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SERGIO MARTINEZ HOPES THERE IS STILL GAIN TO ALL HIS PAIN

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That which does not kill us makes us stronger.

–Friedrich Nietzsche

Pain is weakness leaving the body.

–Familiar U.S. Marine Corps recruiting slogan

Nietzsche, the German philosopher/poet who died in 1900, would not seem to have much in common with, say, Gunnery Sergeant Tom Highway, the crusty, battle-tested leatherneck played by Clint Eastwood in the 1986 cinematic ode to the USMC, “Heartbreak Ridge.”

But Nietzsche and some Marine recruiter with a high-and-tight haircut and combat ribbons on his uniform aren’t as dissimilar as might appear at first glance. There is a little bit of each within the complex, enigmatic and fascinating mind and heart of the great Argentine boxer, Sergio “Maravilla” Martinez.

Perhaps Martinez, 39, is not the fight game’s ultimate mystery man, but even now, 17 years after his professional debut and 55 bouts into a brilliant career that appears to be winding down, he remains curiously distant to American fight fans who apparently prefer headliners who speak fluent trash and enter the ring with the clear, easily understood intention of knocking the snot out of their opponents. A lot of us, it would seem, prefer our favorite boxers to be cartoon characters with mean streaks and a penchant for violence to some South American-born, European-based Renaissance Man who offers only fleeting glimpses into the deeper recesses of his hidden self.

Martinez (51-2-2, 28 KOs), who defends his WBC middleweight championship against three-division former titlist Miguel Cotto (38-4, 31 KOs) on June 7 in Madison Square Garden (the fight will be televised via HBO Pay-Per-View), by no means presents a simplistic, paint-by-numbers image. Perhaps that is because he does not speak English, his more esoteric thoughts filtered through a bilingual interpreter who feeds Cliff’s Notes versions of his responses to basic questions from American media members who, for the most part, wouldn’t know or care about the difference between Nietzsche’s treatises on the creative mental powers of the individual and the raw, destructive punching power of a Mike Tyson or a Rocky Marciano.

(Check out this insightful video of HBO’s Harold Lederman talking about the manner in whcih Sergio fights, and the upcomingscrap vs. Cotto.)

So at this point really knows what it is that spurs Martinez to continue torturing his oft-injured body to continually rise to the sort of heights that someday will bring him induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Is it a belief that his dedication to his craft is so absolute that he can will away the effects of multiple surgeries and other maladies that occasionally reduce him to near-handicapped status? Is it public affronts to his dignity that crop up more often than other champions of similar accomplishment?

But while Martinez’s motivation to keep on keeping on remains shrouded in intrigue, at least some answers will be provided on fight night, where certain truths are always revealed. Either Martinez remains one of the top four or five pound-for-pound performers in his brutal profession, his skills not noticeably ebbed by his advancing age or his litany of damaged body parts, or he will show himself to be on a steep downward slide that not even his steely resolve and once-formidable skills can brake.

For now, even Martinez and his handlers seem to be sending out mixed messages. Is Martinez – who again is living in Madrid, Spain, a shining jewel of European culture that seemingly fits his reserved personality more than did his dirt-poor hometown of Quilmes, Argentina, and his former U.S. residence in gritty Oxnard, Calif., as revived and refreshed as he claims to be? Or is he irrevocably damaged goods, soon to be brought down more by the relentless march of time and physical wear-and-tear than by the capabilities of a Cotto or any other high-quality opponents who may yet fill his dance card?

Listen to Martinez, and those affiliated with him, do the old two-step when asked about how the fighter’s lengthy layoff – he has not fought since scoring a unanimous, 12-round decision over England’s Martin Murray on April 27, 2013 – has affected him.

Martinez: “My knees are feeling great. I’ve been running in the morning, on the treadmill. I haven’t felt this good in a long time. I am the same that I was when there was no knee problems.”

Longtime adviser Sampson Lewkowicz: “If he’s not 100 percent, he’s 99 percent. He’s not 80 or 85 percent, or even 90 percent.”

Promoter Lou DiBella: “I believe his (left) knee is as good as it was before the (Julio Cesar) Chavez (Jr.) fight. I believe he’s in great shape. I saw him train in Florida and I was really pleased to see certain things I haven’t been able to see before some of his other fights, when his injuries were really bothering him. I saw great lateral movement. I saw able to plant his legs and throw with real authority and power. I think the year off to rehabilitate, to strengthen his body as opposed to taking a toll on it, is going to be a huge plus for Sergio, for his elbow, his hand, for everything that’s ever ached him.”

Yet …

Here is Martinez again, talking about that year off as something other than a needed vacation that presumably improved his health. In a recent interview with Lem Satterfield of ringtv.com, he admitted that, “It is not easy to prepare for a fight when you have some of the ailments that I have when preparing for a world championship fight. I struggle with joint pain, knee pain and shoulder pain. Because I train six days a week for an average of eight hours a day, I am always in constant pain. There are some days when I am so sore I cannot even walk, but I push myself because I know that I have to push myself to be the best fighter in the world.”

Even during this week’s teleconference with the international media, Martinez’s more optimistic references to his present physical condition were tempered by the acknowledgment that some things, when broken, are not so easily restored. “The rehabilitation was very painful,” he said. “I was on crutches for nine months. It was very hard to come back from that. I’m always coming back from some things like this.”

There are other “things like this” that Martinez has had to overcome, and will have to overcome against Cotto as well. It was noted by some reporters that Martinez, who almost always is at least somewhat complimentary toward his opponents, has shown a slightly more abrasive side of himself to Cotto, the popular Puerto Rican who has fought nine times in the big room at Madison Square Garden and filled the place each time. It is likely that again will be the case on June 7, when the Garden again will be a hotbed of Cotto partisanship.

In what cannot be viewed as anything other than a slap to boxing tradition, as well as to Martinez, Cotto, the challenger, will be introduced after the champion. And it isn’t the first time such disrespect has been directed at Martinez; it also happened on Nov. 20, 2010, when Martinez defended his WBC middleweight title in Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall against Paul “The Punisher” Williams, who had defeated him via 12-round majority decision on Dec. 5, 2009, also in Boardwalk Hall. For the rematch, Cotto had to endure the indignity of being introduced before the challenger.

Martinez issued the most resounding of rebukes to that perceived slight, knocking Williams colder than a January night in Siberia with a perfectly timed left cross in the second round. So concussive was the force of that blow, which landed flush to Williams’ right cheek, that Williams pitched forward onto his face, not even attempting to break his fall. Referee Earl Morton didn’t even bother with the formality of a count.

“That punch,” said DiBella, who provides most of the tastier sound bites that the enigmatic Martinez is unwilling to dispense, “would have knocked anyone on earth out.”

The wipeout of Williams, coming on the heels of his one-sided points dethronement of WBC/WBO middleweight champ Kelly Pavlik, was enough to vault the previously little-known (at least in the United States) Martinez into stardom. He was named the 2010 Fighter of the Year by both the Boxing Writers Association of America and The Ring magazine.

“He’s the best pure athlete I’ve ever promoted,” DiBella gushed after Martinez had sliced up Pavlik’s bloodied face as if it were a very rare steak. DiBella also marveled that he was able to “discover” Martinez, who had been a competitive cyclist and soccer and tennis player in Argentina, in 2007 after several other American promoters took a pass on a fighter who had fought almost exclusively to that point in his homeland and adopted home in Spain.

But boxing stardom is not the same as superstardom, which seldom is based solely on talent. Between Pavlik, Williams II and now, Martinez has been egregiously stripped of his WBC title by the Mexico City-based sanctioning body’s president-for-life, the now-deceased Jose Sulaiman, who more or less handed that title to the son and namesake of Mexico’s all-time favorite fighter, Julio Cesar Chavez. His anger at that injustice – and make no mistake, it was an injustice – was on display the night of Sept. 15, 2012, in Las Vegas’ Thomas & Mack Center, when he retook the WBC 160-pound that was rightfully his on a frightful beatdown of JCC Jr. The scores were 118-109 (twice) and 117-110.

But it was indicative of Martinez’s mindset, and the large chip he carried on his shoulder, that he was still trying to knock out Chavez in the 12th and final round. In doing so, Martinez was floored and badly hurt in the final minute of a bout he had been winning with ridiculous ease. Had there been another 20 seconds for Chavez to fire and land more desperation shots, Martinez might not have made it to the final bell.

“His (left) hand was broken, he got knocked down, his (right) knee was messed up, but he got up and didn’t look to hold,” DiBella said of Martinez’s refusal to play it safe when that was the more prudent course of action. “He looked to fight. Sergio Martinez is a man’s man.”

He is a man’s man with his let ’er rip ring style, but he is a thinking man’s man, too. In an interview with the New York Times, DiBella allowed that Martinez is “Cerebral. Sensitive. Very artsy. Likes fashion. Has his own sense of style, which is extremely Euro.”

In other words, the ruggedly handsome Argentine is as much a candidate to grace the cover of GQ or Time as a boxing publication. He is, as Winston Churchill once said of Soviet Russia in 1939, “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” As such, he always seems vaguely inaccessible, a puzzle with many pieces, not so easy to figure out for the public’s convenience. Those who do not fit preconceived notions tend to stand out, but sometimes not in ways that guarantee widespread acceptance.

So this question was posed to Martinez, and to DiBella, who must have regarded it with a certain degree of incredulity: Does Martinez need to beat Cotto to gain “universal acceptance” as an elite fighter?

“He already has it,” DiBella said, likely with the understanding that some fights are not always won inside the ropes. Establishing a firm grip on a boxing buff’s undying devotion is not as simple as delivering a crushing left to the jaw. Nobody can really say they were drawn to Tyson because he is said to have read Machiavelli while he was incarcerated for his conviction of raping that beauty pageant contestant in Indiana.

Tossing around the heft of his popularity, especially in New York, Cotto sought concessions from the Martinez camp that went beyond who was to be introduced last. Some were of relative significance, others less so. The contracted weight limit demanded by Cotto, who has held titles at 140, 147 and 154 pounds and who had never fought above 154, was 159, one less than the middleweight limit. Martinez agreed to the demand, which he described as “annoying.”

“This was not an easy negotiation,” DiBella confirmed. “We kept having to call Sergio with more and more concession demands (from Cotto) that a champion generally does not have to give in to. He was not pleased. I think that came out at some of the press conferences. But I think he’s channeled that to his benefit. Right now he’s fixated with giving Cotto a beating and walking out of Madison Square Garden as the middleweight champion.

“Sergio wanted Miguel Cotto. He wanted this fight badly. He’s always wanted to fight in the big room in Madison Square Garden before he retired. In order to get that fight, we had to swallow some stuff we didn’t want to swallow.”

We shall see whether Martinez can make Cotto swallow stuff right back, most likely in the form of a ripping left that would put his antagonist down and out. But nothing can be certain at this point; not only is Cotto, 33, still very capable, but Martinez is a question mark given his age, his inactivity, the fact he has been dropped in each of his last three fights, and, of course, his laundry list of injuries: knee, hand, wrist, elbow, shoulder.

If Martinez is at near-peak efficiency – or if he can ignore the discomfort of his more chronically balky body parts – he should win. But saying, and wishing, that something isn’t so has never meant much when the determined guy in the other corner is trying his hardest to beat the mystery out of your enigma.

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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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