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What If Muhammad Ali Had Fought Wilt Chamberlain?



Every great athlete in a sport other than boxing believes – or at least wants to believe – that, given enough time to prepare, he could successfully transfer his skills to the ring. That’s why every big-time boxing match has a glut of baseball, football and basketball stars in the premium seats, in addition to the usual coterie of Hollywood types.

It’s not surprising, really. We all like to think we can readily channel our inner tough guy if necessary. And who can blame a Jim Brown or a Herschel Walker for having the delusion that they might have become heavyweight champions of the world, if only they had taken up the sweet science at an early age instead of football. Brown, arguably the best running back and the best lacrosse player ever, even snagged the role of a former heavyweight champ in “Mars Attacks!,” which had a scene of him flattening a succession of alien invaders in that most appropriate of boxing settings, Las Vegas.

But let the record reflect that even the most accomplished of athletes fail or at least underperform when they attempt to make the difficult crossover into boxing. Probably the most notable of the wannabes was Charlie Powell, who spent seven years in the NFL as a wide receiver for the San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders, but who also was the world’s No. 2-rated heavyweight contender at one point in the late 1950s. And if anyone dares to mention Powell in the same breath with, say, Mark Gastineau or Ed “Too Tall” Jones, please lie down with a cold compress on your forehead until you return to your senses.

But what if “The Greatest” – Muhammad Ali – had found himself staring across the ring at a 7-foot-1, 275-pound giant who very well might be the most dominant athlete in the history of American team sports? A giant who demonstrated, time and again, that his abilities were so transcendent, so remarkable, that he could have been a nearly unstoppable force in almost any sweaty endeavor he would have taken up?

That athlete is the late Wilt Chamberlain, and we are fast approaching the anniversary date of what might have been the most intriguing oddity bout ever staged. Had Chamberlain not reneged on a verbal agreement to fight Ali by extending his contract with the Los Angeles Lakers for a significant pay hike, Ali-Wilt would have taken place on July 26, 1971 in the Houston Astrodome.

Sonny Hill, who played on the same basketball team as Chamberlain at Overbrook High School in Philadelphia and is the founder of the Sonny Hill League in his hometown, is the foremost keeper of the flame for all things Wilt. But even Hill has his doubts as to the legitimacy of the supposed pairing of Ali and his good friend, who somehow packaged Nikolay Valuev’s immense size as well as the breathtaking versatility of an Olympic decathlete.

“Was it a publicity stunt?” Hill wonders, reflecting back on the fuss made over the rumored bout between a couple of loud and proud superstars. “I’m not sure that it wasn’t. It just seems to me that there wasn’t a real affinity on Ali’s part or Dippy’s part (Chamberlain always preferred his “Big Dipper” nickname to “Wilt the Stilt”) to have a real boxing match.

“I’m not so sure that even a great athlete like Wilt, with limited training as a boxer, could have gone into such a bout and been competitive with someone like Muhammad Ali, who undoubtedly is one of the greatest fighters of all time. Ali was at the height of his career then.

“But if Wilt had had a full year to get ready? I don’t know. It would have been interesting.”

Hill is more certain of where Chamberlain, who was 63 when he died of congestive heart failure on Oct. 12, 1999, ranks as a basketball player. He said the debate as to who is the greatest of all time, Michael Jordan or LeBron James, is specious because any such discussion should begin and end with Wilt. Chamberlain, Hill noted, holds NBA records that almost certain will never be broken: 100 points in a game, 55 rebounds in a game (against Bill Russell!), a 50.4 scoring average for an entire season, 118 career games of 50 or more points, a .727 field-goal percentage for a season.

Although Chamberlain still holds or shares 62 NBA records, that figure would be even higher had blocked shots not become an official league statistic until the 1973-74 season, the year after Wilt retired. Harvey Pollak, a longtime statistician of the Philadelphia 76ers as well as for the NBA as an entity, kept track of blocks back in the day and he swears there was a night when Wilt blocked 28 shots against the Detroit Pistons. Chamberlain’s vertical leap measured out at 46 to 48 inches, and he once threw down a dunk at KU on a rim raised to 12 feet.

You want stamina, which is essential in boxing? With overtimes, Chamberlain averaged 48.5 minutes for a season, an amazing feat given that NBA games consist of four 12-minute quarters. He also averaged 45.8 minutes per game over his 14-year career. Oh, and in all that time he never once fouled out.

You want strength? Hill said Wilt was demonstrably stronger than two burly guys with whom you might be familiar – Shaquille O’Neal and the Terminator himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Hill said a long-retired Wilt went head-to-head with the young Shaq in a pickup game and still was able to do whatever he pleased.

“Wilt moved Shaq around like he was a rag doll,” Hill said.

And Schwarzenegger?

“Arnold, who was a world-class weightlifter and bodybuilder, was making the movie “Conan the Barbarian” with Wilt,” Hill continued. “When he wasn’t shooting his scenes, Arnold would work out with weights, and I mean really heavy weights. One day he was straining with the bar and Wilt walked over, almost casually lifted it three or four times, and set it down. Arnold did not work out with weights again the entire time Wilt was around. Wilt had ungodly strength.”

But Chamberlain wasn’t just a marvel at hoops. He was a high jumper at the University of Kansas, a conference champion using the old-fashioned straddle roll, and he’d routinely outsprint the Jayhawks’ quarter-milers in practice, just for fun. He was an exceptional volleyball player, too, and the Kansas City Chiefs even inquired about any interest he might have in football, thinking he would be unstoppable as a tight end going after passes lobbed high. Several NBA teams – the Cleveland Cavaliers, New Jersey Nets, New York Knicks and Sixers – all tried to lure Chamberlain out of retirement when he was in his late 40s, convinced that even an aging and diminished Wilt was better than many of the younger big men then patrolling the paint.

So it really should come as no surprise that the notion of an Ali-Wilt fight, as improbable as it may have seemed, gained traction in the spring of 1971. Cus D’Amato, who had trained world champions Floyd Patterson and Jose Torres, and who later launched the career of future champ Mike Tyson, expressed interest in preparing Chamberlain for a fight with Ali, although circumstances dictated that Wilt would have had only about three months to get ready. Bob Arum would have been the promoter.

In “Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times,” Arum told author Thomas Hauser of the far-fetched idea that didn’t seem so far-fetched to some of the principals.

“In 1971 before the (first Joe) Frazier fight, I heard that Wilt Chamberlain wanted to fight Ali,” Arum said. “So I went to Herbert (Muhammad, Ali’s manager), and we agreed that, whatever the merits of the fight, the gate would be tremendous. Then I went to see Wilt, and he told me his greatest dream was to fight for the heavyweight championship of the world. And we signed a contract. But then Ali lost to Frazier, and Herbert came to me and said, `There’s no championship to fight for. What do we do now?’

“Well, we thought about it. And you have to understand, people pay millions of dollars to publicists and advertising agencies to promote themselves the way that Ali was instinctively able to. Even after he lost to Frazier – and later, when he lost to (Ken) Norton and (Leon) Spinks – he still overshadowed them all. So I told Herbert, `Let’s do the fight anyway.’”

Chamberlain’s interest was piqued, to be sure. He was always about doing things on a large scale, and he might have been the only athlete on the planet with an ego as colossal as Ali’s. If he was to box, the process wasn’t going to be a gradual build-up starting against hand-picked opponents in four-rounders.

“From the time I entered sports, guys tried to get me to become a fighter,” he said. “Ask any boxing manager, if they had to pick an athlete from another sport to develop who they would choose, and they’ll say a basketball player. That’s because of some very basic things basketball players have – size, speed, quickness and hand-eye coordination. And I always thought that if I had to fight somebody, it would be Ali for two reasons.

“No. 1, he was the greatest of his era. And two, he was a kind person, so if it turned out that I was in over my head, he wouldn’t take cruel advantage of it, where some other fighters might try to hurt me if I was vulnerable.

“I was offered more money than I’d ever gotten (as a basketball player). It would have been a scheduled 10-round fight and I honestly believe I had a chance. I thought a man as great at his job as Ali was might take me lightly. I could see that happening … Against Ali, I thought I could acquit myself reasonably well. Ali would be coming in blind; he’d have no idea what he was facing, whereas I’d know what to expect. And of course, I had God-given strength and athletic ability.

“If I’d been an oddsmaker, I’d have made Muhammad a 10-to-1 favorite. But I truly believed there was a chance for me to throw one punch and take Ali out.”

So why didn’t it happen? Arum, now 82 and recovering from knee-replacement surgery, was not available for comment, but in Hauser’s book he said Chamberlain’s very large feet got cold at an Astrodome press conference to announce the bout.

“I said, `Ali, shut your mouth. Let’s get him signed to the contract before you start riding him.’ Ali told me not to worry. Then Chamberlain comes in, and Ali shouts `Timber!’ Chamberlain turns white, goes into the next room with his lawyer, comes out and says he’s not fighting.

“I think Ali intimidated him; that’s all it was. At the moment of truth, Wilt realized that fighting Ali was a totally ridiculous concept.”

Perhaps Arum was correct. Perhaps no athlete, not even Wilt Chamberlain, could come into boxing on short notice and expect to take down one of the greatest heavyweights ever, maybe even the very best to ever lace up a pair of gloves. Then again, Arum had been down that path before.

Chamberlain, you see, isn’t the only other non-boxer endowed with such incredible physical ability that a lot of people believed he could return to action deep into middle age. Jim Brown, who won eight NFL rushing titles in his nine seasons with the Cleveland Browns, had been retired for 17 years when he appeared on the cover of the Dec. 12, 1983, issue of Sports Illustrated, wearing a Los Angeles Raiders uniform. The headline read “Jim Brown: Are you serious? A comeback at 47? Hey! You’re just what the boring NFL needs!”

Arum, interestingly, had introduced Brown to Ali after Brown’s final NFL season, in 1965. Arum began promoting boxing matches in 1966, at which point Brown asked the new president of Top Rank if he could arrange a title bout between himself and Ali.

Ali met with Brown at Hyde Park in London, where the champ asked the 6-2, 230-pound football legend to try to hit him, as hard as he could. A perplexed Brown then fired a succession of roundhouse shots for about 30 seconds, all of which Ali easy evaded, while occasionally landing stinging, open-palm slaps.

“Ali kept slapping him in the face, not hard, but hard enough and often enough to make the point that as great an athlete as Jim was, he’d have no change in the ring against Ali,” Arum is quoted as saying in Hauser’s book.

Bottom line: Boxing is not like any other sport. Just as there are great boxers who would be utter failures at football, basketball and baseball, so, too are there great athletes in those sports who would fare better trying to pole-vault across the Grand Canyon than stepping inside the ropes against an elite fighter.

ESPN released its totally arbitrary list of the Top 100 athletes of the 20th century in 1999. Ali got the No. 3 slot, behind only Jordan and Babe Ruth, with some of other boxers listed being Sugar Ray Robinson (No. 24) and Jack Dempsey (52). Chamberlain came in at No. 13, which Hill said is ridiculously low whatever the rating criteria.

Comparing apples to oranges is always an iffy proposition. As superb as Ruth was as a baseball player, can anyone imagine him challenging his contemporary, Dempsey, for the heavyweight championship of the world? It would be as absurd as Dempsey picking up a bat and competing against Ruth in home-run derby.

All that being said, the feeling lingers that Wilt Chamberlain is the one non-boxer who might have held a winning lottery ticket against Ali, or against quite a few pretty good heavyweights, if he could have just landed the right punch at the right time. Yeah, the Big Dipper was that exceptional.

If the fight had come off, we’d probably still be talking about it today. As matter of fact, that’s just what I’m doing now.


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



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



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



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

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