The sport took a step forward with Saturday’s gripping fight between Gennady Golovkin and Canelo Álvarez – and two steps back with more dubious judging
George Foreman once said boxing is the sport to which all other sports aspire, and for 47 electrifying minutes on Saturday night that maxim rang as true as the middleweights Gennady Golovkin and Canelo Álvarez, two of the finest pure fighters of their generation, met in a contest of extreme physical and psychological intensity, holding a sold-out arena and a worldwide audience of millions in their thrall. It was that rarest of unicorns: a main event that managed to exceed the years of hype that preceded it. The sport could have scarcely dreamt of a better advertisement. Until, that is, the decision.
Whenever boxing asks the broader public to lean forward and pay attention, it seems a self-defeating blow is never too far ahead, reminding everyone why they abandoned the sport in the first place.
From my ringside seat I had it eight rounds to four, awarding Álvarez the second, third, 10th and 11th. Watching the telecast the next day with the commentary muted, I could concede that Canelo may have done enough to earn the first and the 12th, but Golovkin’s destructive dominance in rounds three through nine was beyond dispute. Which means even if you gave Álvarez wholesale benefit of the doubt and awarded him every swing round bookending the gruesome middle act, you couldn’t get any further than a draw.
Adelaide Byrd has rightfully caught the brunt of the backlash for her risible score of 118-110 for Álvarez, somehow only awarding Golovkin the fourth and the seventh. But the more consequential lapse of professionalism was found in the verdict handed down by Don Trella, who arrived at 114-114 after inexplicably awarding the profoundly one-sided seventh round to Álvarez, a misstep that, unlike Byrd’s wholesale misread, managed to alter the outcome from a split-decision win for Golovkin to the split draw that history will reflect.
— Bryan Armen Graham (@BryanAGraham) September 17, 2017
Yes, it was a close fight. But the inadequate judging creates a perception of impropriety practically as bad as concrete proof, further undercutting the public trust in a sport that can ill afford it. Whatever the reason for Byrd’s outrageously wrong-headed assessment is immaterial.
“Everybody won,” said Eric Gomez, the Golden Boy Promotions president who promotes Álvarez. “It was a great event.”
The second statement is indisputable, but the first couldn’t be farther from the truth. Nothing can undo the valor and nerve of Golovkin and Álvarez on a night that enriched the legacies of both fighters, binding them forever in time and almost certainly setting the stage for a rematch that will generate even greater interest. But at what cost to the men inside the ropes?
For years Golovkin was considered too good to get a big fight, a prodigious talent who time and again found himself on the raw end of the elemental risk-versus-reward calculus that governs the matchmaking process. One after another he ripped through middleweights, knocking out 23 in a row between 2008 and earlier this year. Then finally, at 35 years old and approaching the edge of his peak, the Kazakh puncher found himself at the top of a pay-per-view card in Las Vegas for the first time ever. While Saturday’s draw means he keeps the WBC, WBA and IBF belts, as well as the lesser IBO title, Golovkin was denied what should have been the defining moment of his career.
Canelo, though spared the blemish of an official loss, has been similarly cheated. The 27-year-old heartthrob from Guadalajara, for all his carefully engineered star wattage and robust endorsement portfolio, has never engendered the religious following enjoyed by Mexican forebears like Julio César Chávez and El Finito López and Salvador Sánchez, preferring a measured counter-punching style at stylistic odds with the devil-may-care aggression, reckless pressure and machismo tightly wound into the national identity. He was still a teenager when he signed a contract with Televisa, the TV network famous for telenovelas among the most watched in all of Latin America, who built him into a household name on the steam of his red hair and matinee-idol good looks. That’s led many unconvinced Mexicans to denigrate him as a media creation or, worse, a fraud.
Álvarez, who appeared exhausted and ready to go after absorbing Golovkin’s worst hellfire in the seventh, rallied brilliantly from the brink, hurt Golovkin in the 10th and delivered the finishing kick of a great champion. But instead of an ennobling defeat, he’s been saddled with a dubious draw that’s reinforced his reputation, fair or otherwise, as a child of privilege. The chorus of boos that cascaded down from the T-Mobile Arena mezzanine after the decision was announced, a dramatic turn from the well-lubricated Mexican Independence Day crowd that started the night squarely in his corner, spoke volumes.
“At the end of the day, no one leaving the building had the right to say they didn’t enjoy the fight itself,” Golden Boy minority partner Bernard Hopkins said. “The fight itself wasn’t a failure.”
If the result is secondary to the action itself, the party line emphasized by one Golden Boy rep after another in Saturday’s aftermath, then why even announce a winner?
No, everyone did not win. Not Golovkin, not Álvarez and certainly not boxing, which once again managed to hit the lottery and lose the ticket. On its biggest night in a long time, the sport took a step backward.