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When Floyd Did Lose (And Why He Might Again)

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As a professional boxer who has plied his trade for 17 dominant years, and earned pyramid-high stacks of cash in the process, Floyd Mayweather Jr. has not had to swallow the sour taste of defeat. He is 43-0, with 26 knockouts, and aside from a few momentary hiccups , never has been seriously threatened during all that time. Even at the relatively advanced age of 36, “Money” is so confident that his oh won’t ever go that he has proclaimed himself high above the vaguest hint of failure. How could the most flawless fighter ever to lace up a pair of gloves (and if you don’t believe that, he’ll be glad to tell you again) be taken down by a mortal man? Would the mighty gods of Greek mythology atop Mount Olympus fear someone on Earth hewn of flesh and bone?

Mayweather, who puts his WBC welterweight championship on the line Saturday night against Robert Guerrero (31-1-1, 18 KOs) in a Showtime Pay-Per-View bout at Las Vegas’ MGM Grand, considers the possibility that he might not be invincible to be as ridiculous as Dr. Sheldon Cooper, the resident know-it-all on The Big Bang Theory, might the suggestion that he isn’t always the smartest guy in the room.

“Of course I feel unbeatable,” Mayweather replied to a teleconference question regarding his own towering sense of self-worth. “I’m the best. I’m not going into any fight figuring that I’m beatable. Anything is possible in life, but as far as my career, I feel I can adapt to anything.”

Ask Mayweather how he would stack up, prime on prime, with the most gifted and charismatic fighters of all time in and around his weight class – Sugar Ray Robinson, Sugar Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran, pick a legend, any legend – and the Grand Rapids, Mich., native always envisions having his hand raised in triumph. He is not so much about getting past Guerrero – or any potential victim, if he actually does fulfill the six-bouts-in-30-months terms of his contract with Showtime/CBS that conceivably could pay him up to $250 million – as he is about adding ever-higher and more ostentatious levels to the monument to himself he continues to construct.

“I want to make a legacy for myself as the greatest fighter who ever entered the ring,” he said. “Being a legend, wanting your name mentioned in the mix of other (great) fighters’ names, that’s why I work so hard right now. I’ve been fighting since 1987. I’ve been a professional for 17 years, and I’ve been dedicated to my craft.

“Last time I checked, I was 43 and 0. I’m not going to be impressed by no opponent. I’m going to go out and do what I do best, which is to always beat the opponent that’s in front of me.”

But, if you go back far enough into Mayweather’s past, it’s reasonable to assume he is as susceptible to disappointment inside the ropes as anyone else. Guerrero might hold the winning numbers to the megabucks lottery in which all of Mayweather’s wannabe dance partners are intent on playing, although it does seem a longshot proposition. A few years ago, the Powerball jackpot might or might not have gone to Manny Pacquiao, although that’s something we aren’t likely to know for sure since that superfight’s expiration date seems to have passed forever. Maybe the most dangerous future test for Floyd – the guy now cast as the Pac-Man equivalent – is WBC/WBA 154-pound champ Canelo Alvarez. We’ll just have to wait and see how Mayweather’s end game works out before offering any final judgments.

But let the record show that Floyd Jr. – just 10 when he was introduced to the family sport (Floyd Sr., who now trains his son, took Leonard into the 10th and final round before being stopped in 1978, and uncle Roger was a two-division world champion) – was 84-6 as a celebrated amateur, winning three national Golden Gloves titles and a berth on the 1996 U.S. Olympic boxing team that competed in Atlanta.

Several of those six amateur setbacks came when Floyd was a kid, still mastering the myriad nuances of boxing. But even when his undeniable skills were almost fully developed, the last of those slaps to his sensibilities came at the Olympics, which should serve as a reminder that any fight that goes to a decision, be it amateur or professional, can end with the scales of justice tipped crazily to the wrong side. Ask Roy Jones Jr. about what happened in his gold-medal bout against South Korean punching bag Park Si-Hun in the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Ask any number of pro superstars who did everything seemingly necessary to win only to be stunned when the official scorecards were announced. Big reputations are generally a plus for a fighter, but they do not offer total protection from malfeasance by pencil.

For 19-year-old Floyd Mayweather Jr., the myth of his own invincibility was shattered, if it hadn’t already been by his five previous stumbles, in the Olympic semifinals. Touted by U.S. Olympic coach Al Mitchell as the best defensive fighter on the team, and not bad on offense either, he had defeated Kazakhstan’s Bakhtiyar Tileganov (by RSC-2, the equivalent of a technical knockout), Armenia’s Artur Georgynan (16-3) and Cuba’s Lorenzo Aragon (albeit by a tight 12-11 margin in the computer-scored bout) to reach the semis, where he faced reigning world amateur champion Serafim Todorov of Bulgaria.

What happened in that matchup likely remains Mayweather’s most indelibly bad memory in boxing, and to now is the last time he did not exit the ring a winner. No, the 10-9 decision that went against Mayweather isn’t as controversial as Jones’ “loss” to Si-Hun, but that’s only because it came in the semis instead of the title match. Mayweather left Atlanta with a consolation-prize bronze medal that wasn’t really much of a consolation at all.

For those who don’t remember the particulars, here’s what happened. Although Egyptian referee Hamadi Hafez Shouman did not deduct any penalty points from Todorov, although warning him numerous times for slapping, Shouman was so convinced that Mayweather must have won that he mistakenly raised the young American’s hand after the decision was announced.

U.S. boxing team leader Gerald Smith filed a protest with AIBA, complaining not only of the failure to penalize Todorov for alleged infractions, but because he believed that Olympic officials were hesitant to take action against anyone representing the home country of Emil Jetchen, a Bulgarian who served as AIBA’s chief of judges and referees.

“We feel the officials are intimidated where anyone competing against Mr. Jetchen’s fellow countrymen do not have a chance, as demonstrated in this bout,” Smith complained in his letter. Smith also claimed that Mayweather landed clean punches that did not count, and Todorov was awarded points on occasions when he threw punches that whiffed entirely or did not land to a scoring area.

Although the ’96 U.S. boxing team was generally successful when stacked against more recent editions, like the 2012 men’s squad that went to London and failed to bring back a single medal, the overall haul – a gold for 156-pounder David Reid and bronzes to Mayweather (125 pounds), Terrance Cauthen (132), Rhoshii Wells (165) and Antonio Tarver (178) – was less than expected, or maybe even deserved.

“Mayweather was the best defensive fighter on the team,” recalled Mitchell, whose longtime gig as the head boxing coach at the U.S. Olympic Education Center in Marquette, Mich., ended in early 2009, when the program was disbanded. “What surprised me is how he pressured the Cuban (Aragon) when they fought. I told him, `You can’t just rely on your defense or you’ll lose.’ And he did step it up on offense. He really surprised me.”

And the semifinal showdown against Todorov?

“Mayweather got the shaft,” Mitchell said. “He should have gone on to the final (in which Thailand’s Kamsing Somuck defeated Todorov, 8-5) and if he had, he would have won the gold medal. No question about that in my mind. I got all those Olympic fights on tape and I look at them quite a bit. I still can’t believe they screwed him like they did.”

The unexpected hero for the U.S. was Reid, who was trailing by 10 points entering the third and final round when he unleashed a thunderbolt of an overhand right that landed flush on the jaw of the heavily favored Cuban, Alfredo Duvergel, who went down and stayed down to the count of 10. The dramatic finish meant that Reid, not Mayweather or Tarver, got the big build-up and the big contract to turn pro. It was reported that Reid received a $1.5 million signing bonus and the guarantee of a $14.4 million over the life of a five-year deal to sign with a new promotional company, America Presents, although those figures were probably exaggerated.

“It is our belief that in five years David Reid will surpass $50 million in earnings,” the president of America Presents, Dan Goossen, said at the time. “This young man is a superstar waiting to happen.”

Reid went on to have a nice, albeit brief, pro career which was shortened by a persistent droopy left eyelid that several surgeries failed to correct. He retired with a 17-2 record, with seven wins inside the distance, and won the WBA super welterweight title in only his 12th pro outing. After making two successful defenses, his championship was brutally claimed by Felix Trinidad, who overcame a third-round knockdown to floor the Philadelphian four times en route to a one-sided unanimous decision. Reid was never the same after that, going 3-1 against second-tier competition before retiring in 2001. For the past eight years Reid, who suffers from occasional bouts with depression and mood swings, has lived in a modest, two-bedroom apartment in Marquette, Mich. Almost all of his money from boxing is gone.

Contrast that with Mayweather, who signed with Top Rank, made a lot of money with that company and, after an acrimonious split with TR founder Bob Arum, makes even more now as the head of his own outfit, Mayweather Promotions. His nine previous PPV fights heading into the Guerrero bout have generated 9.6 million buys and $543 million in TV revenue, and he has appeared in the four biggest non-heavyweight PPV bouts in boxing history, No. 1 on the list being his May 5, 2005, split decision over Oscar De La Hoya, which did a whopping $136.85 million.

Life clearly is good for the Money Man, and apt to get even better if his insistence that defeat is not an option proves correct.

Still, I have to wonder if somewhere in the back of his mind is a nagging melancholia over his missed Olympic opportunity. More than a few millionaire pros have said their most lasting and satisfying memory in boxing came from representing their country on the brightly lit Olympic stage. Of course, those saying that more often than not came away with gold medals.

I would have asked Floyd about his reflections of his Olympic experience during last week’s teleconference, but a snafu with the automated process resulted in my not being placed in queue. Thus my inquiring mind did not learn if Mayweather’s psyche bears any scars from losing out on the gold he probably deserved, or if he has maintained any kind of relationship with his 1996 Olympic teammates, especially Reid.

So let’s leave it to Mitchell to fill in whatever blanks can be filled.

“I’m cool with Mayweather,” said Mitchell, whose fighters frequently work out in Mayweather’s Las Vegas gym when he and they are in town. “He treats me real good, and I think he’s gonna treat the fighters he has now (who are under contract to Mayweather Promotions) good. He takes care of them, tries to do right by them. That means so much when you’re a young fighter trying to get ahead.

“To tell the truth, he surprised me a little. Back in 1996, I thought he’d be really good, but maybe not this good. He always had lots of talent, but he’s shown he’s a smart businessman, too. He put himself in a position to succeed and he’s still succeeding.”

And is Mayweather’s relationship with other members of the ’96 U.S. Olympic boxing team as solid as with the young fighters he currently mentors?

“Until two years ago, he talked to (his former teammates) all the time,” Mitchell said. “Now … not so much. I don’t know why that is. That might be his choice. Maybe it isn’t. Time goes by and things change. Nobody said everything has to stay the same forever.

“You know, it’s kind of funny. At first, nobody on that ’96 team got along. There were about four different cliques. But in that last month before we left for Atlanta, everybody started to come together to work toward a common goal.

“Remember, that might have been America’s youngest team ever. We mostly had a bunch of kids, and they had to deal with that computer scoring. There wasn’t no boycotts either. All the big boxing countries were there.

“When people look back , they’re gonna say it was one of our better teams, no matter what the medal count was. Mayweather wasn’t the only one of our guys to get a bad decision. He just got the worst one. And you know what? They still did all right. What they did was unbelievable.”

The 1996 U.S. team produced five world champions in Mayweather, Reid, Tarver, Fernando Vargas and David Diaz. Three others – Eric Morel, Zahir Raheem and Rhoshii Wells – were challengers for widely recognized world titles. All in all, a good bit of collective success, if not exactly on a par with the renowned 1976 and ’84 squads.

Yet you wonder if Mayweather, the breakout star of that ’96 bunch, is headed for a fall if he continues to box past a point where the pendulum begins to swing back in the other direction. If Guerrero is not the pro equivalent of Serafim Todorov, isn’t it at least possible that Alvarez could be? Is there a judge or judges with faulty eyesight or a hidden bias who could contribute to the first smudge on Mayweather’s pro resume? And what if his remarkable skills eventually diminish to where he comes back to the pursuing pack?

Remember, then, Mitchell’s warning of what once was, and could be again. Nobody said everything has to stay the same forever.

It will be interesting to see how much of forever remains for the finest fighter of his era, beginning now.

 

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An Unofficial Judge Scored 9 Rounds for Canelo; Feel Free to Hoot and Holler

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auxiliary press

The auxiliary press section at the T-Mobile Arena is quite a distance from the boxing ring. I’ve been in auxiliary press sections before, but never one that was up so high. It was here that I found myself on Saturday night, peering down on the ring far below and like everyone else checking out the big screen between rounds for a closer look at key moments.

From this vantage point, the ring is both smaller and bigger. It’s bigger in the sense that it opens things up a bit. Your eyes see more space between the fighters and you are better able to judge which fighter is controlling the distance. Think of the picture from the overhead cam in a football game. Looking straight down, the playing field doesn’t look as congested. The holes that open for a North-South running back bursting into the secondary get wider and from this panorama you are better able to judge the work of the offensive line.

Having said that, this is really no place to adequately judge a boxing match, so I can be forgiven for scoring the fight 9-3 for Canelo. For what it’s worth, however, the fellow on my right had it the same. The fellow on my left had it somewhat tighter, but also scored it for Canelo. And for the record, neither of these guys were Hispanic so they weren’t blinded by tribal loyalty.

At the T-Mobile, when the main event ends, the scribes in the auxiliary press section are literally held hostage. They are prevented from going down to the post-fight press conference until the arena has thinned out.

This reporter couldn’t get his laptop to function properly and had no patience. I’m not comfortable working on my cellphone, so it was imperative that I get home in a jiff and be there when David Avila’s ringside report turned up in my e-mail. On a fight of this magnitude, the boss wants the bread-and-butter post-fight story up on the site in a hurry.

Aware of the hostage situation, and my own technological limitations, I had the foresight to scope out the arena for an escape route just in case I needed to get away fast. And so, before a hostage-taker could rope me in, I was off and running, scurrying down a little used staircase. I had my car parked in the right spot for a quick getaway, traffic was light, and I was home at my work desk in less than 30 minutes.

I didn’t wait around to hear the scores. To me it was a foregone conclusion that Canelo would have his hand raised. Heading home, I had the car radio tuned to an all-sports station. And when the scores came across the radio, I thought to myself, well, I was wrong and I was right. I thought GGG would win and I was wrong about that, but I was right, I thought to myself, that the judges would be disposed to give GGG the close rounds. In my mind, the scores (114-114 and 115-113 twice) gave GGG the best of it. Granted, several rounds were tough to score, but yet the fight wasn’t that close.

Au contraire !

To my amazement, the vast majority of those seated in the ringside press section scored the fight a draw or had it shaded toward Triple-G. In fact, according to one survey, which included those in the building and a select few watching at home or in a TV studio, only two of the 59 people that were polled had it for Canelo with 17 scoring it even. The most cantankerous of the GGG faction was ESPN analyst Teddy Atlas who apparently had it 117-112 and labeled the decision a robbery.

No I won’t defend my scoring. Let me see the fight on TV (and with the sound off, natch), and I’ll get back to you. But I’m still flabbergasted that my score was so out of whack with the consensus.

Odds and Ends

Although the fight was announced as a sellout, there were empty seats scattered around the arena. The announced attendance was 21,965, roughly 1,400 less than for the first encounter last September.

The first Canelo-GGG bout set the attendance record for an indoor fight in Nevada and came in third all-time in gate receipts, surpassed only by Mayweather-Pacquiao in 2015 and Mayweather-McGregor in August of last year. But that’s a distant third to the leader. The gross gate for Canelo-GGG I ($27,059,850) was far below Mayweather-Pacquiao which raked in an astounding $72,198,500.

Although there’s more money in circulation each year and more fat cats willing to pay an enormous sum to attend a mega-fight, I doubt the Mayweather-Pacquiao record for gate receipts will be broken any time soon.

The crowd, needless to say, was skewed heavily toward Mexicans and Mexican-Americans. And while it’s often said that members of this ethnic group are true fight fans, the reality is that when they come to Las Vegas they act just like the Anglo high rollers, which is to say that they arrive at a big fight fashionably late.

When the first of the four PPV fights started, the arena was not more than 15 percent full. When the semi-main started, the arena was perhaps one-third full, notwithstanding the fact that it was a title fight featuring a boxer from Tijuana.

The old outdoor fights at Caesars Palace were thick with celebrities who were acknowledged by the ring announcer. Saturday’s fight at the T-Mobile was something of a throwback. The roll call included movie stars Denzel Washington, Will Smith, and Mark Wahlberg, comedians Dave Chappelle and Cedric the Entertainer, and sports personalities Lebron James, Charles Barkley, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Triple H – to name just a few.

Standing in the ring as GGG and Canelo made their way from their dressing rooms was a fashionably dressed woman wearing a dress that one would associate with a Latin country. I assumed she was there to sing the Mexican National Anthem. In my younger days, the Mexican National Anthem was sung so often at big fights in Las Vegas that I could eventually mouth the words.

But no, there was no National Anthem whatsoever, neither U.S., nor Mexican, nor Kazakhstani. I was told that they did do anthems before the first of the preliminary fights. This would have been about 3:00 in the afternoon when there were not more than a few hundred people in the joint.

Was this a reaction to the brouhaha set in motion by Colin Kaepernick? That’s a fair assumption.

Not only were the anthems missing, but so also was Michael Buffer, a fixture at HBO shows for decades. I’m told that he now works exclusively for Eddie Hearn. He’ll be back on the job this coming Saturday at Wembley Stadium in London.

Joe Martinez, Buffer’s replacement, did a solid job, as did referee Benjy Estevez who was working his first big fight in Nevada. Of course, Canelo and GGG made it easy for him. No matter your opinion of the scoring, I think we can all agree that these two great warriors engaged in a very clean fight.

By all accounts, this was a very good fight for the bookies. The expectation that there would be late Canelo money in Las Vegas on Mexican Independence Day weekend wasn’t born out. At one establishment, the odds favoring GGG rose from 7/5 to 9/5 (minus-180) in the last few hours of betting. I’m told that it nicked above 2/1 at a few places offshore.

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How Much Is Left for Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez?

I first wrote about Roman Gonzalez in 2010. He was a baby-faced 105lb shotgun then, but was not widely known. I predicted that he would be the world’s number

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I first wrote about Roman Gonzalez in 2010. He was a baby-faced 105lb shotgun then, but was not widely known. I predicted that he would be the world’s number one fighter one day and also that when he eventually came undone, it would be against a southpaw.

I also predicted that, for Gonzalez, there would be no second act. Once undone, he would stay undone. Gonzalez was no Jake LaMotta, no sponge for acid, and to describe him as face first would be to do a disservice to the high guard and sleek slippage of punches that, even as a minimumweight, he was already exhibiting. I felt, however, that the purity of the violence he dealt in required a commitment that a hurtful defeat might undo. I also felt that super-flyweight would be his roof and that when he landed there he might find himself tangling with various immovable objects, where once give had been guaranteed.

So I was not surprised when southpaw superflyweight deluxe thug Srisaket Sor Rungvisai dropped him like a stone down a well late last year. I did have a bad feeling as regarded his comeback this weekend though.

An earlier aborted attempt at a return to action seemed to have been caused by the most disappointing of reasons, his perceived inability to make the 115lb limit in time. Once a fighter has decided to eat himself into the divisions above it’s rare to see him back at his old trim; the nightmarish vision of Gonzalez trying to compete with Naoya Inoue and Zolani Tete reared its ugly head momentarily, but Gonzalez set to work and made the grade, like he so often has.

A fight with Moises Fuentes at 115lbs was his reward.

Quantifying this opponent is important. Fuentes had, at one time, been ranked among the very best light-flyweights in the world. He exited that division after winning a crackling match with perennial warmonger Francisco Rodriguez and then losing by knockout to Kosoei Tanaka. After straying dangerously close to 120lbs and splitting a pair with Ulises Lara, he struggled back down to 112lbs only to be brutalized by Japanese prospect Daigo Higa in a single round. The word “shot” started to be muttered in connection with Fuentes in the wake of this result.

Gonzalez meanwhile was being marooned on the wrong side of history in his native Nicaragua as the country fell down around his ears. The political disaster wrought upon his people left him in an isolated position politically and, undoubtedly, with severe personal financial problems of his own.

So there were two desperate men sharing the ring on the undercard of Golovkin-Alvarez contest but to my eye, Gonzalez-Fuentes was far and away the most interesting match.

Gonzalez looked old and dry during the referee’s instructions, his expression hangdog, new folds of expression on his once smooth features. He looked down, not unusual, but he radiated a sliver of defeat where once there had been only surety.

Until the bell rang.

Gonzalez, in his prime, was among the best combination punches of the modern era. This has always been his stated mode of expression, eight to twelve punches his declared and terrifying target and he has proven himself capable of landing at the lower end of this range. Nor are these the “mixing” punches of, say, Joe Calzaghe, who cuffed and slapped and looked to land a meaningful punch in among the a stream of less hurtful shots. Gonzalez meant business.

As business boomed and he became the lineal flyweight champion of the world, he continued to add layers. By the time of his flyweight reign he had developed one of the most dangerous right hands in the world. He shaped it in all ways, he threw it at all ranges, he targeted head, body, chest, and such was his balance and stance that he did all of this without selling the punch. When Gonzalez dipped his left shoulder to throw a left-hook or uppercut, he could instead transplant that punch with a straight right.

Certainly not all of the above was confirmed against Fuentes. He wasn’t buying the space like he used to, developing strange angles to begin the withering barrages that we saw in his prime, but we did see him throw the same explosive and unexpected combinations, sometimes leading with the left-uppercut, a suicide punch for many fighters. And we saw him use that right hand.

We saw him feint with it to open up for the left and we saw him use it as a prop punch for a hook or uppercut, and we finally saw him unleash it, on the button, for what may be the knockout of the year.  Gonzalez rounded the brave Fuentes up, cornered him, and then knocked him unconscious with a punch that traveled through the target and “frightened” Gonzalez into thinking that he had legitimately hurt the Mexican.

His relief when Fuentes returned to us, cross-eyed and confounded, but unharmed, was palpable.

My pre-fight wish was that Gonzalez would look very bad and be forced to consider retirement, or very good, thereby hoping that my final prediction would be denied and “Chocolatito” could be declared back in the title hunt.

Though what we got is certainly more the latter than the former, in truth it is neither.

Gonzalez’s speed of foot had begun to betray him even before Rungvisai pole-axed him and although he looked sprightly at times here, he’s not going to be as quick at 115lbs as he was at 108. More, he landed a lot of punches on Fuentes and Fuentes stood up to them. When Gonzalez hit that kind of stride at 112lbs, even burning heart warriors like Akira Yaegashi wilted; Fuentes was able to rally several times which was good for the contest but makes clear that Gonzalez left his truly destructive power behind when he left his flyweight title behind. Murderous in landing the perfect shot, clubbing super-flyweight foes into submission is going to remain extremely challenging.

So when he comes up against a meaningful challenger, he will have to defeat him with craft, guile, and what remains one of the most fluid offenses in the sport. Many of his potential opponents will be faster than him and some will be able to hit as hard or harder.

Gonzalez will no doubt be in pursuit of a strap. This leaves him with three choices.

Rungvisai, the legitimate champion, we know about. Gonzalez may want a third fight and given the weakness of the matches on the most recent HBO Superfly card, it is far from impossible that it can be made. If it was made next, Rungvisai must be considered a heavy favorite.

The wonderful Filipino Jerwin Ancajas, too, holds a strap at the weight and he, too, should be avoided unless Gonzalez is determined to undertake an all-or-nothing swoop at a fighter entering his prime. This contest is not unwinnable for Gonzalez, but all things considered, it would arguably be the very best victory of his career if he were to pull it off.

Finally, there is Englishman Khalid Yafai.

Yafai is the right man. He is the type of fighter that Gonzalez has specialized in breaking since he turned pro; a fleet-footed, clever boxer short on dig and high on flurries. Yafai is definitely good enough to stay ahead for spells, he might even be good enough to win seven rounds, but he is not going to brutalize Gonzalez while he does it.    Here is a fight for a strap that Gonzalez would be favored to win.

Alas, promotional vagaries also make it the most difficult to make. But perhaps Gonzalez will bide his time. There are other meaningful contests to be made in a sprightly division undergoing yet another quality iteration.  Perhaps Gonzalez will seek a rematch with old foe Juan Francisco Estrada, still dangerous but underwhelming in his most recent contest. Perhaps a battle of the veterans can be sold to HBO and Gonzalez can tangle with Donnie Nietes. Or maybe power-brokers would be more excited to see him in with another mysterious old man from foreign shores and Gonzalez-Kazuto Ioka can be made.

These are all exciting fights and most of them can be made with a minimum of fuss.

So it’s Roman Gonzalez then, perhaps not quite back, but certainly warming up in the wings. And if the division isn’t quite trembling, it can at least be said to have thrown a quick look over its shoulder into the gathering gloom.

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A Tactical Change Paid Dividends for Canelo Alvarez vs. GGG

This past Saturday night Canelo Alvarez 50-1-2 (34) won a majority decision (114-114 and 115-113 twice) over Gennady Golovkin 38-1-1 (33) to capture Golovkin’s

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night Canelo

This past Saturday night Canelo Alvarez 50-1-2 (34) won a majority decision (114-114 and 115-113 twice) over Gennady Golovkin 38-1-1 (33) to capture Golovkin’s three middleweight title belts at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. And like their first fight last September that ended in a majority draw, the decision has provoked controversy.

The amazing thing about Canelo and GGG is how evenly they’re matched and difficult their fights are to score. I scored the rematch 6-5-1 Canelo, (after seeing the first meeting 8-4 GGG) but it was so close that it could as easily gone to Golovkin by a point. But let’s get one thing clear: This fight was too close to be considered a robbery regardless of who had their hand raised. And when you take into account that Canelo forced Golovkin to fight in retreat, landed the more eye-catching shots, worked his body from the onset, and that Golovkin’s face was much more puffed up and lumpy at the end (although Canelo was cut), no way was the decision in favor of Canelo an injustice.

Stylistically, GGG is an attacker and Canelo is a counter-puncher. However, Canelo answered Golovkin’s trainer Abel Sanchez’s call and didn’t run. No, he didn’t run in the first fight either, but in this fight, unlike the first, Canelo moved forward and initiated the exchanges. Golovkin’s jab, which is always reliable, worked overtime and kept Canelo from owning the exchanges, but like most attackers, GGG can’t hit as hard or be as effective if forced back. And because of that Canelo had no reservation in regards to forcing the fight. So when looking at what stood out the most, it was Canelo’s more imaginative offense and body punching, thus forcing Golovkin to go away from what he’s done best and in every other fight of his career, and that no doubt influenced the judges. Moreover, Golovkin noticeably flinched a few times at feints and was unwilling to pay the price of going to the body entailed to win.

Prior to the rematch it was said in this space how two things would unfold when they met the second time. Quoting from the June 20th TSS preview:

Based on the strategic options for both, Canelo has more room to be better and change things up to level the fight. And then there’s the business side of the equation and I’ve been around too long to fathom that if it’s closer this time GGG will get the decision. A Canelo win sets the rubber match up perfectly because in the eyes of boxing fans and PPV buyers they’ll view them as being 1-1. For the reasons stated above, as much as I’d like to be wrong (and there’s no fun pouring cold water on something so widely anticipated), I don’t think that will be the case. It’s a monumental reach for me to think GGG can win a decision unless he beats Canelo beyond recognition – which I don’t believe he can. Therefore Canelo-GGG goes the distance and Alvarez, being more competitive this time, gets the decision and that sets up the rubber match for Cinco De Mayo weekend 2019.

The fact is, Canelo being the more versatile fighter completely flipped the script after fighting mostly in retreat and with his back to the ropes during most of their first encounter. His aggression and willingness to stand his ground the way GGG did the first time, projected that Canelo was the more willing fighter and he was obviously rewarded for that. Granted, Golovkin really dug down and showed his strong constitution during the second half of the fight after being told by his corner he was losing. He fought a terrific fight, as did Canelo, but it wasn’t enough for GGG because he left too many rounds up for grabs, which was suicide with Canelo forcing the fight.

The result shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone, especially since the fight was so close and could come down to whose style you liked better or who you were rooting for. There was no definitive winner of this fight. Sure, a draw would’ve been a fair call. The problem with that, however, is that Team Golovkin knew they had to be more assertive and erase any semblance of doubt this time, due to GGG being excoriated in some circles for not getting off enough in the last bout and never slamming the door to prevent Canelo from tightening the fight with a rally, the way he did down the stretch. This time GGG got off a little more, but that was because he was mostly fighting to prevent Canelo from overwhelming him with his aggression. In a way it’s ironic how Canelo accepted the challenge and fought Golovkin in a more macho way and it knocked Golovkin off his game.

One tries not to be redundant, but like the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB…..boxing is a business and is star driven. Saul “Canelo” Alvarez is a superstar fighter in the eyes of the boxing establishment and many fans. There’s no guesswork needed to grasp that it’s good for business for him to keep winning. His determination, skill and toughness exhibited against a monster like Golovkin might endear him to fans more than ever. Canelo fought a better fight than the first time and put to rest the rumor that he was aided by PEDS.

The net result is exactly what the boxing establishment, not the fans, needed. And that was a win for Canelo in a fight where it was tough to pick the winner with Canelo acting as more the predator than the prey. By forcing GGG to break more exchanges, working both the body and head, along with never appearing tired or overwhelmed, it was just enough to win the borderline rounds in the eyes of the judges and tilt the fight in his favor. In fact, Golovkin, over Canelo’s protest, had Dave Moretti as a judge for the fight. He was the only judge who scored the first clash for Gennady. And this time he scored it for Canelo and may have tipped his hand when he gave the 12th round to Canelo, perhaps knowing it could swing the fight in his favor….and it did.

This decision cannot be lambasted like others we’ve seen. GGG didn’t suffer a loss of esteem in losing and Canelo finally has a statement win over a marque fighter. They’ll fight a third time and it will be perceived as a rubber match. Golovkin will be almost another year older and less than what he was this past weekend and Canelo will win more conclusively while avoiding the young lions nipping at his heels named Charlo, Saunders and Andrade.

Because boxing is and always has been star driven, Gennady just can’t put enough separation between he and Canelo to get the decision. Their rematch is one of the few fights I’ve seen that really could’ve gone either way – it’s just that a push usually goes to the combatant who is better for business.

The next time there’s a real close fight on paper, and it’s unlikely to end in a knockout or stoppage, you must ask what result better sets up the next big bout. The formula isn’t fool proof. De La Hoya-Trinidad and Pacquiao-Bradley I are glaring exceptions, but more often than not you’ll cash your ticket. In this case a Canelo win sets up fight three more than a Golovkin win would’ve….and knowing GGG won’t walk away from the fortune at stake, he’ll go for it.

Photo credit: Tom Hogan / Hoganphotos / Golden Boy Promotions

Between 1977 and 1982, Frank Lotierzo had over 50 fights in the middleweight division. He trained at Joe Frazier’s gym in Philadelphia under the tutelage of the legendary George Benton. Before joining The Sweet Science his work appeared in several prominent newsstand and digital boxing magazines and he hosted “Toe-to-Toe” on ESPN Radio. Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@gmail.com

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