LAS VEGAS – When Gennady Golovkin made his U.S. debut on Sept. 1, 2012, by successfully defending his WBA middleweight title with a fifth-round stoppage of Grzegorz Proksa in Verona, New York, a well-known matchmaker called, almost as Proksa was being helped up.
“Did you see that?” he said, excitedly. “When is the last time we saw a middleweight like that?”
After a long pause, he added. “I’ll tell you. Hagler.”
He was referencing “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler, one of the elite middleweights of all-time and a fearsome combination of power, tenacity and boxing skill. Hagler walked away from the sport for good after coming out on the wrong side of a split decision with “Sugar” Ray Leonard on April 6, 1987.
Now, Proksa is not Leonard, nor even a reasonable facsimile. And he wasn’t close to John “The Beast” Mugabi or Thomas Hearns, who along with Leonard were the final three opponents of Hagler’s brilliant career.
But the Proksa fight showed in Golovkin a guy who had the ability to stop an opponent in his tracks with one punch, and who went out not so much to win as to destroy.
Trainer Abel Sanchez had been telling anyone who would listen prior to that fight that Golovkin was special, but it took seeing him utterly pick apart a competent pro like it was a light sparring session was jaw-dropping.
The only thing Golovkin was missing at that point was a high-profile rival. And as he racked up the knockouts in quick order, the hopes such a rival would emerge ratcheted up.
He finally found that man in Canelo Alvarez, himself a rare talent who had proven himself among the best in the game. Alvarez was a slick boxer, but he was a guy who came to fight and who carried thunder in his hands. He was the kind of rival who could make valid – or laughable – any comparisons to a legend like Hagler.
The first fight turned out to be a split draw, disappointing just about everyone who saw it. The right score was probably seven rounds to five, either way. There were enough close rounds that one couldn’t argue if you scored it for Alvarez, though I had Golovkin 115-113.
The rematch is Saturday in Las Vegas at T-Mobile Arena and, once again, is drawing intense interest for the prospect of violence. The first fight didn’t deliver the kind of definitive finish anyone wanted, but with the animosity that has developed between the two, largely fueled by two failed Alvarez drug tests, there is hope that will change the second time around.
The first bout was entertaining, though it was not even close in the Fight of the Year derby. Alvarez, wisely, chose not to get into a shootout, and instead used lateral movement. Golovkin pursued throughout, but he wasn’t as effective at cutting the ring off as he had been in earlier bouts and he didn’t land the kind of thunderous combinations fans who had watched his meteoric rise had come to expect.
Sanchez has continued to taunt Alvarez for his style, mostly in a bid to promote the fight but perhaps also to anger Alvarez into engaging more.
“Gennady had to chase Canelo, who boasted that he was the true Mexican warrior, around the ring,” Sanchez said. “ … Compare the activity between the fighters in their first fight: Gennady did everything in that fight. Gennady wasn’t the one who got booed by the fans when those crazy scorecards were announced.
“And Gennady is going to do even more in the rematch. I read that Canelo isn’t eating beef in this camp. Let’s just hope he stopped eating duck, too.”
Sanchez is a wise boxing man and he wasn’t surprised by the style Alvarez adopted. And while he’ll likely make a few minor adjustments, it’s not likely Alvarez will do much differently on Saturday.
Former world champion Sergio Mora made the point that those who expected them to be tattooing each other repeatedly with hard combinations didn’t pay close enough attention to boxing at the highest level.
“With Canelo, you’re not going to land so many punches, especially not in combination, like some of the guys that Gennady has fought,” Mora said. “He’s not going to be there to be hit. He’s not going to be laying on the ropes, either.”
There is a fundamental truth in boxing that is often overlooked. No matter how big of a puncher a fighter is, his knockout percentage is going to decrease by the same amount that the quality of his opponent increases.
Daniel Jacobs put an end to Golovkin’s streak of 23 consecutive bouts with a finish on March 18, 2017, when he survived a fourth-round knockdown at Madison Square Garden and made it the full 12 rounds.
Why, you may ask, was Jacobs able to survive when no Golovkin opponent since Amar Amari made it the eight-round distance in June of 2008?
The answer is quite simple: Jacobs was by far the most talented fighter Golovkin met. He not only was able to take the punches Golovkin threw, but he was able to avoid others and, significantly, he was good enough offensively that he created concern for Golovkin. Having to think of defense somewhat, Golovkin wasn’t the destroyer against Jacobs that he was previously.
The same scenario played out against Alvarez. But on May 5, when for some reason Vanes Martirosyan thought it would be a good idea to go toe-to-toe with Golovkin, the fight didn’t go two full rounds.
There is little chance, though, that Alvarez will approach the rematch the same way that Martirosyan did with Golovkin. If he does, it’s likely he’ll get stopped.
What’s most likely to happen is that it will be a similar fight to the first one, with each man making adjustments. Look for Golovkin to try to keep a quicker pace, double jab and work the body. Alvarez will continue to try to move, but watch for him to stop on occasion, step to the side, throw a combination and move again.
And while there has been a lot of speculation, and rightly so, that Golovkin needs to go more to the body, the same is true of Alvarez. Golovkin is 36 and some experts believe he’s showing signs of slowing. Going to the body effectively will hasten that and could be a way for Alvarez to make Golovkin an easier target.
Alvarez fought close to a perfect fight the last time, which is why I lean to Golovkin. He has more room to grow from that first fight.
And for him to ever get back to a point where he’s compared to a legend like Hagler, he needs an authoritative victory over Alvarez on Saturday.
Expect Golovkin to rely heavily on his jab, to be more relentless in his pursuit and to work the body.
That should be enough for a 115-113 victory for him on all three scorecards.
More Canelo-GGG coverage from Yahoo Sports:
• Gennady Golovkin: ‘The kind of person who is hard not to like’
• Alvarez on Golovkin: ‘For me, it’s personal’
• Boxing experts break down the Alvarez-Golovkin rematch