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Hands of Stone, Marvelous Marv, and Billy D

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512x 6e2e1Long ago—November 10, 1983—you had to leave home if you wanted to see a big fight live. The only alternative to being ringside was watching a big-screen broadcast in arenas, theaters, or auditoriums, in what was known as closed-circuit television.

I caught the Amtrak from Stamford to Providence, where my brother Pete, one year older, was a freshman at Providence College. We would go to the Providence Civic Center to watch Roberto Duran, the Hands of Stone, take on Marvelous Marvin Hagler for the middleweight title in Las Vegas.

We had been Duran fans for years, captured by the ferocity of his fighting style and also, strangely, by his refusal to observe rudimentary standards of sportsmanship—a quality we never admired in anyone else. Had Duran come along when we were older and less in need of outlaw heroes, we might have disliked him. The past June, we had listened to radio updates on 1010 WINS, as Duran separated Davey Moore from his future in eight brutal rounds in Madison Square Garden and won a piece of the junior middleweight championship, his third world title in as many weight classes. We found an old dropcloth, spread it out on the floor of our garage, and wrote roberto duran rules in heavy black letters. We hung it up on the chain-link fence by the high school football field for the whole town to read in the morning.

The Moore win was Roberto’s redemption for the No Mas fight of November 1980, when he quit in the eighth round of his rematch with Sugar Ray Leonard. He’d won acclaim as an all-time great when he beat Leonard in their first fight for the welterweight title. Now the shame of No Mas—an event still debated today—sent Duran spiraling downward. He gained weight, lost his edge, and started losing fights, too. Most boxing people wrote him off. Now he was on top of the world again, fighting for a fourth world title and a $4 million payday against Hagler, who would earn about $8 million. It was Hagler’s first big-money fight. Leonard had retired the year before, and Hagler hoped to replace him as boxing’s superstar. Pete didn’t like Duran’s chances, and I wasn’t so sure myself. All I knew was that he had to box; he couldn’t go rushing in against Hagler the way he had against Leonard. Hagler was a natural 160-pounder; Roberto was coming up from 154, and before that, 147, and before that, 135. I thought he could frustrate Hagler, unless Hagler just blew him away. That’s what’d he’d been doing to everyone else—Alan Minter, Fulgencio Obelmejias, Tony Sibson, Mustafa Hamsho, William “Caveman” Lee, and Wilford Scypion.

I got a cab from the train station to the Providence College campus, where the door to Pete’s dorm room, in Stephens Hall, was open, with people coming in and out. Among them was one of the tallest people I’d ever seen: Ernie “Pop” Lewis, a freshman forward on PC’s basketball team. With him was a freshman guard named Billy Donovan, who reminded me of Richie Cunningham. Pop and Billy spent most of their time on the bench. Basketball at PC had fallen off a cliff; the golden days of the fifties and sixties, and the culminating glory, a 1973 Final Four appearance, belonged to some other time. College sports were an empire now, and the Friars were vassals in the powerhouse Big East Conference.

Everyone wanted to talk about the fight.

“Hagler will kill Duran!” one guy with a thick Massachusetts accent said.

“Two or three rounds at the most.” His loyalties were clear: Hagler was from Brockton, Rocky Marciano’s hometown, though he spent his childhood years in Newark, until the 1967 riots destroyed the tenement he lived in with his mother. Before the mayhem ended, 12-year-old Marvin and his mother crawled on the floor of their apartment to avoid getting sprayed with bullets through the windows.

“Duran has never been knocked out,” someone else said.

“Hagler hasn’t fought anybody.”

“Duran is a quitter,” another guy said. “I saw him against Sugar Ray. Who quits a fight?”

“He didn’t quit, that fight was fixed,” said still another. The boxing expertise in the room was used up quickly.

From what I saw of it, Providence was bleak, or “gritty” in the preferred euphemism. The city had endured a long economic decline and was rife with mob influence. Its mayor was soon to be convicted of assault and forced from office. Only the Capitol building’s impressive dome suggested a future. The decade-old Providence Civic Center looked like just another generic indoor arena (it is known today as the Dunkin Donuts Center, or the Dunk). But it was packed with fans, and their loyalties seemed curiously split. Hagler should have had a New England advantage; he had even fought in the Civic Center earlier in 1983, stopping Scypion in four rounds. But Duran fans were out in force, as always. They roared every time his face appeared on the giant screen.

                                                                             *******
It became clear right off that Roberto had a plan: to wait on Hagler and counterpunch. Hagler didn’t like being the guy who had to lead, and so he went after Duran only in mid-gear. Duran stood back, letting Hagler come to him, sneaking in right hands when he could. Some got through. Hagler did best with his jarring southpaw jab, but he didn’t seem quite himself. I told myself that Duran had won three of the first five rounds, though they were all close.

“He’s outboxing him,” I told Pete, who was unconvinced.

The sixth round changed the fight. Hagler’s cornermen, Goody and Pat Petronelli, offering gentle criticism—“You’re a little tight, Marv”—sent Hagler out to be more aggressive, and he pounded Duran at close quarters with uppercuts. Duran had long been an unheralded defensive fighter, blessed with reflexes and judgment that allowed him to move his head in anticipation of punches—sliding and slipping, mimicking the punch’s trajectory to lessen its impact. Now it seemed like Hagler couldn’t miss that head. The Civic Center sounded like a Hagler crowd now. It looked like Duran might go.

Duran was breathing with his mouth open, and he kept shaking his arms out like someone who had just lifted weights. For the first time, he’d been outmuscled—not undone by speed, the way Leonard had mastered him, but by brute force. A sustained assault might finish the job, but Hagler didn’t launch it. He won the rounds—7, 8, 9, 10—building a huge lead but keeping his pilot light on simmer. The fight’s outcome now seemed clear; it lacked only a conclusion.

Then in the 11th, Hagler danced away from Duran as the crowd booed. In the 12th and 13th, Duran saw opportunity in Hagler’s swelling left eye and nailed Marvin again and again with his best punch, the straight right. From where we stood, Duran was still well behind, but if he won the last two rounds, who could say?

Only now did Hagler grasp that Duran could not hurt him and that his title was at risk, and only now did he fight as if he remembered the bitterest night of his career: the 1979 draw in Las Vegas with then-middleweight champion Vito Antuofermo, in which Hagler didn’t do enough to hold off Vito’s late charge. Antuofermo kept his title on a draw. Here he was, at the scene of the crime, letting a much more formidable foe in through the out door. Some old remembered terror must have crept into his heart. It was time to fight.

Hagler spent the 14th and 15th rounds bludgeoning Duran, who could do little but hold and throw out the occasional right. Marvin’s jab and uppercuts dominated both rounds completely. Duran was so weary it was almost inspiring watching him stay upright. We knew he had lost and started walking out before the decision was announced, but the judges made it absurdly close: 144-143, 144-142, and 146-145 for Hagler. Duran led on two cards after the 13th round. Hagler hadn’t turned up the octane a moment too soon.

It surprised me that Marvin and the Petronellis were so ill-prepared for Duran’s tactics. They seemed caught off-balance again in 1987, when the unretired Leonard fought Hagler the way everyone knew he would—circling and moving. The Petronellis were rock-solid people, but as strategists they didn’t rate with the sages Duran, Leonard, and Thomas Hearns brought with them most of their careers: Ray Arcel and Freddy Brown, Angelo Dundee, and Emanuel Steward. And great as Marvin was, he was not an instinctive fighter like Duran or Leonard. He could not decode spontaneous messages. Marvin was a striver; he was always respected, often admired. Ray and Roberto were creators; they were loved or hated.

Back at Stephens Hall, I drank beer and listened to college talk, now shifting from sports to girls. The traffic in and out of the room continued. Pop Lewis and Billy Donovan came in to get the lowdown.

“Was it a fair decision?” Pop asked. We assured him that it was.

“Duran is tough, though,” Billy Donovan said, shaking his head. “15 rounds with Hagler. Tough guy!”

On this everyone agreed.     

                                                                             *******
The next summer, we tried to watch Duran fight Thomas Hearns at home, on a temporary cable channel. They called it pay per view. The video feed went out, but the audio came through, enough for us to hear something that sounded impossible: Duran getting knocked around the ring. Hearns vaporized him in the second round with a right hand. That seemed the end of the line, but Duran kept coming back, winning his second-greatest victory in 1989 against the powerful middleweight champion Iran Barkley. He was 38 when he finally got his rematch with Leonard, losing in a dreadful fight for which, curiously, he brought no fire. For 12 rounds he trailed after Leonard with the enthusiasm of a man forced to walk around the block for exercise. He kept fighting until age 50, quitting only after suffering serious injuries in a car accident.

Hagler blasted out Hearns in an epic battle in 1985, finally achieving the stardom he had sought. But Leonard beat Hagler in their still-disputed superfight, the capper of a decade of battles between what George Kimball called the Four Kings. Marvin moved to Italy to pursue an acting career, became fluent in Italian, and rarely came back home. He saved his money. No glamor, no shortcuts, no excuses: he lives the way he fought.

Pete and I were in our junior and senior years at PC in 1987, when the Friars became the most improbable Final Four team in NCAA history. They got there under the leadership of a 34-year-old coach named Rick Pitino, the heroics of point guard Billy Donovan—they called him Billy the Kid or Billy D—a smothering full-court press, and a band of ace three-point shooters, including Pop Lewis. The Friars played their home games at the Civic Center, but whenever I went there, I always thought about Duran and Hagler first.

Providence looks much better today than it did in 1983, though I’m not sure it’s much better off, given Rhode Island’s financial and economic woes. Billy D is the head coach at Florida, where he’s won two NCAA titles and become one of the highest-paid coaches in the country. He was always a striver, but somewhere along the way he became a creator. That happens about as often as fighters like Duran and Hagler come along.

As for me and Pete, we did some striving of our own, but we’re never more than a nod away from the two teenagers who scrawled a message on a banner in the middle of the night.

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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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