If Saturday night’s rematch between Gennady Golovkin and Canelo Alvarez was meant to bring resolution to last September’s cockeyed draw, it came close in that somebody at least got their hand raised this time. It just so happened to be the 28-year-old Canelo, who stood his ground and even dictated the action for a great deal of the sensational 12-round fight.
The judges saw it for Canelo by the thinnest of margins: 114-114, 115-113, 115-113. As always, the majority decision spurred cries of robbery and corruption on social media, the hallmarks that boxing is indeed alive and well.
Was it the definitive victory that Jalisco’s finest promised? No. But Canelo now holds the WBA-WBC and linear middleweight titles, and the 36-year-old Golovkin leaves Las Vegas yet again with a sour taste in his mouth, forever tied with Bernard Hopkins for a record number of consecutive middleweight title defenses (20). Even if he’ll cash a check in the vicinity of $40 million for 36 minutes of work, this will be a tough result to swallow for Golovkin. Last year’s fight delivered him the first draw of his professional career. This year’s got him his first loss. In both of them Golovkin could—or should—have won. The only thing left now is the likely trilogy fight between the two.
Saturday night was great, though, because it was not only a close fight, but it reminded everyone that boxing is at its best when it becomes a saga. The more unfair the outcomes, especially in super-interpretable fights, the bigger the pageantry in the rematch. Was that LeBron James sitting ringside wearing shades? Damn right it was. He wasn’t going to miss a grudge match of this magnitude. Will Smith, Chuck Barkley, and Dave Chappelle were all in the building, too.
It helped that there were so many fine subplots heading into the sequel. The soft-spoken Golovkin was supposed to rematch Canelo on Cinco de Mayo of this year, but had to wait because the Mexican star popped hot for clenbuterol, a steroid-like substance. That made the second bout bitter and personal for Golovkin. He spent the past six months calling Canelo a “cheat” and a “liar,” which tended to ratchet up the tension in the room.
Canelo came to the T-Mobile Arena with a king-sized chip on his shoulder, too. Not only did he not beat Golovkin last year, but he was caught using PEDs before the rematch, which he blamed on eating contaminated beef. But these happenings couldn’t drown out the more likable facts: He’s a bull of a fighter in his prime. He came at Golovkin in the “Mexican style,” which is all Golovkin had asked for. He wanted Canelo to fight. And that’s what Canelo did.
Saturday’s rematch was a tactical war, in which both of the principals came to life at different junctures. Canelo came on strong early, and, somewhat surprisingly, Golovkin had his best rounds late. The fight was so close that even the broadcast crew at HBO couldn’t agree on who was ahead at any given point. The unofficial scorekeeper Harold Lederman saw the fight for Golovkin the whole way, while commentator Max Kellerman had it for Canelo. The fight felt bound for another controversy.
There wouldn’t be nearly as much this time, but there was a little irony—Saturday’s closure fight was numerically closer to a draw than the original. Last year, everybody thought Golovkin won a decision except judge Adalaide Byrd, who turned in one of the most mystifying scorecards of all time, seeing the fight 10-2 for Canelo. A great deal of time and energy was spent trying to understand such an inebriated conclusion. But Byrd’s incompetence ensured that there would be a rematch, and also gave Saturday’s fight an aura of pending lunacy. What crazy thing would happen on the scorecards this time?
Turns out nothing. The scores were in keeping with the general consensus. Most boxing pundits either scored it a draw or saw it 7-5 for either side. It was a close fight with a number of indistinguishable rounds. That both fighters showcased iron chins and seemed unaffected when absorbing big blows only served to make the match harder to score.
Golovkin came to life in the middle-to-late stages of the fight, also known as the championship rounds. He snapped his signature left jab with success all night, but he also found success working combinations and body shots. Golovkin was accused of being a little withheld in the first fight, and he was raging against a repeat accusation. In both the 10th and 11th rounds, Golovkin landed shots that seemed to stun Canelo, and the temptation was to believe—for a split second each time—that he was in trouble. He wasn’t. He’d recover and coolly return fire, and soon enough stalk forward as though nothing in Golovkin’s arsenal could faze him.
If Canelo’s victories over Amir Khan and Miguel Cotto were half-attributable to his size advantage, he showed on Saturday night that he can handle the power of a big middleweight, even during headhunting surges late in a fight. He distributed the blows through his body, like a cartoon character who swallows a fuse-lit bomb and belches smoke.
Afterward, Kellerman asked Canelo what he had in his chin. Canelo, ever-deflecting, patted himself on the back a little bit, saying that he is a great rival to Golovkin. He also said what everybody else was thinking. “If the people want a third fight we will do it again, but for now I want to enjoy the moment with my family and my people,” he said. “But we’ll do it again, no doubt.”
Why not? All that bad blood that has built up over the past year has nowhere else to go. LeBron said it best in a tweet after the fight:
A knock on Golovkin is that he doesn’t have any big trophy wins in his career, other than perhaps a decision over Daniel Jacobs. Still, he’s a bulldozer, an “it” fighter who can give Canelo everything he can handle, including another Brink’s truck full of cash. Golovkin had the zero taken from his loss column, but in doing so he added about seven of them to his bank account. There’s nothing finer than a razor-close Big Time Fight that brings in millions of dollars and leaves off with an ellipsis between the 24th and 25th rounds. For those reasons equally, a third fight seems destined to happen.