CARSON, Calif. — It was important for boxing, Gennady Golovkin kept saying late Saturday, an hour or so after he needed less than two full rounds to stop Vanes Martirosyan in their WBA-WBC middleweight title fight at the StubHub Center, for a fight to be held on Cinco de Mayo.
And so it was this 36-year-old Kazakh who helped a sellout crowd of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans to celebrate this holiday by keeping up his end of the bargain and delivering a fight.
It was just that, too. Martirosyan, much to the regret of trainer Edmund Tarverdyan, opted to stand and exchange punches with the powerful champion. Martirosyan landed a sharp counter near the end of Round 1 and then connected with a hard combination in Round 2.
Seconds after that Round 2 combination, he was face down on the mat in a puddle of his own drool and blood, knocked senseless by the last guy in boxing anyone should ever want to stand toe-to-toe with.
“Canelo has a lot to prove,” Martirosyan said at the postfight news conference. “I can see why he’s eating that kind of meat. He needs that extra edge.”
Canelo, of course, is Canelo Alvarez, the Mexican superstar who fought Golovkin to a draw last September and was supposed to be standing across from him at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Saturday. But Alvarez failed a pair of anti-doping tests, he said from eating contaminated meat in Mexico, and was suspended six months by the Nevada Athletic Commission.
The normally affable Golovkin was irate, and unleashed a verbal tirade on Alvarez for more than a month.
Golovkin never uses two words when one will do, and he’d rather make his point by smiling and not saying anything. So, it was highly out of character for him to let Alvarez have it. He told Yahoo Sports before the fight there was only a 10 percent chance he’d fight Alvarez in September.
And, hey, it’s hard to argue that.
While Alvarez’s team will point to the fact he passed a hair follicle test in April, Golovkin and his side are unconvinced. Hair follicle testing isn’t currently advanced enough to accurately determine whether Clenbuterol was intentionally ingested or got into one’s system by eating contaminated meat, as Alvarez claimed.
Scientists are working on tests that can prove that, but until they’re ready, there is no conclusive proof. All we have at this point is Alvarez’s word.
And Alvarez hasn’t been tested for a while and is not currently enrolled in any anti-doping program. His promoter, Oscar De La Hoya, said to TMZ on April 25 that Alvarez would be tested “every day from now until the fight,” but more than 10 days have past and Alvarez hasn’t submitted to one test.
That makes the Golovkin side suspicious.
“The fact he’s failed to enroll in any kind of testing program puts the fight so much farther away,” Golovkin trainer Abel Sanchez said.
Golovkin said he believed Alvarez cheated, and he felt it was important to honor the holiday by fighting. So he was out there fighting an opponent on short notice and taking a dramatic pay cut.
If Martirosyan landed the proverbial lucky punch, it would have killed an eight-figure payday.
Golovkin seemed to be trying to make the point Alvarez isn’t bigger than the sport itself. Alvarez is one of its biggest stars — by this stage, heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua seems to have usurped him as the biggest star in the game — and he commands extraordinary attention.
The fans who have so loyally supported him for so long, and who over the years have helped to make the StubHub Center one of the best venues to watch a fight, clearly turned on Canelo.
Golovkin made a grand entrance, walking along the wall in all four corners of the tennis center where the fight was held, greeting the crowd, many of whom stood and roared his name.
After the knockout, they chanted “Triple G! Triple G! Triple G!” in what only could be seen as a repudiation of Alvarez.
Golovkin later climbed back into the ring and blew kisses to what remained of the crowd.
It was his night and his crowd.
Despite the 10 percent chance he tagged the fight with Alvarez prior to meeting Martirosyan, he walked that back afterward.
“Canelo is 10 percent chance, but everyone else, they’re five percent or less,” he said, chuckling.
He could laugh on a night when you couldn’t have blamed him for crying. He lost millions of dollars and didn’t get the opportunity for the biggest win of his career.
The reason, though, that he’s so beloved by so many fans is that he demanded he fight Saturday despite Alvarez’s withdrawal.
“The people love him,” Sanchez said. “They want to see a fight and that’s what he gives them. Gennady always comes to fight.”
More from Yahoo Sports:
• Pat Forde: An inside look at Justify’s Kentucky Derby win
• NFL star retires after 7 seasons to be a better dad
• Kaepernick: Mom gave ‘tongue-lashings’ to racists
• YadierMolina takes foul tip to groin, leaves game