One of the most anticipated match-ups in recent boxing history is finally over. The fight was an entertaining spectacle and ended in a controversial draw.
This anti-climactic outcome highlighted the main problem in combat sports: how difficult it is to score fights. It is important to understand that fans use different criteria than judges do.
In this fight, if you score the fight using a point fighting system where you count all the insignificant jabs thrown by Golovkin, landing on the gloves, missing or barely touching Canelo, as actual landed shots, then you will surely pick Golovkin as the winner. Canelo on the other hand landed the harder shots, and did so consistently as you will see in the analysis below.
If you value damage and aggression with fight-ending potential, Canelo was the one landing bombs. If you prefer volume and pressing the action offensively going forward then of course you have to go with GGG.
Being aggressive gives the impression of dominance. Judges look for effective aggression, where the aggressor consistently lands while avoiding his opponent’s punches. GGG was consistently on the offense but Canelo was able to counter GGGs aggression and make him pay for missing several times.
Only a couple of Golovkin’s punches had a fight ending potential. On the other hand Canelo landed some bombs which would stop 99% of boxers out there.
Another reason GGG seemed to press the action is because Canelo chose to stay with his back on the ropes trying to play counter-puncher. Look at the gif below as Canelo comes back to the ropes with his hands up for no particular reason:
Canelo’s Defensive Gameplan
I believe that Canelo worked a lot on defense and tried to demonstrate his defensive skills in this fight. Unfortunately when you have two KO artists fight and one suddenly decides to become a counterpuncher, fans will often interpret this defensive tactic as running. To make it clear: Canelo was never running. He is a rare combination of a counterpuncher with power. Here is a video showcasing Canelo’s training in defensive maneuvers.
In order to be a good counter-puncher you need to be constantly resetting to the center of the ring like Mayweather does. This breaks your opponents’ rhythm.
As analyzed below, Canelo exhibited great head movement and counters. However he seemed not to care about jabs landing on his forehead, a tactic often used by boxers when trying to close the distance and this is a mistake as these punches count negatively both in the eyes of the fans and the judges.
GGG’s Experience and Toughness
The difference in experience was visible in this fight. When GGG felt Canelo’s power and speed, he made adjustments by not committing to his punches in order to avoid getting countered and also to overwhelm Alvarez with volume without getting exhausted.
It is difficult to tell if a punch lands when a boxer keeps throwing in a machinegun-like fashion. Only when you watch the footage in slow motion can you be sure that a punch landed and this is only possible when the camera angle is right.
Canelo on the other hand was trying to prove a point that he is the better boxer, thus forgetting that in the eyes of the fans and the judges, volume punching and aggression matters.
Overall it was a close competitive fight and it was not as dominant a performance by Golovkin as most boxing analysts seem to believe. I was impressed with GGG’s resilience, chin, cardio and mental toughness and by Canelo’s counter-punching and slick movement.
I have to admit that when I watched the fight in slow motion to get the clips for this article, I had a hard time finding clips of GGG landing clearly. He landed mostly with jabs on the forehead and there is no need to analyze these single punches here.
After this second viewing I now believe that Canelo was the most effective puncher in terms of damage. That being said, I can understand why, on a point-fighting basis other analysts pick GGG as the winner. The good thing with the draw is we will probably get to see them fight again.
Either way, let's analyze some techniques and combinations & leave scoring to the judges.
Gennady Gennadyevich Golovkin (GGG)
Please make sure to watch this highlight video with all of GGG’s punches before we continue to analyze below:
As you can see above, Golovkin mostly attacked with single and double jabs in combination with some right hands, but did not use a lot of hooks and body shots. Punches like these were nowhere to be seen in this fight.
That being said, GGG used footwork, body positioning and his constant jab to make Canelo work. Let’s examine some of his moves.
This is a subtle move and a great one to apply using footwork. As I have analyzed in previous posts, a fighter should not allow opponents to move towards his side where they can have a clear view of his ear. In the sequence above, Canelo ducks under the jab and tries to move towards his opponent’s side. Notice that in photo 3, as soon as Canelo goes near GGG’s elbow, Golovkin pulls back, pivots on his back foot to correct his stance and keep Alvarez in front of him while keeping him away with jabs. A less experienced fighter than Golovkin would attack with right hands. You need to attack with the limb which is located in the direction your opponent is moving towards. Not the opposite side. That is how you keep having power in your shots and stay in balance.
Here GGG attacks with a jab and a right cross. Canelo slips the right hand and Golovkin attacks with a liver punch and traps Alvarez’s left hand with his right, pushing it down. This creates a gap in Canelos’ guard and GGG attacks with a jab/hook hybrid right in the middle. Canelo pulls back and escapes.
Here is a classic jab, right uppercut, left hook combination by Golovkin. When attacking with right uppercuts, it is important for your right hand to come back in defense of your head as you attack with the left hook. Notice GGG pulling the hand back in place.
This is GGG’s best punch in the fight. As Golovkin is attacking with jabs, Canelo parries one of them and tries to attack with a left hook while pivoting to his left. GGG slips the hook and attacks with a vicious overhand right which lands flush. Canelo’s positioning is bad in photos 4 and 5 as GGG can clearly see the side of Alvarez’s head. Also pivoting towards your opponents power punch (before he throws one) is never a good idea. You need to first step left, move the head out of the way and then pivot.
This is a beautiful jab, left hook to the body, left uppercut combo. Attacking with left-right-left combos makes the combination patterns predictable. Double jabs, left hooks to the body to left hooks are great combos to mix things up in your offensive output.
This is another example of Golovkin applying offensive pressure. He attacks with two jabs, a right uppercut, left hook to the body and finishes with two jabs again. This usage of jabs is a great tactic. In mitt-work sessions I make my students follow Floyd Mayweather Sr.’s rule of starting and finishing all combos with double jabs. This is called “jab-in“ to “jab-out“. Jabs look harmless but are a great tool to frustrate opponents, control the distance and the pace of a fight.
This is a beautiful punch and GGG was able to apply it at least twice in the fight. Notice how he closes the distance with a jab, steps to the right, pivots slightly and attacks with a left uppercut under Canelo’s guard.
This is a sequence where both fighters connect and a “tale of two left hooks”. As GGG attacks with a jab-cross combo connecting on Canelo’s chin, Canelo comes back with a right cross-left hook. Golovkin slips the cross and attacks with a left hook of his own. Both hooks launch at the same time but GGG’s weight is on the front foot while Canelo moves his weight on the right foot while pulling back. The result is Canelo connects and GGG misses. I personally like to teach this pulling back left hook as it is a great way to get your head out of the way, load with power and counter attack.
Here is Lamon Brewster teaching this great punch:
Saúl "Canelo" Álvarez
As you can see in the highlight below, Canelo has glimpses of brilliance in this fight while following a really bad gameplan of fighting with his back against the ropes which almost cost him the fight. On the other hand he landed punches so hard you could hear them explode throughout the fight. Here is a highlight of his greatest punches:
Golovkin throws a lazy jab and Canelo steps to the right and attacks with the right hand as his head moves forward. If this is not a knockout punch I don’t know what is. GGG has a very durable chin. This is Canelo’s right cross, slugger-type punch landing flush and Golovkin does not even back up. This is a punch commonly used in MMA.
Here is the punch applied in fight-ending fashion:
As I mentioned before, Canelo exhibited great defense making a great offensive boxer like Golovking miss consistently. Here is Canelo escaping from eight punches in a row.
Unfortunately, this great exhibition of technique is simply referred to as “running” by some viewers.
To some, Canelo was supposedly running throughout the fight and gassed in the last rounds. Here he is in round 12, landing seven unanswered shots on GGG. Great combination: jab-right cross-left hook-right uppercut-left hand, right cross, left hook.
This is a simple yet effective counterpunch. Canelo attacks with a jab and moves left. GGG attacks with a looping right hand which Canelo slips and attacks with a vicious left hook to the body. This landed on the hip but is nevertheless a great counterattack.
GGG attacks with a jab-right cross. Canelo rolls under and attacks with a right uppercut. He immediately pivots to his left while keeping the right hand up to protect from Golovkins left hook.
In this Tyson-like sequence, Canelo attacks with a jab, right hook to the body, left hook combo.
GGG jabs and Canelo parries and attacks with a right cross. Golovkin slips the cross and attacks with a cross of his own. Alvarez rolls under and connects with a beautiful left hook to the body. This is high level boxing.
The problem when attacking with lead right hands without pre-emptively moving your head out of the way after the punch (like Mayweather does), is you can get punched right back. Especially if your opponent uses a pulled-back stance with the weight on his back foot. The opponent can reach you back covering distance without having to step in. Here GGG attacks with a lead right hand from his crouching stance, connecting on Canelo’s forehead and Canelo connects flush with a right hand of his own.
Canelo attacks with a jab and Golovkin attacks with a left hook. Both fighter pivot left, and Canelo attacks with a left hook to the body. This constant footwork can only been seen in boxing and MMA fighters need to work more on attacking while constantly changing angles.
This is again a “tale of two left hooks”. GGG slips a jab, changes levels and explodes with a left hook with his weight on the left foot. Canelo, using the old school stance with the weight on the back foot just pulls back and catches Golovkin with a left hook, while moving to his left. Notice Canelo’s footwork.
GGG attacks with an overextending jab. Canelo slips left, steps left, attacks with a left hook to the body while pivoting away. This is nice explosive counter-attack for fighters to try. If this was a kickboxing match, a right high kick would be a great follow up attack.
This is one of the most vicious uppercuts I have ever seen and would hurt most other fighters. Golovkin jabs and moves his head close to his opponent’s head. Canelo drops his weight changing levels and comes back up with a powerful right uppercut followed by a left pivot. GGG misses with a left hook, right cross.
This is a great example of Canelo’s left pivot escapes. He used such escapes several times in this fight. Golovkin attacks with a jab-right cross. Notice in photo 4 above, how Canelo turns his left foot with the heel pointing in the direction he is about to go and pushes with his right foot to gain momentum. As he pivots on the left foot, he pushes the right foot to the back in order to go back to his orthodox stance. Canelo used this move very effectively, however his chin was way higher than it needs to be. It would be better to combine with a left check hook or a jab and keep his chin down.
Both fighters in a crouching stance and it’s hammer-time as Canelo attacks with a right hand to the body, a liver punch and finishes on top with a short right cross. Watch GGG’s head bounce back.
Hammer-time part two. Both fighters again in a crouching stance. Golovkin attacks with a left uppercut and Canello blocks and comes back with with a right uppercut-left hook to the body-forearm check-right cross. The forearm check is a great way to measure and keep distance.
This was a very enjoyable fight to analyze. Thank you for your patience. Please join us next week for more MMA oriented technical analysis. I plan to analyze all future high profile boxing fights in this series on Bloodyelbow. For more boxing related coverage please visit Badlefthook.com
About the Author: Kostas Fantaousakis is a researcher of fighting concepts, tactics, and techniques, and a state-certified MMA, grappling, and wrestling coach in Greece. He teaches his unique Speedforce MMA mittwork system © which combines strikes, takedowns, knees, and elbows applied in the Continuous Feedback © mittwork system of the Mayweather family. Kostas is a brown belt in BJJ under MMA veteran and BJJ world champion Wander Braga (the teacher of Gabriel Napao Gonzaga).