No matter what happens Saturday night when Gennady Golovkin and Canelo Alvarez square off in Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena, there will be comparisons drawn between a showdown eagerly anticipated by so-called boxing purists and the one that occurred three weeks earlier, in which the sport’s reigning pay-per-view king, Floyd Mayweather Jr., scored a 10th-round stoppage of UFC sensation Conor McGregor in a crossover event that appealed mostly to non- and fringe boxing fans curious to find out what all the fuss was about. May-Mac produced bottom-line figures that likely will stand forever, and dwarf even GGG-Canelo in terms of total revenue generated.
But the upcoming referendum will not be so much about Mayweather-McGregor vs. Golovkin-Alvarez as it is about those among us who did or are about to pay up to watch two vastly different spectacles. It is a matchup that is no less compelling than those contested inside the ropes, a clash pitting the level of acceptance for the loud and profane against the silent and serious, and of style against substance.
The hook for May-Mac – could a superstar in one combat discipline be competitive in his pro debut against an established champion in that fighter’s field of expertise? – was set more deeply by the four-day, four-city, three-nation promotional tour that was marked by copious amounts of shouted expletives, snarky putdowns and preening bravado from the two principals. The worldwide public lapped up the WWE-type hysterics despite widespread media criticism that it really was much ado about nothing, that Mayweather was as much of a sure thing as one of the Castro brothers winning a post-revolution Cuban election. Oh, McGregor proved to be somewhat more competent than many anticipated, but the fight, while reasonably interesting, did not and should not have quickened anyone’s pulse. The hype was off the charts, the delivered product not so much.
In stark contrast to the circus atmosphere of May-Mac, along comes GGG-Canelo, a classic pairing of two top-of-the-line middleweights whose comparative silence in the lead-up to the most important confrontation in each man’s career has been deafening. Media access to both fighters has been limited, the outrageous sound bites attendant to May-Mac almost non-existent. Golovkin, the 35-year-old native of Kazakhstan who now resides in Los Angeles, and Alvarez, the 27-year old Mexican national hero, have been studies of laser-beam intensity, unwilling to expose themselves to the type of total scrutiny that fanned the flames of the preceding megafight. This one, which will be televised via HBO Pay Per View, is about legacy, and history, and matters that are best left close to the heart and not fodder for uninformed speculation.
“Boxing is serious. It’s not a game,” said Golovkin (37-0, 33 KOs), whose smiling, choirboy visage while not in training has become, even earlier than usual, a mask of grim determination. “When I’m talking to you (reporters) outside the ring, I’m Gennady Golovkin. When I step through the ropes I’m `Triple-G.’”
Gennady Golovkin, were he not yet in GGG mode, would have been loath to discuss personal stuff that he long has deemed to be off-limits. You won’t see him doing HBO feature spots in which he discusses the deaths of older brothers Vadim and Sergey, killed, respectively, in 1990 and ’94 while in the military, or even the recent birth of his second child, a daughter whose name has not been revealed to news organizations. Golovkin has made several trips from his training camp in Big Bear Lake, Calif., to be with his wife, Alina, but he did so in relative secrecy, without photographers in tow to snap pictures of the proud papa posing with the new addition to his family. But, really, could anyone have expected anything else? Alina does not attend her husband’s fights, and neither does his Korean mother or eight-year-old son Vadim.
“I am a boxer,” Golovkin told ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne for a story that appeared in the current edition of ESPN the Magazine. “If you’re interested, just watch my boxing, not my life.”
Alvarez (49-1-1, 34 KOs), is not quite as self-insulated as Golovkin, but, despite his burgeoning popularity in the United States as well as in his native Mexico, his seeming disinclination to learn how to speak in English (Golovkin, who came to the U.S. in 2008, became conversant through Rosetta Stone) has marginally limited his exposure in America. Like Golovkin, he has the fight of his life coming up, and with that in mind he has all but eliminated distractions to the task at hand, as his promoter, Golden Boy CEO Oscar De La Hoya, once did prior to some of his more important ring appearances
The comparative shutoff of information puts GGG-Canelo at odds not only with May-Mac, but with boxing as a whole since the transformative meeting of a brash young heavyweight named Cassius Clay and an aging, blond-tressed wrestler who called himself Gorgeous George in 1961. Clay – we knew him later on as Muhammad Ali – was in Las Vegas for his seventh pro bout, a 10-round unanimous decision over Duke Sabedong, when the 19-year-old crossed paths with Gorgeous George, in town for a match with Freddie Blassie. What GG told Clay during their five minutes together forever changed the way boxing has been pitched to audiences interested in something more than mere pugilistic skill. A lot of people want a show as well, preferably one as noisy as possible.
“A lot of people will pay to see someone shut your mouth,” Gorgeous George told the future GOAT. “So keep on bragging, keep on sassing, and always be outrageous.”
Ali, who was 74 when he died on June 3, 2016, recalled that meeting in 1969 and said he had been advised that “people would come to see me get beat. Others would come to see me win. I’ll get ’em coming and going.”
It is a trash-talking formula that continues to be the essence of pro rasslin’, and one that Ali elevated to an art form. Many have tried to tear a page from the Ali playbook, but most have lacked the charisma that he so readily brought to the table. Mayweather and McGregor did, using a carpet of f-bombs to stir the pot instead of the trite poems and derogatory nicknames for opponents that became Ali’s trademark.
Golovkin and Alvarez have refrained from the standard mud-slinging, but that is not to say there aren’t aspects of this fight that could well mark it as special as is indicated by a consensus of knowledgeable observers. Should he win, Golovkin, the WBC, WBA, IBF and IBO 160-pound titlist, will have made 19 successful middleweight defenses, within one of the division-record 20 accumulated by Bernard Hopkins from 1995-2005. More to the point, he will have done it against Canelo, who is widely considered to be the best and toughest foe he has faced as a pro. Should Golovkin win – and especially inside the distance, as has been the case in 23 of his 24 most recent fights – he figures to kick the door down to the exclusive superstars’ club, no matter how reticent he tends to be with the media.
He also has drifted at least somewhat out of character, sprinkling a few barbs in his comments about Canelo, a departure from the graciousness he always has shown to even the most outclassed of his victims. Golovkin believes he has been put on hold for this particular fight too long, if not by Alvarez himself then by De La Hoya, and that he is getting this opportunity because Alvarez’s advisers now consider him to be vulnerable after his close unanimous decision over the formidable Daniel Jacobs on March 18 in Madison Square Garden. Canelo’s most recent bout, by comparison, was a one-sided rout of Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. on May 6 in the T-Mobile Arena. Where once GGG was considered to be a significant favorite over Alvarez, the feeling now is that it’s a “pick ‘em” fight, with a growing groundswell of support for the younger man.
“I am not Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and Canelo is no Danny Jacobs,” Golovkin said. “There are no survivors in my fights.” And as if that semi-innocuous putdown weren’t enough, the Kazakh knockout artist also charged that Alvarez has violated their mostly civil protocol by making some mildly disparaging remarks about him.
“He’s like a fake,” said Golovkin, who sparred a couple of times with a still-learning Alvarez seven years ago and expressed admiration for him then. “He like a trash(-talk) guy. Not original. Originally, he’s like a warrior.”
The red-haired Canelo, poised to become the biggest PPV attraction in boxing now that Mayweather has retired again, has goals of his own to accomplish. A knockout of GGG, who hasn’t even been floored in 350-plus amateur bouts and 37 in the pros, would make him an even more bankable star, and possibly in position to supplant the great Julio Cesar Chavez Sr. as the most popular Mexican boxer ever. For his part, Golovkin, who has been trained to fight in the “Mexican style” by Abel Sanchez, has promised a “big drama show,” one that is light on out-of-the-ring histrionics and heavy on fireworks where it counts, inside the ropes.
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