Canelo Alvarez vs. Gennady Golovkin this September 15, 2018, at T-Mobile Arena on the Las Vegas Strip
One sentence summary
David: Hold onto your butts...
Phil: Pressure vs power, redux
Record: Canelo Alvarez 49-1-2 Draw Gennady Golovkin 38-1 Draw
Odds: Canelo Alvarez +125 Gennady Golovkin -155
History / Introduction to both fighters
David: Canelo has been hyped up ever since he won silver at the Junior Mexican Nationals in 2004. Since then, he’s been brandishing opponents with that patented right hand of his. His only loss was to Floyd Mayweather Jr., much like Conor McGregor. Ho, ho. Can we use this opportunity to address the donks who believe McGregor could be a boxing great just because he lasted 10 rounds with Floyd, and landed more punches than other elite boxers against Floyd? Wait...hammerfists count? Ok. I stand corrected. As long as Conor gets the winner, and Dana takes his head-boiling introduction of Conor to its natural conclusion: spontaneous combustion.
Phil: We compared Mayweather to a stock-picker, and it remains perhaps his greatest singular trait: the ability to pick off opponents at just the right moment. He got Canelo when he was still just about raw enough that Mayweather won an easy decision (CJ Ross’ career-endingly poor card aside), whereas McGregor was just money, and lots of it, for a Floyd who was on the physical downslope. The Alvarez pick was a smart one because he was primed to be the next face of boxing. So far, the numbers he pulls in and his level of craft back that up. He’s less of the thrilling brawler than a celtic-looking Mexican knockout puncher might be expected to be, and a lot more of a cautious modern boxing product. Still a lot of fun to watch, though.
David: Like Alvarez, Golovkin has 34 knockouts (though in less fights), and it all began in Germany. Eventually he came to the states, and burned through everyone stuck in his path until he fought Canelo. Unlike MMA, labels in boxing are inherently more encompassing of multiple traits. Golovkin is a puncher. But he’s a brilliant puncher; because his significant strikes are set up in literally hundreds of different ways. This isn’t necessarily a boxing vs. MMA debate so much as a statement of craft. MMA is simply a younger sport, so the nuances within each style aren’t as fleshed out. But it’s also a function of how seriously the sport itself is taken. Boxing has an ameteur circuit, and a world stage like the Olympics to finetune its stars. MMA has a reality show, and “six figure contracts.”
Phil: GGG is one of those fighters, like Robbie Lawler, who pretty much puts to bed the idea that mainstream combat sports success is tied to some intrinsic measure of entertainment. “This guy is thrilling to watch, he could be a star” is a consistent hardcore mantra, which just rarely comes to be. 13 years into a pro fighting career, with a solid amateur run behind him, Golovkin is one of the most entertaining fighters in the sport, and he’s just about gotten into the marquee paydays. Whether due to a struggle to navigate the complexities of boxing politics, or a puzzling inability to connect, or some kind of feedback and connection between the two, at 36 years old it feels like this is perhaps Golovkin’s last chance to announce himself as one of the greats.
What’s at stake?
David: Why bother? Two of the best boxers of their era are facing off. We know the stakes. The real question is: do the photoshoppers? As much as I like the splice effect, it just makes both men look like Urijah Faber has been liquified. This is more like it.
Phil: That Sady Canadyevich Alvarovkin picture will haunt my dreams. Thanks.
Where do they want it?
David: It’s fitting that we just previewed a Tyron Woodley fight. Calm down, boxing nerds. No, Woodley’s striking isn’t comparable to Canelo, but the two operate with similar philosophies. Canelo is a brawler in a puncher’s body. He uses deft head movement, and vision to identify punch sequences he will invariably counter. He’s a lot like Crying Wolf from MGS. You have pinpoint specific moments to make him vulnerable. Find the moments when Canelo doesn’t have that predator camo. Canelo, of course, doesn’t let people do this. He’s at his weakest when he’s shooting that rail gun of a right hand of is, making the prospect of either pressuring him or catching him with a counter a fool’s errand. With thudding power, Canelo switches high and low to land strikes only selectively using the jab. Sometimes that jab selection is costly because judges hate inactivity. But for Canelo, it serves the dual purpose of hoarding counter shots in his arsenal, and catching opponents off guard when he decides to either pressure, or attempt a punch entry that otherwise wasn’t available. His movement is a little stiff, but it’s necessary for his style — his posture maximizes the velocity on his counterattacks, and it allows him to focus on moving his head instead of pedaling back or forward.
Phil: I still remember people talking about how Canelo was supposed to get to Mayweather - he’d push him down, work him to the body, pressure and bully the smaller man. Then people watched the actual fight and realized: hey, he’s not that guy at all, is he? Patient to a fault, Alvarez has blazing fast handspeed while remaining something of a plodder. If we’re referencing back to last weekend’s fight, I think perhaps he’s even closer to Darren Till - he leverages a size advantage well, and pressures well with feints. However, as you mentioned, he’s an infinitely better counterpuncher than either man (or indeed pretty much anyone in MMA). He’s also a surprisingly subtle fighter, who can set multilayered traps (and I reference Connor’s excellent piece here). Like many cerebral fighters, he’s stubborn in refusing to accept that he can be outsmarted. This was reflected in the way that he just gave away rounds to GGG and Mayweather via a bullheaded belief in his counterpunching game.
David: I’m trying to think of an MMA corollary for GGG, and the closest I can think of is Joanna Jedrzjzcyk (don’t @ me). Part of Golovkin’s brilliance occurs in between his punches rather than the punches themselves. Golovkin doesn’t just kill people with fists because he hits hard, but because he knows how to pace his strikes. He knows how to operate with rhythm. Remember how annoying Sagat was in the arcade when we were eight, and still using quarters to pay for video games? It wasn’t just that Sagat had powerful projectiles. It’s that his projectiles had different rhythms at different latitudes. Golovkin is active, but his activity doesn’t change his ability to adjust, switch, or direct. His right hand can smack, come in slow, or wind around traditional defenses. Worse yet (for opponents) — he has a tracker’s instinct. Opponents can’t just limp leg their way out of an attack. And if by some chance, they’ve managed to crack back, Golovkin just eats the punch, and continues forward.
Phil: Golovkin combines a terrifying puncher’s acumen with one of the best chins in the sport. This in and of itself would make him a horror. If he was just the brawler which he is sometimes portrayed as, and he just went straight after his opponents and tried to punch them to death, then he’d still be problematic. But as you mentioned, it’s that ability to wind craft into the pressure which makes it world-class. He works off a thudding jab which breaks his opponents down at least as much as the body work and the big right hand, and maintains an uncomfortable distance just in front of his opponent at all times. Fighters like Danny Jacobs have had success in keeping him moving forward and drawing him onto shots, but in the end Jacobs wore himself out trying to escape from GGG’s tireless pressure.
Insight from past fights
David: The last fight provided plenty of insight, though not much closure. Golovkin specializes in pressuring, and closing off escape routes. Alvarez will light a fire INSIDE the escape route if he has to. Neither guy was interested in budging, so we got what we got: a blistering chess match. The only way fortunes change for GGG in his favor is if he can land shots to Canelo’s body.
Phil: Their previous fight was strange and fascinating. GGG kept his big bombs shelved for much of the fight, and pressured behind short combinations where he pulled his power. Meanwhile, Alvarez hunted (sometimes fruitlessly) for the perfect counter to a GGG who was proving to be far more cautious and canny than he expected. In the end it was a bout where Alvarez landed the power and GGG landed the volume, where GGG had success early and Canelo did well late. I’m not sure how many people expected quite that dynamic. I sure didn’t.
David: Unlike in MMA, where the sport serves as it’s own x-factor, any potential influences will come with tactical changes rather than mysterious subatomic forces.
Phil: Gotta be Father Time for GGG. He was his same tireless self against Alvarez, but he’s still a 36 year old man who needs to make up a fairly significant size differential by walking through shots. Alvarez hit him with the exact shot which insta-deaded Amir Khan and it barely phased him, but how long does that kind of durability last?
Phil: I never quite bought into the robbery cries the last time around. GGG is a sentimental favourite, and I think people gave perhaps a bit too much credence to his glancing shots by assigning a significance to them which wasn’t reflected by Canelo’s actual reactions- assuming that if GGG is hitting someone then they must be hurt. Regardless, it was a close fight, but one where I think the adaptions to be made probably favour the younger fighter: don’t get trapped on the ring, don’t worry about tying up with the smaller man (Canelo won most of their clinch exchanges), and invest in body work earlier. The first one was great, hopefully this one is too. Canelo Alvarez by unanimous decision.
David: It’s been awhile since we agreed (I think), but we agree here. Alvarez needs to adjust, but are his adjustments as crucial in proportion to the effects the fight game has had on Golovkin? I don’t so, personally. Alvarez can still afford to be himself, whereas triple G needs to hope that he’s got enough of himself left to adjust, and then capitalize. Canelo Alvarez by Decision.