports fan, who?
While Mayweather and McGregor may team up again for another money bonanza, nobody else in the boxing world seems to have the clout to grow the sport. The issue for boxing isn’t that the biggest fight of the year is off because of contaminated meat. The issue is that the contaminated meat is more interesting than the actual fight itself.
An earlier version of this piece incorrectly identified clenbuterol as a steroid; it is an additive used to promote growth, but is not a steroid.