When Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin first shared a ring in September 2017, the hardest punch that landed that night seemed to be the overhand right that the Mexican catapulted onto the chin of “GGG”, midway through the ninth round. The velocity and impact were frightening in equal measure, but not as much as Golovkin’s stoic expression as he twisted his head back to face Canelo and continued to plod towards the younger fighter – an unmoved, unimpressed, undeterred Terminator.
While that punch has gone down as one of the great viral moments of this generation in boxing, some would argue that the hardest shot to land that night in Las Vegas was the gut punch to Golovkin and his supporters when the result of his middleweight title fight with Canelo was revealed. Despite the Kazakh leading the dance with near constant forward pressure and compiling a collection of cleaner punches than his opponent, GGG was only a 115-113 winner on one scorecard. The others read 114-114 and a stupefying 118-110 in Canelo’s favour.
Twelve months later, the pair returned to the T-Mobile Arena in a bid to provide clarity where none was actually needed, only for judging to once again frustrate Golovkin more than any of Canelo’s offence or defence. Alvarez was declared a majority-decision winner – a 115-113 victor on two scorecards, while the other read 114-114. The fight was an instant classic, undoubtedly closer than the rivals’ first, but a significant proportion of observers had Golovkin winning again. To add insult to perceived injustice, the rematch had taken place four months later than planned after Canelo tested positive for the banned substance clenbuterol.
And so Golovkin had emerged from two fights against the ordained face of boxing with a defeat – the first of his professional career – and a draw, despite a consensus that he had won one of those contests, if not both.
Now four years on, at the age of 40, Golovkin will once again enter the T-Mobile Arena for a September showdown with Canelo in hopes of documenting a victory over his rival in the official files, not just in the minds of fans. Age is not on the unassumingly brutal boxer’s side, nor is weight as he moves up to challenge Canelo.
The strange truth is this: For as compelling as Canelo vs GGG II was, and for as interesting as their initial clash was, this trilogy bout feels untimely, unnecessary, and unfair on Golovkin.
Even those who clamoured for a third fight between Canelo and GGG would have wished to have seen it sooner after their initial rematch, not four years on, but the factors that were off-putting then remain so now.
Thirty-seven of Golovkin’s 42 wins have seen the Kazakh, mild-mannered out of the ring but malicious in it, crumple his opponents. His first two meetings with Alvarez, however, have seemingly proven that the Mexican’s notoriously stern chin can absorb even Golovkin’s most ferocious output. At GGG’s advanced age, relative to the sport, power only wanes; a knockout shot is likely further out of his reach now than it was in 2017 and 2018. The first two Canelo-GGG fights also apparently proved that Golovkin is not going to get the nod on the judges’ scorecards; if that were going to happen, it would have done so five years ago, if not four as well. And while Golovkin has shown a remarkable resilience to Canelo’s best offense, as with the way he no-sold the afore-mentioned Alvarez haymaker in their first bout, that resilience might just show signs of recession this time around.
That is the fear in fans of Golovkin: that he will come away from this famous trilogy with two defeats and a draw, though his performances will have warranted so much more. That is, of course, to preempt the outcome of Saturday’s trilogy bout, but the majority expect Canelo to finally earn a clear win against Golovkin, potentially even a stoppage that could drastically alter perceptions of this great rivalry and lead to an unfortunate revisionism of GGG’s career.
And it all stems from that first encounter with Canelo.
Alvarez could afford his decision defeat by Floyd Mayweather in 2013; his first professional loss, to a much more experienced opponent no less, only slightly stunted the 23-year-old’s growth into Mayweather’s successor. He could even afford his defeat by Dmitry Bivol this May, his first loss since the Mayweather result, due to the respect among fans and pundits for the Mexican’s bid to win a second light-heavyweight title.
If he had lost that infamous first fight, as many fans and critics alike believe he did, he would have found himself in the position he now occupies five years later: needing a victory to prove himself on the back of a defeat. Then in turn perhaps more observers would have accepted a close decision win for Canelo in the rematch, and a trilogy fight would have felt more genuine.
Instead, the rivals return to the same venue, in the same month as their first two fights, with the same outcome seeming inevitable: Golovkin coming away with less than he deserves – this time, with less than his career would deserve.