So this is it: the much-anticipated rematch versus the middleweight superstar slash cash cow from Mexico, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and unified WBC-WBA-IBF middleweight champion, Gennady “GGG” Golovkin from Kazakhstan. Plenty of ink has been spilled ever since the two middleweights faced off a year ago and the controversy and delayed rematch due to Alvarez PED-related suspension last spring has done nothing but fuel our eagerness to see those two settle their accounts with one another once and for all.
“Will the rematch be a carbon copy of the first one?”
“How will Alvarez perform against the boogeyman of the middleweight division now that he’s clean?”
“Golovkin is now 36 and in decline, will he hit his Waterloo in this fight?”
Simon says: that’s what we’re going to find out tomorrow night. But first, let’s speculate a little.
Much of the hype behind tomorrow night’s fight comes from the fact that both fighters have something to prove, especially in the case of Saul Alvarez. But let’s start with the reigning unified champion first. Gennady Golovkin, in spite of his boyish young looks, isn’t a spring chicken anymore. In fact he was already in his early thirties when he started to gain mainstream attention. Now at 36 (and a half), many observers claim that “Good Boy” has been in decline lately. Skeptics would counter by saying that it’s not so much that Golovkin slowed down, he simply met far better opposition in the last leg of his career, even though his detractors still claim that he hasn’t faced anyone (not sure Jacobs, Brook, Lemieux and Alvarez would agree on that one). By his own admission, even Golovkin’s wife wants him to retire. And since he told his own wife to mind her own business, I’m not sure Golovkin is ready to hand them up just yet. So he’ll have to prove to everybody, starting with himself, that he can remain a dominant force in the middleweight division and a convincing victory over Alvarez would be the best statement he could possibly make in that regard.
Now let’s talk about Canelo Alvarez, also known lately as “Clenelo”. Last spring Alvarez was suspended by the Nevada State Athletic Commission after failing a drug test. Clenbuterol, normally used to treat asthma in horses, is a drug heavily used in the fitness industry by bodybuilders and other athletes to cut a lot of weight in very little time. And since there are weight classes in combat sports such as boxing, it comes as no surprise that a fighter such as Alvarez, who usually enjoys a considerable size and strength advantage (after rehydration) over his opponents come fight night, would be using this drug. The rematch, which was initially scheduled for the “Cinco de Mayo” (May 5th), was subsequently canceled. Oh yeah, and Alvarez tested negative later on after having one of his hair analyzed (I still say they picked up one of Conan O’Brien’s pubes at a urinal nearby but hey, that’s just pure subjectivity on my part).
But of course, it’s Uncle Sam which means that money talks, BS walks, and the show, one way or the other, must go on. So the rematch, which was initially canceled last May, was finally rescheduled to September 15th. Even though the vast majority of fans are both relieved and thrilled that the rematch will finally materialize, the Mexican superstar faced a lot of backlash following his suspension. Although he vehemently repeated that he is a clean fighter who respects his sport, and that the failed drug test was simply the unfortunate result of ingested contaminated beef, very few boxing fans bought his story. And for good reason. The difference in muscularity is telling if we compare pictures of Canelo taken recently with pictures of him taken a year ago and beyond. As a result some of his fans have been giving him the middle finger ever since, labeling him yet another cheater looking for a shortcut to victory and glory. Of course his apologists would tell you that the main reason behind his smaller frame is due to the fact that Alvarez has been focusing primarily on conditioning during training camp. However his naysayers would counter by saying the only reason why he’s been focusing on conditioning is because he has no other choice should he choose to fight clean from this day forward.
Again, you’re free to believe whatever you want. One thing is for sure though: Saul Alvarez has something to prove tomorrow night, even more so than his rival. If Golovkin is beaten fair and square, he could always blame father time as the reason behind his failure, especially knowing he did well a year ago against the Mexican. But if Alvarez is beaten fair and square, it will be hard(er) for De la Hoya & friends to make him relevant again since fans and detractors alike would claim that his past success stemmed exclusively from his cheating methods. Therefore the red-headed fighter’s handlers would have to come up with some kind of mysterious injury or condition, sustained during the fight of course, with a weird name hard to pronounce, preferably in Latin (You know, to make it sound more serious and believable), in order for Alvarez to remain marketable.
The Guadalajara native improved following the clinic he received at the savvy hands of Floyd “Money” Mayweather 5 years ago. However he is now 28 years old, which means he’s in the eye of his prime years which, in turn, means that it is unlikely that he will get any better than what we’re about to witness tomorrow night. So it’s make or break for both fighters, namely the red-headed one.
I won’t lie: sometimes Abel Sanchez does get on my nerves as well. He never shies from sharing his two cents and sometimes, he sounds more melodramatic than a tragedian in a Greek play. But what GGG’s coach has been doing ever since the rematch was announced is smart in my book. He’s taunting Alvarez and tries to sting his pride and ego at every turn, repeatedly and openly accusing him of being a “runner” (disengaging from the fight), insinuating that he didn’t have the guts to stand in front of Golovkin and making it a dog fight. Of course Sanchez knows better than to believe his own claim.
Now why would Sanchez still say something like that then? And what is the purpose behind his accusation? Let me explain. Whenever Alvarez was working on the back foot, it made it harder for the older and slower reigning champion to zero in on the Mexican. For that reason, Golovkin barely did any body work against Alvarez. His combination punching was also considerably restricted due to Alvarez’s Mayweather-esque elusiveness. In other words Golovkin is far at ease against a fighter with restricted footwork, even more so against a fighter who makes the ill-advised decision of going to him. Remember the David Lemieux fight? In terms of ring IQ, that was GGG’s best (smartest) performance by far: he knew Lemieux, possessing the morphology of a pressure fighter combined with the attitude and power of a slugger, would come charging in, hoping to land that one, big shot. It never happened. It never happened because Golovkin used his superior height and his laser jab to control the distance between them. So instead of meeting Lemieux in center ring and trading bombs with him, he picked his shots wisely and patiently and relied more on proper timing and surgical precision to undo the cruder French-Canadian puncher, than on physicality and concussive punching power.
Now since Alvarez shares almost the same morphology as Lemieux (same height, same weight, almost same reach), it’s not crazy to think that Sanchez expected the shorter Alvarez to press forward and fight in the trenches against his fighter, the same way Lemieux intended to do against GGG 3 years. It actually would make sense for Sanchez to think that given that’s exactly how Alvarez fought Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., who happens to be just a quarter of an inch taller than Golovkin, four months before taking on GGG. Yet that’s not what happened when Sanchez’s protégé squared off against the Mexican sensation. That theory would explain why it took about three rounds early in the fight for Golovkin, who looked uncharacteristically gun-shy during the opening rounds, to find his rhythm. And as previously mentioned, even when Golovkin began to open up and feel more comfortable, his offense was limited by Alvarez’s footwork and overall head movement, which explains Sanchez’s constant abrasive comments directed at Alvarez. If both Alvarez and his trainer, Chepo Reynoso, take the bait, it will pay off for Team “Good Boy”.
Rationally both Reynoso and Alvarez should know better than to play chicken with Golovkin, especially knowing their strategy and overall ring tactics turned out to be fairly successful against the middleweight champion. But then again rationality and emotionalism are two polar opposites. And if Sanchez managed to have sufficiently bruised Alvarez’s ego to a point of making him fight the way he and Golovkin want him to fight, it’ll pay some serious dividends. But as they say: hope for the best, plan for the worst. Now let’s see what adjustments both fighters need to make in order to prevail tomorrow night.
1) Alternation Between Offense and Counterpunching:
Alvarez positively surprised me a year ago: his defense improved and he almost looked better moving backward than forward. He also showed he had heart and determination. That said he needs to implement more offense in his game plan instead of gambling primarily on counterpunching Golovkin. Notice that on the few occasions Canelo mounted an attack, his attempts were very successful. The combination of body work and hand speed surprised Golovkin and Alvarez was able to score some big points whenever he initiated the action instead of predominantly responding to it. Notice that while GGG was puzzled and hesitant in the opening rounds, Alvarez, meanwhile, was piling up points early in the fight; if he alternates between offense and counterpunching, he’ll keep Golovkin gun-shy and confused.
Canelo needs to use his jab a lot more. He possesses a good, crisp jab. We saw that against Chavez Jr as well as against other fighters in the past. Unfortunately, he barely used it against GGG,too hell-bent on trying to force him to commit himself in hopes of countering him. GGG’s jab is what won him his fight against Lemieux and Jacobs and that’s what, in my opinion, gave him a slight edge over Alvarez; Alvarez should thus give him a taste of his own medicine pay him back in kind whenever the opportunity presents itself.
3) Consistency and Higher Work Rate:
Last year, Alvarez discovered the trade-off of both packing a lot of extra muscle and trying to bludgeon an opponent with every shot thrown: it quickly saps your energy and forces you to work in spurts. I found that Canelo’s blows were slightly more telling than GGG’s, but the problem was that he quickly lost steam after owning GGG for about 15 to 30 seconds or so. He would clearly dominate GGG, landing hard body shots on him, only to quickly lose steam, thus forcing him to retire into the ropes to catch a breather. GGG on the other hand did a very good job at pacing himself and gauging the amount of power required behind each shot, to come on again and again. In doing so GGG was able to take rounds away from his archrival. Canelo must thus work on his stamina and if that can’t be improved, he needs to dose his own power in order to be more consistent energy-wise throughout the entirety of the fight.
1) Take Command of the Fight Immediately:
It took a few research rounds for Golovkin to really find his bearings but once he did, he was able to establish his dominance and land some good shots. That said, now that he knows what Canelo can and will likely bring to the table, “Good Boy” will have to get to work right from the opening bell in order to avoid creating swing rounds that could very well go to the younger Mexican superstar. Furthermore Golovkin knows from a psychological point of view that Alvarez has questions to answer, the main one being: “Can Alvarez compete against Golovkin for 12 rounds without his ‘Mexican beef’?” If Golovkin starts very strong, let alone hurts Alvarez in the opening rounds, it will cast serious doubt in his mind. As physically taxing as it may be, boxing still remains a predominantly psychological sport. Therefore if GGG can manage to psyche Alvarez out early on, the fight will be his.
2) Body Work:
Knowing just how good a body puncher Golovkin is, the complete absence of body work on his part came a bit as a shock. I understood perfectly well the need for Golovkin to keep a certain safe distance in order to avoid getting into a barroom brawl with the physically larger Alvarez, I do. But that still doesn’t explain the ridiculously low (7 or something?!) total amount of body punches thrown throughout the entire fight. And the thing is, Golovkin had plenty of opportunities to land solid body blows on Alvarez when he had him trapped in a corner or in the ropes. Yet for a reason that still escapes me to this day, Golovkin stubbornly kept on headhunting, which consequently allowed Alvarez to slip, ride, elude or outright escape some of those headshots. Had GGG gone downstairs, blocked or not, the torque he usually puts behind his body shots would have, at the very least, made contact and rocked Alvarez. In doing so, the force of the blows could have slowed Alvarez down and-or compromised his footing (balance), thus creating more openings for Golovkin and enabling him to renew his attack with greater efficiency.
3) Embrace Anew the Soviet School of Boxing:
Love him or hate him, Golovkin is a game fighter and a darn good one. Not only isn’t he afraid to get into a good scrap, he welcomes it with open arms. He loves the Mexican style of boxing, and we salute his cojones for it (even if Alvarez claims he has none). That said, if he wants to keep his titles, he should avoid using the very style he claims to love so dearly against a Mexican who’s younger, and just as a game and powerful as him.
Instead, Golovkin should take a stroll down memory lane and revisit certain elements of the Soviet school of boxing that he first learned back in the day in his native Kazakhstan, namely shifting and angular attacks. Now that Golovkin knows what Alvarez can bring to the table, he consequently knows what he’s up against. He was probably as impressed as we were by the defensive prowess displayed by his ginger-headed adversary. In fact, Alvarez made Golovkin miss probably more than he likes to admit. It’s probably one of the reasons why Golovkin kept his distance and scored so little downstairs in the first place; he knew that in doing so, he likely would have been countered upstairs every time. Yes, Golovkin’s jab is what made the difference in my book, yet Canelo’s evasive action and counterpunching limited the full use of GGG’s artillery.
The solution to counteract this obstacle would be for Golovkin to use angles, also known as angular attacks, as he used to earlier in his career. This is something many Eastern boxers learn to use profusely as it gives them a clear-cut edge over their opponents. Vasyl Lomachenko is probably the single best example that comes to mind in that regard. In chess, forcing the opponent to make a move that he/she doesn’t want to make is called “Zugzwang”. Translating this into boxing, whenever Lomachenko side-steps to a 45-degree angle outside his opponents’ shoulders, he’s doing exactly that; by standing outside his opponents’ shoulders, their weapons (hands) are consequently rendered temporarily harmless as they are pointing in another direction away from him. Needless to say, Lomachenko’s opponents are at their most vulnerable whenever they find themselves in such a position. In order to get out of that jam, Lomachenko’s adversaries must first turn (pivot) to face him again before they may be in a position to resume punching again. The problem is that by the time the pivot is completed, in progress, or even in its initiative phase, “Hi-Tech” has already unloaded a volley of punches before moving, yet again, to a different position outside his opponents’ shoulders where he is safe and sound. Hit and not get hit, remember? Therefore, instead of butting heads face to face with Alvarez at short range or hesitate altogether going to the body out of fear of being countered at every turn, it would be wiser for Golovkin to implement some angular attacks to his offensive repertoire. He would simply score more and eat less leather in return.
Regarding Alvarez’s tendency to disengage and strategically retreat whenever the Kazakh is on the offensive, Golovkin could simply do what he used to do not that long ago, shift. Shifting from the orthodox stance to the southpaw stance (and back to orthodox) would not only allow him to cover more distance and easily catch-up with the back-pedaling Alvarez, but it would also increase his range of motion (power) on top of putting constant pressure on the Mexican.
So that’s all for now folks. All in all I expect a good fight no matter the outcome, but I give GGG the edge simply because I don’t think Alvarez truly knows yet whether or not he can win at this level without performance enhancing drugs. Remember, he’s not fighting a welterweight, a has-been (GGG is aging but still a top fighter) or a boxer brittle at 140lbs (Amir Kahn). That said, I could be wrong. One thing is for sure though: the opening rounds will dictate, in my opinion, the outcome of the fight. It’s imperative for Alvarez to start strong in order for him to gain confidence and convince himself and the world that he can compete drug-free at world-class level. If he does that, he’ll gain enough confidence throughout the fight to win it as I believe he’s in better condition this time around. No excess muscle. No drastic, last-minute draining to make weight.
At the other side of the spectrum it’s just as important for Golovkin to convincingly win the opening rounds in hopes of psyching Alvarez out. He paces himself well throughout the fight, but he would catch Alvarez with his pants down should he choose to come to make a statement right after the opening bell.
I’d love to share with you what’s in store regarding my next article, but truth be told: I don’t have the slightest clue. I guess I’ll just play it by ear. 2018 may be slowly coming to an end but we still have great fights on the menu coming up. Yes, we are spoiled and we deserve it.
Simon says: who do you got in the rematch?