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In Defense of The Sweet Science

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The subject of the abolition of boxing pops up periodically. No surprise, most of the time, the drums are beaten for the banishment of the sport after a fighter pays the ultimate price for their participation, their life.

On November 30, a sportswriter for the New York Daily News weighed in with a call to bury the manly art of self defense, putting forth that because we the people now know better, we should do better. His definition of “better” includes a world in which there is no structured setting for a person to test another person in hand-to-hand combat. My reaction to this effort by Filip Bondy? I offer that his thesis was flimsy, his reasoning largely thin and/or flawed, and while I will assume his intentions are good, that he is a fine fellow who means no harm, his editorial betrayed a considerable dosage of ignorance and patronization.

“Boxing has seen its time, and thank goodness that primitive era is done,” the writer put forth in a essay which ran in a Saturday edition of the News.Where to begin? Well, if this “primitive era” is over, I must have missed the memo. Last I checked, man’s inhumanity to man is still in evidence on an hourly basis, and if you permit me a diversion from the world of sport to the wider world, let’s talk about wars. The writer despises the presence of a sport he deems “repulsively gladitorial,” and it made me wonder what he thinks of, say, the war the United States has been partaking in the Middle East and thereabouts. The writers’ thesis and word choice left me pondering what he might think of his newspapers’ description, on Friday, Dec. 16, 2011 of our participation in the Iraq War. “Despite false starts, failed opportunities and fatefully bad decisions, history will deem the war in Iraq a success,” it was stated in a Daily News op-ed.

Now, I don’t mean to be flippant, but I dare say the families of the near 5,000 Americans killed might not see the war as being so cut and dry. And was there something forbidding the News from mentioning the statistic which pegs the number of Iraqi civilians dead as a result of the US invasion as 1.4 million plus?

Success, huh? Want to reconsider that confident assertion, Daily News? Care to widen the scope of your “boxing should be abolished” op-ed, Mr. Bondy? Care to talk some more about this so-called “enlightened age” we live in, sir?

Now, some might say, hey Mike, Bondy is a sportwriter, we can’t expect him to traffic outside that narrow band. OK, gotcha. Let’s stick to sports. Another thing Bondy didn’t touch in his call to abolish is the mental and emotional makeup, the fierce and at-times all consuming desire of some humans to push themselves to the enth degree. I wouldn’t expect Mr. Bondy to be able to channel that urge; I don’t possess that, and evidently neither does he, as someone who sits on the sidelines and weighs in on the activities of bolder souls. But I’ve spoken to enough fighters–and that’s what they are, fighters, that is their identity, that is their calling, that is their reason for being–to know that these men and women need to test themselves in the ring. They need to prove to themselves and/or the world at large, what they are capable of doing, of being. They need a task, a goal that is larger than what Mr. Bondy and I need to make the time pass. And so, if we ban boxing, we must know without a single shadow of a mitigating doubt that they will seek avenues where they can explore this all-encompassing desire to compete with another being and themselves to such an extreme level.

They will do it in warehouses, dank places surrounded not by physicians and an ambulance at the ready, but by shady entrepeneurs whose structural support platforms consist of nothing beyond a stack of hundred dollar bills to the victor, and an ability to submerge any hint of conscience and decency which our athletic commissions evince on a daily basis.

Now, I’ve read Mr. Bondy, and sometimes enjoyed his work in the past. Most if not all of that material has touched on the sport of tennis. A fine sport, no doubt, one I’ve participated in myself. I enjoy a few sets each summer, in fact, and derive enjoyment from the act. But, let’s be clear, if we are to compare and contrast the thrill, and the deep-set satisfaction one can derive from attaining victory in a “mere” tennis match, as opposed to the satisfaction attained by a prizefighter who has left teaspoons (sometimes tablespoons!) of their blood and sweat on the mat and climbed off the canvas to score a knockout victory and win the heavyweight championship of the world…well, apologies to all the Federers out there, but I think the fighter has a hand up on the racquet man.

It didn’t surprise me that a Bondy took the opportunity to write that simplistic column, so slanted and lacking nuance, as it was printed in the wake of the Magomed Abdusalamov tragedy, which saw the Russian heavyweight suffer brain damage during his Nov. 2 bout against Mike Perez at the Madison Square Garden Theater in NYC.

“Once again this month, we were witness to another boxing atrocity in the city,” Mr. Bondy wrote. The between the lines message could be construed as: once again, and this happens ALL the time, the savage sport left another poor soul rendered fallen, because of the haplessness of overseers. And anyone interpreting Bondy’s messaging in that fashion would be, at best, left with an incomplete conception of that event, and at worst, a fallacious takeaway. I take slight issue with the inclusion of the word “atrocity.” Here’s what I think Bondy did; cursorily examined the Magomed bout, and went to town. He didn’t study the film, see that Mago was still looking to land a KO in the waning seconds of the bout. He evidently didn’t know or wasn’t swayed by the fact that a renowned neurologist spent time with Mago post-bout, assesssing him. No, Bondy wanted to play the self-righteous preacher role, and bemoan the “atrocity,” and prove his bonafides by going all in, and calling for abolition, rather than an examination of practices and protocol that perhaps could be clarified or tweaked to better serve the health and well being of the fighters. You could, I suppose, forgive the man for engaging in unsubtle lobbying suited for the platform he works off of, the tabloid. I won’t, but you could.

And let’s be clear here: Magomed Abdusalamov entered this bout, and this sport, with his eyes wide open. He is and was a fighter to the core, one not prone to quitting, not built like most of us folks to wave a white flag when the going gets tough. He knew what that price could be for his participation, they all do. Do they ponder that potentiality excessively? No, it wouldn’t be prudent, it would in fact be crippling. But ample information, from a hundred years of data collection, is available to any and all pugilist who considers entering the ring and testing their will and skill. And Magomed, being a man operating with free will, engaged in the one life he knew to be available to him, choosing to practice a combat sport which satisfied, I presume, his soul, and offer him a path to improved economic status.

About that “improved economic status.”

I have no way of knowing Mr. Bondy’s net worth, his level of economic comfort, or lack thereof. But I’m hopeful, if not overly optimistic, given the limited scope of his piece, that he understands that in these times, many if not the majority of young adults are at the very least occasionally dubious of their prospects to reach a higher economic level than their parents did. Wage growth has been flat for the masses for 40 years, 50% of us who rent now pay a third or more of our income to the landlord, as opposed to 38% ten years ago, and the costs of higher education have soared more than 500% since 1985 (as opposed to “only” about 200% for gasoline).

For a Caucasian like me, who came from a home where attending college was a given, the path to reasonable prosperity is not so vague. I know I’m fortunate. Does Mr. Bondy comprehend that if he gets his way, and the sport is abolished, that one path to prosperity will be removed for people who don’t enjoy multiple options to a place of prosperity? Perhaps Mr. Bondy isn’t aware that a US citizens’ prospects to jump upward in social class is the third lowest among developed nations. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that in the coming decades, we might well see even more skilled boxers being produced in the US, if Mr. Bondy doesn’t get his way, as one in five American children now live in poverty. Most of us understand that from the most meager existences, some of the most majestic athletes are borne, as it is impossible to manufacture in an atmosphere of abundance the reservoir of determination that grows in some of the superlative souls who beat the grim odds and lift themselves out of dire straits. Now, when the world gets its head screwed on straight, and we better address issues of wealth disparity, and the Rand acolytes are removed from positions of power, then, Mr. Bondy, you and me can revisit the topic. But until then, I’d appreciate you not so blithely lobby for the removal of one road to prosperity for those of meager means.

I take issue with Mr. Bondy’s lobbying, ostensibly, I guess, on behalf of the fighters who he reduces to being “just poor, desperate minorities getting their heads ripped apart internally, synapse by synapse.” I have yet to meet the man who campaigned in the battleground of the sweet science, achieved a level of acclaim and monetary reward, and looks back with nothing but regret, wishing the Bondys of the world had succeeded in deciding for them their life path. Hey, maybe we can revisit Bondy’s concern for the “poor, desperate minorities” when more paths to prosperity are fashioned in a more equitable fashion. And perhaps I will have less scorn for the Bondy piece when he acknowledges the damage done by alcohol, which does a more complete job in ripping heads and lives apart, and skewing synpapses than boxing could ever hope to achieve if there were ten times the number of events held annually.

Mr. Bondy notes that people are more aware of the costs of ring battle, and that the concussion debate and examination is touching other sports. He says its “absurd” to sanction a sport in which the aim is to knock out the foe. There, I’ve found some common ground with Mr. Bondy; I have occasionally come to the same conclusion. It can look absurd. As can the sport of football, which features two men running at 20 MPH and then butting heads like rams. As can the sport of auto racing, which features a person hurtling themselves around a course at 180 MPH, wrapped in a vehicular grenade, and seeking to avoid hitting a wall which could disintegrate their body.

I can go on…and I would end up, forgive me, in the same place. That is a place of dismissiveness of Bondy’s call: if we’re speaking out against sanctioning dangerous practices, shouldn’t we all band together and exit the realm of sports, which offers endless hours of diversion and enjoyment in a world which always has been and will be in need of both, because of the brutish nature of existence for all us masses of men who lead lives of quiet desperation…and instead transition to the real world, and the unending thirst for warfare?

I could go on and on..and I will, actually, since there is something to take offense at in every paragraph of the Bondy piece. What about when the Daily Newser writes, “Whenever a boxer gives up, like Sonny Liston or Roberto Duran, he is mercilessly mocked for the rest of his career.” That is such a simplistic and buffoonish reduction and is so nakedly idiotic as to discourage examination, for the assertion is so facile. To say or imply that the life of Liston or Duran can be boiled down to nothing more than their being an object of ridicule is remarkably ignorant. Let’s backtrack, shall we, to their upbringing. Liston and Duran had in common that their youth was spent in circumstances that would have demolished the soul of most who had to firewalk through it.

Liston was the 24th of 25 kids, and a growling belly was too frequently the norm for him growing up in Arkansas and St. Louis. Shoes were a luxury. Duran fended for himself in a Panama slum and was selling newspapers at age seven. Dad bolted, mom was overwhelmed, so he’d often forage in garbage cans for meals. And both men persevered. And found a sport which would put up with their idiosyncracies of temperament, and instead of leaving behind a wake of carnage and lives–their own, maybe others–lost, and are enshrined in Halls of Fame which boast of their will and skill and accomplishments, which is more than will be said or Mr. Bondy and me, I dare say. Bondy, it seems, hasn’t paused to consider that without boxing, which he hopes will soon be banished, the malevolence of those Durans and Listons would have been directed at any number of innocents.

Every day, at least one kid walks off a street of a slum, in America, and the world over, and comes under the spell of the ring and, hopefully, one or two role models who see themselves in that little boy lost. And a boy adrift and headed for the shoals of sorrow is re-directed, and reborn, in a milieu by no means perfect, but one that affords him, even despite the blows that will rain down on him, a more respectable and fruitful arc of life than he would have been inflicted with otherwise.

Great God, Mr. Bondy, none of us maintain the sport is perfect, and all involved should always be examining ways to make it better, and keep the participants as safe as humanly possible; but sir, there are by no means infinite options for self-improvement for young people whose higher education comes not from classrooms inside Ivy-covered walls, but from negative role models who succumb to the false hope of easy money and self-destructive thrill-seeking…Do you really want to abolish this proven path to a better place, Mr. Bondy? What say you stick to the racquet game, and let the people who have a better grasp of all sides of this sweet and savage science do the analysis of the sports’ strengths and weaknesses.

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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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