The X’s and O’s of Canelo-GGG

By Gordon Marino

Mike Tyson’s trainer, Cus D’Amato, used to teach that in boxing and in life, fear is your friend. So long as you can keep the reins on it, fear sharpens your senses and makes you more alert.

Saul “Canelo” Alvarez (49-1-1, 34 KOs) has often said that he fears no man, or as he more bluntly put it to Ring Magazine, “When I was born…I never got my share of fear.” Maybe Canelo doth protest too much, but I don’t think so. I am inclined to believe that the red-headed Mexican truly has a trepidation deficit. Still, some jitters might be in order on September 16th in his middleweight championship showdown against the mighty Gennady Golovkin (37-0, 33 KOs).

One of the most potent punchers in middleweight history, GGG boasts an 89 percent knockout rate. Renowned trainer Brother Naazim Richardson describes Gennady’s power as pure “freakish”-- akin to a middleweight George Foreman, meaning his pulverizing ability is not the product of technique but a pure gift.

The Kazakhstan native can put opponents to bed with either hand. If violence can be considered as such, Gennady’s crushing left hook to the body is a thing of beauty; yet Golovkin’s trainer Abel Sanchez insists that his man’s straight right packs even more pop.

GGG is deft at setting up his punches with a thunderous straight jab that he launches with his elbow in, so as not to telegraph. Fighters who have played catcher to Gennady attest that getting tagged with his jab is like getting thumped with a right hand. I asked Abel Sanchez if Gennady didn’t knock people out of range with his overpowering jab, but Sanchez explained, “When he is using his jab to set something else up, he takes something off it.”

Richardson wisely observes that when you have the equivalent of a .357 Magnum in your pocket, you are less likely to develop nuanced boxing skills. After all, how many truly epic bangers were also superior ring technicians? For that reason, Naazim believes Alvarez’s craft is a notch above Gennady’s.

Up until his tussles with Kell Brook in September 2016 and with Danny Jacobs in March 2017, GGG seemed indomitable. Golovkin has always been known for his patience. But against both Brook and Jacobs there were moments when he seemed frustrated and started winging wide haymakers. A relentless stalker, GGG has always been disciplined about coming in behind his jab. But in his last two outings, when things got heated, he would sometimes bore straight in, leaving his jab at home.

Gennady changes levels well but he does not move his head and is an easy bullseye for anyone willing to risk decapitation by staying in the danger zone. And though he has a girder for a chin, Golovkin was strafed with impactful uppercuts and straight shots against both Brook and Jacobs. Of course, Canelo’s quick and powerful uppercut is one of his cruelest weapons.  

 
 

Canelo is one of the most highly skilled counter-punchers in the gloved game. He stays in the pocket and is bound to be trouble for fighters who unlike Mayweather, Trout, and Lara, do not pivot or slide to the side after they flurry. Canelo, who turned professional at 15, could hold a doctorate in the sweet science.

 
 

He knows how to invite punches to set up a shot. For instance, Canelo will entice his opponent’s jab, slip outside and comeback with a searing right hand; or he will slip inside the jab and deliver a sharp uppercut. Miss with a wide right and you can expect a left hook to the liver.

In dropping a close decision, Danny Jacobs took Golovkin the distance. In the process, he may have laid down part of the plan that Alvarez needs to follow to deconstruct his nemesis. Jacobs was highly effective in lamming GGG to the body. Both Canelo and GGG are possessed of that invaluable instinct to punch when their opponents are punching.

 
 

Ray Mancini says it was just an off night for GGG, but against Jacob’s body onslaught, Golovkin frequently went into a shell and covered up without returning fire. Alvarez is a body snatcher and you can expect him to slam hooks to the ribs.

Both Roy Jones Jr. and Oscar De La Hoya insist that GGG cannot fight in reverse. De La Hoya, who has been both a promoter and mentor to Canelo, is adamant that Canelo has to back up the war machine he is facing. De La Hoya suspects that the victor could well be determined by the first one to land a home run punch. Jones envisages a head-to-head battle and predicts, “The winner will be the one who dominates in the Mexican style.”

Canelo has quicker hands than GGG and is superbly coordinated. De La Hoya says Canelo’s go-to combination is the jab, right uppercut, left hook; but the immensely popular Guadalajara native boasts an unusually wide array of combinations.

For instance, I once glimpsed Canelo slip under a hook and come back with the exotic combo of a right uppercut and straight right.

Though more predictable, GGG has also something in addition to his fastball. Again, he has a matchless jab. He will use short uppercuts up the middle to open up his opponents, and then detonate a paralyzing body shot.

 
 

Take a high guard against GGG and he will slip a few inches to the side, widen the angle of his blow, and bring his pain package around your gloves.

Canelo tends to go to the ropes to catch a breather. On the strands, he likes to lure his foes into leaning in and then slam uppercuts and hooks. Roy Jones warns that, because of Gennady’s inordinate power and ability to keep a cushion for punching distance, “Canelo should not try to get away with this rope trick with GGG.”

 
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There is an age difference: GGG is 35, Canelo 27. While the former Olympian, Golovkin, has a much deeper amateur background, Brother Naazim has rightly noted, “In this case, the younger man is much more experienced.” After all, Canelo is a veteran of 14 more professional bouts and has been the protagonist in a number of mega fights, not the least of which was his respectable performance in his majority decision loss to Mayweather in 2013.

Golovkin, in contrast, and through no fault of his own, has never been in a dustup of this magnitude. Moreover, while Canelo has worked 12 rounds nine times, Gennady has only had to fight for 36 minutes once.

Abel Sanchez calmly assures that he and his charge have been training for September 16th as though it were just another fight -- but it is not just another fight and Sanchez knows it. The fighter with his hand raised will become the most famous and marketable pugilist on the planet. While GGG has proven many things, he has yet to show that he can be at his best against the best in the biggest of “big drama shows.”  Aware that the judges have always been generous to Canelo, GGG reminds, “There are no survivors in my fights.” In other words, Golovkin does not intend to make this his second trip into 12-round territory.