By Gordon Marino
Among recent marquee fights, Gennady “GGG” Golovkin (38-0-1, 34 KOs) and Saul “Canelo” Alvarez’s (49-1-2, 34 KOs) much-anticipated pay-per-view rematch rivals that of 2015’s Mayweather-Pacquiao. Two power punching skilled boxers with cast iron chins and blood in the eye for one another is a sure recipe for what GGG famously refers to as a “big drama show.”
Make no mistake about it, Alvarez is boxing’s cash machine and that can carry some sway. When the Mexican super-star was schooled by Floyd Mayweather in 2013, one judge remarkably scored the fight a draw. In his first meeting with Golovkin, one judge came to the surreal verdict that Alvarez had won 10 of the 12 rounds.
Golovkin has notched 18 knockouts in 20 title tussles. Many boxing scribes believe that it would be a mistake for GGG to let the rematch go to the scorecards. This puts some added weight on the knockout artist with the swimmer’s physique. After all, an overeager puncher intent on putting his rival to sleep runs the risk of tensing up and telegraphing his shots; a case in point was Hagler’s loss in 1987 to Sugar Ray Leonard.
Alvarez, who has more experience on the big stage than GGG, will also carry some emotional baggage into the ring. There is the controversy about the verdict in the first fight. That stung, and to drive the barbs even deeper, Canelo was roundly criticized for running rather than fighting in their first encounter. Finally, Alvarez suffered the indignity of having to withdraw from their 2018 Cinco de Mayo rematch after testing positive for Clenbuterol, a banned substance. The Guadalajara phenom who started punching for dollars at the tender age of 15 must feel as though his gladiatorial reputation is at stake. This could lure him into the kind of shoot-out that would play into the heavy hands of Golovkin’s superior power. Indeed, Alvarez’s promoter, Oscar De La Hoya said, “I have never seen Canelo train so angry.” According to Oscar, Alvarez is adamant that he is going to knock out Golovkin out, even though GGG has never been down in 353 amateur bouts and 39 pro fights.
Nevertheless, both the principals have high boxing IQ’s and are not likely to let their emotions grab the steering wheel of their ring strategy. But there is room for improvement in both corners. Here are three ways that Canelo and GGG could better their first performance.
Canelo is one of the premier counterpunchers in boxing and he boasts the best counter-right uppercut in the gloved game. In their 36 minutes together, he was able to repeatedly plant that punch on GGG, who when inside, tends to get low and lean forward. But Canelo sat back and took a picture rather than following up. On Saturday, GGG will be relentlessly stalking Canelo. It is the only way he fights. Percentage-wise, the Kazakhstan native lands his shots at a higher rate than any of his boxing brethren (40 %) but he does not move his head, often has his weight on his front foot, and is relatively easy to hit. When Canelo catches GGG, he has to finish with another combination, much as he did in the final frame of the first fight. He has to back Golovkin up; like most aggressive fighters with sleep-producing power, GGG does not know how to fight when his motor is in reverse.
Canelo has an unfortunate habit of going to the ropes to catch a breather. He is masterful at fighting off the strands but it is a losing strategy with GGG. Golovkin is terrific at keeping his distance and bludgeoning his foes when he has them pinned to the ropes. In their first match-up, when Canelo went to the perimeter, GGG punished him with thumping jabs and thunderous rights. While he does not have GGG’s concussive power, Canelo has faster hands and is arguably a superior boxer, so there is every reason to keep the battle in the center of the ring. Accomplishing this will require that Canelo be in the best condition of his career.
In rumble number one, GGG pummeled Canelo with his jab. According to CompuBox GGG pulled the trigger on 100 more jabs than Canelo and he landed almost twice as many, 108 to 55. Golovkin lacks Camacho-like hand speed, but his mega-ton power jab is straight; he keeps his elbow in and does not telegraph it. He uses it together with a short left uppercut to open up his opponent down the middle. In the sequel, whether it be slipping, parrying, or more right hand counters to make GGG think thrice about pumping his left, Canelo needs to do a better job of neutralizing GGG’s jab.
Golovkin is a virtuoso at cutting off the ring, but GGG’s friend Freddie Roach, who is predicting a Canelo victory, insists that GGG has to score a stoppage. As Roach sees it, that means getting Canelo against the ropes and keeping him there. Roach believes that at 36, GGG’s footspeed has taken a hit from father time and that was the reason Canelo was able to escape when Golovkin seemed to have Canelo trapped. Hall of Famer Ray Mancini told me that he thinks GGG had a tougher time than usual because the fighter, ranked as pound-for-pound best by Ring Magazine, was stale from overtraining. Mancini explained, “In order to cut off the ring, you need to be able to change speeds.” And while “Boom Boom” had GGG winning, he thought Gennady was too flat to change gears. Golovkin took two or three rounds to get his war machine humming but when GGG had his man pinned, Canelo would often slip out the side door to his left, compromising GGG’s ability to bring his crushing left hook behind his right.
A key to boxing greatness is punching when your opponent is punching. Golovkin has always demonstrated the grit and ability to stay in the pocket, firing away in the face of incoming. Example: In GGG’s third round knockout of Daniel Geale, Golovkin is tagged with a right but simultaneously delivers a “nighty night” right of his own to the Aussie. In 2017, especially in the early frames, when Canelo attacked or countered, GGG frequently pulled back and out of range. As a result, Gennady was often unable answer Canelo’s blows with his signature left-hook or straight right. Pressed on this point, Golovkin’s trainer, Abel Sanchez, succinctly stated, “We are working on correcting that.”
Canelo has a durable neural circuitry. Like Ali and Cesar Chavez Sr., he can see punches coming and he is adroit at whipping his head and turning with shots. When they met last year, Canelo rolled with GGG’s blows, vastly diminishing their power.
Golovkin is a renown body puncher. Consider his 2013 third round knockout of Matthew Macklin with a left hook to the body that broke two ribs.
If GGG is going to derail Canelo, it is not going to be with one bomb. He will have to break him down. GGG must invest in body work but that is not without its perils. As Larry Holmes once explained, going downstairs can leave a fighter vulnerable to headshots but if Golovkin wants a decisive victory, it’s a risk worth taking. Even if it adds a bit more drama to the show than he had in mind.