Canelo's legacy, for better or worse, is on the line in rematch with GGG

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Canelo Alvarez remains frustrated that too few believe the positive PED tests were an honest mistake. (Getty Images)
Canelo Alvarez remains frustrated that too few believe the positive PED tests were an honest mistake. (Getty Images)

Canelo Alvarez swears he didn’t cheat. His promoter, Oscar De La Hoya, stands squarely behind him. The two positive tests for Clenbuterol, back in February? It wasn’t an attempt to build muscle or burn fat, as it can be used for. It was a result of contaminated meat, which certain sections of Mexico are known for.

“I’m a clean fighter,” Alvarez said. “One hundred percent clean. And I always have been.”

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Said De La Hoya, “I haven’t met an athlete like Canelo, who is as clean as they come. I have never met a fighter who is so proud of what he has accomplished, and accomplished it clean. We feel Canelo is one of the most honorable fighters on the planet today.”

You know what? It doesn’t matter.

He’s a cheater or he’s not, and days away from the most anticipated rematch in recent memory, both sides are dug in. Gennady Golovkin — and many others — believe the tainted meat explanation is nonsense.

[Yahoo Sports Boxing Podcast: Preview Canelo-GGG II with guest Max Kellerman]

“We’re not idiots,” said Golovkin’s trainer, Abel Sanchez. “The fans are not idiots. Something happened. Yes, he was cleared by the Nevada commission, but something did happen. There’s consequences from that. We’re still feeling the consequences from that.”

De La Hoya — and many others — believe Alvarez. They point to Alvarez’s career as a clean fighter and Mexico’s high-profile history with contaminated beef. In 2011, five members of the Mexican national soccer team tested positive for Clenbuterol; between 2012 and ’13, another 23 players on Mexico’s pro circuit popped positive on tests.

In truth, the did-he-or-didn’t-he debate has injected new life into the rematch. The first fight, last September, was good, but it was far from an instant classic. Neither fighter was seriously hurt and both seemed wary of the other’s power. The decision was marred by a horrifying card from judge Adalaide Byrd (118-110, for Canelo, which was impossible for anyone to accurately see) and a horrendous round scored by Don Trella (the seventh, a clear Golovkin round that Trella gave to Canelo, a round that if he flipped would have given Golovkin the win).

A rematch was warranted. Now, it’s badly wanted. Promoters have attached an $84.99 price tag to the fight and are optimistic it will zoom well past the 1.3 million pay-per-view buys the first fight generated.

“Sept. 15,” De La Hoya said, “can’t come any faster.”

Canelo Alvarez (R) connects with a right to Gennady Golovkin during a middleweight title fight Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo)
Canelo Alvarez (R) connects with a right to Gennady Golovkin during a middleweight title fight Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo)

The animosity has created a new storyline. Saturday night will not only crown the top middleweight in boxing — all due respect, Billy Joe Saunders and Demetrius Andrade — but it’s become a grudge match. Alvarez is frustrated that too few believe the positive tests were an honest mistake and has chafed at the verbal grenades that Golovkin and Sanchez have lobbed at him. Golovkin — who was strung along by Alvarez and De La Hoya for more than a year before the first fight, took a lousy financial split for it and saw a multimillion-dollar payday evaporate after Alvarez’s positive test — has repeatedly said that Alvarez is bad for boxing.

“That little respect that we had,” Alvarez said, “it’s been lost.”

So titles are on the line, tens of millions of dollars, too, but for Alvarez, there’s even more at stake. Win, and whispers of a career spent pumping PED’s into his body vanish. Get blown out — and everything Golovkin has said the past few months suggests he’s coming for him — and everything Alvarez has done up until this point comes into question.

At 28, Alvarez has accomplished plenty. He has boxed some of the best in his division (Erislandy Lara, Austin Trout, Miguel Cotto) and won. His lone loss came against Floyd Mayweather Jr., who everyone lost to. He has shown a willingness, an eagerness, to fight the best, even when his promoters have pushed back against it. He’s a Mexican icon, poised to carry the torch once held by Julio Cesar Chavez, Erik Morales and Juan Manuel Marquez, if he hasn’t already.

But if Golovkin, 36, puts him down early, what narrative will emerge? At the post-fight news conference, how long will it take for someone to ask Alvarez if his record should contain an asterisk? Or, at the very least, will banned substances be branded to him, as they are for the likes of Fernando Vargas, who tested positive for steroids after losing to De La Hoya in 2002, and Shane Mosley, who admitted to unwittingly doping before his fight with De La Hoya in 2003?

[Related: Experts dissect Canelo-GGG II, pick their winner]

“I’m not concerned one bit because this is totally different,” De La Hoya said. “Shane Mosley and Fernando Vargas tested positive for steroids, performance-enhancing drugs, and this is totally different. This was Clenbuterol that was in meat, in tainted meat. So, look, everybody in Mexico knows about the big problem they have with Clenbuterol in their meat, and in Mexico he’s a bigger star than ever. So I don’t think his career will be tainted whatsoever. I think once he beats Golovkin in a spectacular fashion, then people will forget about it here in the states.”

Said Alvarez, “The people who have always supported me have been there and will always be there. They know what it is. I’ve made all the tests. So they will always be there, my supporters.”

Perhaps. But as much as Saturday night is a legacy fight for Golovkin, who is in the twilight of a Hall of Fame career, Alvarez’s legacy is at stake, too. We likely will never know if Alvarez intentionally infused his body with a performance-enhancing substance. On Saturday, it may be determined what many will believe.

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