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MEMORIES OF ALI-FRAZIER IV

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“OK, class, the subject of today’s pop quiz is women’s boxing. Stay seated and raise your hand if you think you have the correct answer, or whatever your perception of the correct answer might be. First question: Who is the best female fighter in the world today?

“What, no responses? Not even a guess? You in the back with the perplexed look on your face, go ahead and pipe up. Start the discussion even if you’re not really certain about whom to back. You say it might be Cecilia Braekhus, the undefeated welterweight (23-0, 7 KOs) from Norway? Is that because you’ve actually seen any of her bouts on tape or YouTube? Or is it because her name is at the top of Thomas Gerbasi’s top 10 pound-for-pound list in the latest issue of The Ring?

“Let’s move on. How about identifying the person you believe to be the best female fighter of all time. That’s better. I’m seeing a few more hands go up. A couple of you are shouting out support for Lucia Rijker. She’s certainly a safe choice. Ah, I knew there’d be someone going with Christy Martin, the only woman boxer to appear on the cover of SI. Somebody else thinks it could be big-punching Ann Wolfe. That’s some scary lady. What about you with the gray hair, seated off to the side? You say you’re going very retro with the late JackieTonawanda, who was known as `Lady Ali’ during her career as one of the real pioneers? Definitely an interesting selection.

“Final question: What was the most-hyped women’s boxing match ever? Whoa! That’s a lot of raised hands. Here’s a vote for Laila Ali vs. Jacqui Frazier-Lyde. And another. Still another. One more … wait, all of you think that? Any dissenting opinions? None? Are you telling me there’s something all of you can agree upon?”

Women’s boxing has always had an image of man-bites-dog, of a fish out of water. It’s still something of an oddity, the sporting world’s ultimate example of gender role reversal. Perhaps that’s because it’s very difficult for the average guy to accept the notion of a woman, any woman, who might be able to beat him up in the ring. Even if the woman in question has regal bloodlines and a determination to uphold and the legacy of her world-renowned male forebear.

On Sunday afternoon in Philadelphia, history of sorts again will be made when the Honorable Jacqui Frazier-Lyde, 52, who sits on the Municipal Court bench in her hometown, is officially inducted into the Pennsylvania Boxing Hall of Fame. Already part of the first father-daughter combination to win professional boxing championships, Frazier-Lyde is the first woman to be so honored by the PBHOF, joining her late father, former heavyweight champ “Smokin’” Joe Frazier, and her brother, onetime heavyweight contender Marvis Frazier. Ten days earlier, “Sister Smoke” was recognized during a similar ceremony in Philly’s City Hall.

“I always expect the impossible (to happen),” the perpetually effervescent Frazier-Lyde said of the improbable fistic adventure she never expected to undertake until fate and family pride stepped in. “I’m a total optimist. To walk the path of life that I’ve been on, I’m just a very blessed person. I try to share that with everyone, everywhere.”

Frazier-Lyde retired from boxing in the fall of 2004, with a 13-1 record that included nine victories inside the distance. Along the way she captured titles from one sanctioning organization or another as a super middleweight, light heavyweight and heavyweight. But she always will be known more for the one bout she lost than for all those she won, because of who she and her younger antagonist are. Their surnames were their express tickets to fame and fortune.

It almost had to be that way, didn’t it, when one fighter’s father is Muhammad Ali and the other’s is Joe Frazier? On the date Laila and Jacqui finally squared off, June 8, 2001, at the Turning Stone Casino Resort in Verona, N.Y. – the first female bout to headline a pay-per-view card – a curious crowd of 6,500 showed up for what was billed as “Ali-Frazier IV,” the distaff extension of the epic trilogy involving their celebrated dads. Also in the house was a media throng of 300-plus from around the world.

What everyone saw is still a matter of some debate. Laila Ali, at 23, was cover-girl pretty, relatively fluid of movement and disposed to make the fight at a distance of her choosing. Frazier-Lyde, a former star basketball player at American University, was a 37-year-old mother of three who lacked Smokin’ Joe’s pulverizing left hook but relentlessly bore in on Ali as her father had in his three wars with “The Greatest,” trying and often succeeding in her attempts to turn the fight into a brawl at close quarters.

Through all eight scheduled rounds they hurled themselves at one another, and at the final bell Ali was bleeding from the nose while Frazier-Lyde had a puffy eye. Judge Tommy Hicks saw it as a 76-76 standoff, but Ali came away with a majority decision when Hicks’ cohorts, Frankie Adams and Don Ackerman, submitted scorecards favoring the younger fighter by respective margins of 79-73 and 77-75.

Veteran boxing analyst Al Bernstein, who did the postfight interviews, said Ali vs. Frazier-Lyde had not been the sideshow many had predicted it would be.

“It was fun,” Bernstein assessed afterward. “Both women showed grit and determination. They are in the embryonic stages of their boxing careers, sure, but they gave it everything they had and you can’t ask for much more than that. Are there better women boxers? Yes. Would I just as soon see Christy Martin and Lucia Rijker fight? Yes. But this was fun, and it was hardly a travesty.

“They’re obviously their fathers’ daughters.”

Others were less complimentary of what had taken place, just as the prevailing sentiment going in was that it was much ado about nothing. Jay Larkin, Showtime’s senior vice president of sports and event programming, derided the matchup as “a spectacle that has appealed to the paparazzi mentality. Women’s boxing has a hard enough time gaining credibility. This isn’t going to help.” Added longtime HBO Sports analyst Larry Merchant: “I wouldn’t spend 15 cents to see it. (The PPV subscription fee was $24.95.). To me, it’s like a stupid pet trick.”

Fightnews.com straddled the fence, on the one hand noting that that two of Ali’s defeated opponents were a steakhouse waitress and a 48-year-old former prostitute, while the seven women Frazier-Lyde had blown through on her way to Laila had all of two wins, total. But in its report on what had taken place inside the ropes, the respected web site conceded that the action was “so wild and thrilling that even the staunchest opponent of women’s boxing couldn’t possibly deny the excitement.”

Me? Writing in the Philadelphia Daily News, I allowed that although it wasn’t a reprise of the “Thrilla in Manila,” neither had it been the “Groaner in Verona.”

All that remained was for Laila and Jacqui to do it again, and maybe even a third time as their fathers had. But, alas, their rivalry proved to be a one-and-done. Laila’s then-husband and manager, Johnny “Yah-Yah” McClain, said his wife was going to “go after fresh meat” and there was no need for Laila to mix it up with Jacqui again.

Thirteen years later, Frazier-Lyde said that explanation still doesn’t wash, at least to her way of thinking.

“I broke her left clavicle. She was out of boxing for a whole year,” Frazier-Lyde said of Ali. “I went on to win a world championship and she went to the hospital, OK? While they were trying to put her back together again, I went on to win a championship. I don’t have to try to explain anything. It speaks for itself.

“If somebody had broken my left clavicle, I don’t think I’d be trying to dance with her again. That’s why she went on `Dancing With The Stars’ instead.”

For better or worse, I feel as I have some sort of proprietary attachment to Ali-Frazier IV. I was there with 25 or so other inquiring media minds at the Turning Stone when Laila, who was only eight years old when her father and the third of his four wives, Veronica, divorced, turned pro on Oct. 8, 1989. In possibly the biggest mismatch in the checkered history of women’s boxing, Ali needed just 31 seconds to take out a nervous and clearly terrified waitress named April Fowler, who never even threw a punch. As Fowler was counted out, Ali postured over her, striking the memorable pose her father had for his controversial one-round KO of Sonny Liston in their May 25, 1965, rematch in Lewistown, Maine.

Fowler, who soon after “retired” from boxing with an 0-2 record, headed home to Michigan City, Ind., to work the dinner shift at Ye Olde Benny’s Steak House. Ali dismissed any criticism leveled at her for picking such a ridiculously soft touch for her debut by haughtily saying, “It doesn’t matter who you put in the ring. I’m knocking them out.”

Ali’s mother, Veronica Ali Anderson, was at ringside for the brief, one-sided skirmish and voiced her approval to what she had just seen, which, she claimed, she had seen before from her then-husband: “It was like history repeating itself.”

A few days later, I phoned Frazier-Lyde, a practicing attorney with a law degree from Villanova University who spoke three languages (English, Spanish and French), to ask her thoughts on a daughter of Muhammad Ali getting into same profession that had made Ali’s and Jacqui’s pops such legendary figures. I figured it’d be worth a line or two in a notes column.

“I read where (Laila) said nobody could take her power, that she’d knock everybody out,” Frazier-Lyde responded. “But I don’t know about that. I can’t imagine her knocking me out.

“I love the power aspect of boxing, of sports in general. (In addition to basketball, Jacqui had at various times also competed in lacrosse, hockey and softball.) “Maybe I got that from watching my father. You know, everyone in my family said that if I had been a boy, I would have been a champion boxer. Actually, we’re all pretty athletic. I just have the biggest mouth.”

And then Frazier-Lyde uttered the words that set everything into motion, once those words appeared in print.

“If Laila Ali wants a piece of me, I’ll kick her ass.”

That very afternoon, or maybe it was the next day, the 5’9” Frazier-Lyde, then 210 pounds, began training to take off the 45 pounds or so she had gained from having her babies and living the less physically demanding lifestyle of a courtroom litigator. Her goal: an eventual showdown with Laila, which she said would be the equivalent of the 15th round that Smokin’ Joe never got to fight in his unforgettable rubber match against Muhammad Ali in Quezon City, the Philippines, on Oct. 1, 1975.

On Feb. 6, 2000, in Scranton, Pa., the slimmed-down, toned-up Frazier-Ali turned pro against Teela Reese, who had had the temerity to say this, when asked about Jaqui’s father: “The name doesn’t mean anything to me. He’s just another guy.” Frazier-Lyde then proceeded to do unto Reese, 20, what Laila had done to Fowler, winning on a first-round knockout.

It was inevitable, of course, that Ali and Frazier-Lyde would clash at some point, and that there would be verbal fireworks in the lead-up to that battle of the celebrity daughters. The surprise, at least to those who did not know Jacqui, was that it was Smokin’ Joe’s kid who would supply the juiciest comments.

At a joint press conference in Philadelphia, the surprisingly taciturn Ali said, “Anyone who’s seen me before knows that when it’s fight time, I don’t have much to say. I’m Muhammad Ali’s daughter, but my father and I are very different in that area. I don’t necessarily try to put on a show. That’s what my father’s thing was, and he was great at it. Everything I say is because I feel it. It’s not scripted.” She also admitted that Frazier-Lyde is “the first opponent that I really could not stand.”

Frazier-Lyde, standing nearby, was quick with the sort of snappy retort that her father was less adept at delivering than his wrecking-ball left hook.

“You won’t be standing,” she said. “You’re right about that, baby. You’ll be on your butt.”

Ali and Frazier-Lyde generated enough buzz that they appeared on that week’s cover of TV Guide. Ali entered the ring with a 9-0 record and eight KOs; Frazier-Lyde at 7-0 with seven stoppages. It was reported that each woman was guaranteed a minimum of $100,000, a queen’s ransom for women’s boxing then and now, with their purses escalating to as high as $250,000 if PPV projections were met, and they very well might have been.

Women’s boxing remains an afterthought in the minds of many fight fans. A proposed matchup of Rijker and Martin – promoter Bob Arum was going to pay each $250,000, with an additional $750,000 going to the winner – was scheduled to take place three weeks after the DVD release of the Academy Award-winning Million Baby Baby. But that fight never took place because Rijker tore her Achilles’ tendon and never fought again.

Ali-Frazier IV remains the most publicized, most-talked-about, biggest-money women’s fight ever. And whether they care to admit it or not, the Cecilia Braekhuses and Anne Sophie Mathises, the best of today’s female fighters, owe them a debt of gratitude for demonstrating that, as is often the case in men’s boxing, the sizzle often is as important as the steak.

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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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