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A Look Back At Hopkins-Kovalev

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Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City touching the Atlantic Ocean. Bernard Hopkins vs. Sergey Kovalev, November 8, 2014. Given the dominant role that Hopkins’s age played in the promotion, one might have thought of the event as “The Old Man and the Sea.”

Hopkins’s accomplishments are different from those of any fighter who has come before him. His hairline has receded. There’s a lot of gray in his beard. Two months shy of his fiftieth birthday, he still moves like an elite athlete in and out of the ring. No fighter has performed as well at such at advanced age.

Hopkins is passionate about Hopkins and one of the best self-promoters in boxing. During an October 21 media conference call, he declared, “I just want to make sure that, when there is debate about Bernard Hopkins’s legacy, people will be up all hours of the night debating arguments on trying to figure out where we put this. Or do we start this new label with Bernard at the top and anybody else that comes after that underneath. To me, the best fighter ever is Sugar Ray Robinson. The best fighter after that is Muhammad Ali. Then the debate starts.”

If one is ranking fighters on the basis of how they performed in their mid-to-late forties, Hopkins is on the short list above George Foreman and Archie Moore. He’s a master of psychological warfare. “Psychological warfare, you will never win against me,” Bernard says. But he’s quick to add, “I don’t look at my victories as getting in somebody’s head. I look at it as being the better fighter, better plan, better preparation, and I took care of my business.”

Taking care of business results from superb genetic gifts (“God-given physical ability”), dedicated preparation (“I’ve never gotten bored with boxing”), a great boxing mind (“No one studies his opponent and understands his opponent more than I do”), and an understanding of one’s limitations (“Everybody has weakness; even I. There is no perfect fighter, and there will never be”).

Also, while Hopkins fights by the rules, the only rule for a prizefight in his world is that there are no rules unless the referee enforces them. In that regard, he has been known to push the envelope.

“In most of Bernard’s fights,” Paulie Malignaggi notes, “Bernard ends up being the referee.”

Not everyone appreciates Hopkins’s style of fighting, which involves shutting down an opponent’s offense through tactics that are aesthetically unpleasing to many fans. Jimmy Tobin expressed that dissatisfaction, writing, “Hopkins’s fights have become a chore to watch, though saying as much is liable to have you branded a simpleton for failing to appreciate the nuance of noogies.”

Meanwhile, Hopkins has compensated for the perceived lack of action in his fights by marketing himself as “The Executioner” . . . “B-Hop” . . . and most recently . . . “The Alien.” Perhaps in his next incarnation, he’ll call himself “The Easter Bunny.”

The evaluation and marketing of Hopkins always comes back to his age. “This doesn’t happen the way it’s happening for me at this particular time in my life,” he said recently. “Just enjoy it, understand it, and realize that you might not be alive to see it again.”

The other side of the coin is the nagging question of what Bernard’s success says about the current state of boxing.

“What if Michael Jordan came back tomorrow,” Bart Barry wrote, “and won an NBA championship? It would be a massive event, an orgy of media celebration, as one of the world’s most famous athletes returned to a field of glory and dominated at an age that was absurd. But once the orgy got tired and broke up, what would it say about professional basketball that a man in his sixth decade [Jordan is 51] was able to dominate the best professionals in their twenties? Were Michael Jordan still able to ply his craftsmanship and win titles outclassing LeBron James and friends in championship games, the NBA would know there was something dreadfully wrong with its product.”

Friend and foe alike realize that there’s something dreadfully wrong now with boxing. The best rarely fight the best. Boxers sometimes win “world championships” without championship skills and without ever having fought a world-class fighter.

Thus, on the plus side of the ledger for Bernard, Barry continues, “Hopkins is an embarrassment for most of his prizefighting countrymen, showing at age 49 a willingness to fail that few of today’s best American fighters have shown since their bouts got computer-matched in the amateurs. The fight that best represents our sport in 2014 is one in which a man nearing his fiftieth birthday is challenging and imperiling himself more than any of our standard bearers in their primes.”

The man Hopkins chose to fight to solidify his legacy was Sergey Kovalev.

Kovalev came out of the Russian amateur boxing system. It has been said that he had a working relationship with some of the less savory elements in Russian society at an earlier time in his life. Of course, Hopkins wasn’t a choirboy when he was young either.

At the start of his pro career, Kovalev relocated to the United States under the guidance of manager Egis Klimas. He now lives in Florida with his wife and newly-born son. His English is rapidly improving but is constricted by a limited vocabulary.

Sergey enjoys basic pleasures. “I like nice cars,” he says. “I like to travel. I like action. Fishing is too slow for me; too much waiting. I love to drive fast, but I don’t love speeding tickets for driving too fast. Friendship is important to me. I love my family. I miss my family and friends who are still in Russia.”

He loves animals. In 2011, Kovalev adopted a three-month old Yorkshire terrier named Picasso. One year later, Picasso jumped out of a moving car and was killed on the road. Sergey still carries a photo of himself with Picasso on his smart phone.

Kovalev has a direct matter-of-fact approach to boxing. Answering a question on a media conference call, he acknowledged the possibility that he could lose to Hopkins. When pressed by a reporter who followed up with, “Are you not one hundred percent certain that you’re going to beat Hopkins?” Sergey answered, “This is boxing. I can repeat for you, special for you, this is boxing and everything in boxing can happen. This is not swimming. This is not cycling. This is not running. This is boxing.”

In private, Kovalev was more expansive, saying, “The fans, the media; they don’t know what it is to be a fighter because they have never been punched in the face by a fighter. I feel fear. I am not a target. I don’t like to get hit. In boxing, any punch from your opponent can be the last for you. It is very dangerous. I knew Magomed Abdusalamov from the national team in Russia. He was a friend; not my best friend, but a friend. I don’t ever want to be like he is today. “

Atlantic City has fallen on hard times in recent years. Gambling revenue has dropped by roughly fifty percent since peaking at $5.2 billion in 2006. Trump Plaza, Revel, and Showboat closed their doors in 2014. Trump Taj Mahal might follow suit in the near future.

Still, there was a nice buzz for Hopkins-Kovalev with Bernard carrying much of the promotional load.

“I am fighter,” Kovalev had said at the kick-off press conference in New York. “My English is poor. But I am sure that Bernard will talk enough to promote the fight for both of us.” Thereafter, Sergey informed the media, “Bernard talks and fights. I just fight. Say and do are two different things.” Kovalev also indicated that, given his limited English, he understood only about ten percent of what Hopkins said.

“None of Bernard’s talk will bother Sergey,” Don Turner (Kovalev’s first trainer in the United States and now a fight-week assistant to trainer John David Jackson) said. “If I had a fighter and talk was bothering him, I’d tell my fighter to find another job.”

One thing that did bother Team Kovalev though, was Hopkins’s penchant for skirting the rules, conning referees, and fouling during fights.

“He can cut you from the head, from the elbow, from any part of his body,” Sergey noted. “I hope and I wish that this fight will be very clean and fair. But any way I need to get a victory, dirty fight or clean fight, for me it doesn’t matter. I am going to fight a clean fight, but I will fight dirty if Hopkins will fight dirty.”

“Sergey says he wants a fair fight,” Hopkins responded at the final pre-fight press conference. “You’re the Krusher. Make your own fair fight.”

The oddsmakers thought that Kovalev would do just that; a belief based in large measure on his high knockout percentage. Hopkins acknowledged his adversary’s power, saying, “I have the same thoughts on Kovalev that most people do. He’s a dangerous puncher. He has a ninety percent knockout rate. If he can punch like everyone says he can punch, there might not be a second chance.”

Still, Bernard voiced confidence in the outcome of the fight, declaring, “Kovalev only had to be one-dimensional because the guys he fought he knocked out. But now you’re stepping up to a different level. You’re stepping up to the professor, the teacher. You’re stepping up into a different neighborhood. The other neighborhoods, you understood. But this neighborhood is kind of strange.”

One day before the fight, Oscar De La Hoya (now Hopkins’s promoter) offered his thoughts on the upcoming bout. “I fought Pernell Whitaker,” Oscar said. “I fought Mayweather. I could hit them. But not one punch I threw against Hopkins landed the way I wanted it to land.”

“This is one of those fights where the energy level before is crazy and everyone is saying either guy can win,” Naazim Richardson (Hopkins’s trainer) added. “And when it’s over, people will be sitting around saying, ‘Is that all Kovalev has?’”

“Kovalev has a good amateur background,” Richardson continued. “He knows how to box. He’s not just a puncher. But Kovalev has never been past eight rounds, and now he’s fighting the master of twelve. How does Kovalev handle that? What happens if Kovalev can’t hit Bernard the way he wants? What happens if Kovalev hits Bernard with his best shot and nothing happens? Kovalev punches hard. We know that. His power is real. But so was Tarver’s power and Pavlik’s power. And Tarver and Pavlik had knockouts over legitimate champions. Kovalev doesn’t have that.”

“I need to do what I do and do it very well,” Kovalev said of his date with Hopkins.

“The sweet science is not based on only one thing you can do particularly well,” Bernard countered.

Main Events and Golden Boy (which co-promoted the fight) had hoped for a crowd of ten thousand. The announced attendance of 8,545 fell short of that goal. There was a horrible two-hour stretch in the middle of the card that consisted of 114 minutes of waiting and six minutes of boxing. But anticipation ran high when Hopkins and Kovalev entered the ring.

Kovalev made his presence forcefully known two minutes into the bout when he maneuvered Hopkins into a corner and dropped him with a short straight right as Bernard was sliding out to his left. It was a flash knockdown. A clubbing right hand that landed high on Hopkins’s head later in the stanza probably did more damage. But Sergey knew now that he had a working game plan.

Thereafter, Kovalev fought a patient measured fight, controlling the distance between the fighters in a way that Hopkins was always under pressure yet unable to hold and maul. It wasn’t a fast pace. It never is for Hopkins, which usually benefits the older man. But here, the pace meant that Sergey (who had gone eight rounds only once in his career and fought a full three rounds only five times) was less likely to drown in the deep water of the late rounds.

A fighter’s game plan sometimes changes as a fight goes on. Kovalev’s didn’t. Unlike most Hopkins opponents, he was able to contest the battle on his own terms. He was faster that Hopkins had thought he’d be. Or maybe Bernard was slower. One way to beat Kovalev is to get off first, hit him just hard enough to keep him off balance, and force Sergey to reset. Hopkins knew that. But at age 49, he couldn’t do it.

Kovalev jabbed effectively to the body throughout the bout and landed some good chopping right hands up top. John David Jackson said afterward that he would have liked his charge to have thrown more body punches during exchanges on the inside. That said; Sergey did damage with the body shots that he threw and also with blows to the biceps and shoulder.

There were rounds when Hopkins set traps in the hope the Kovalev would blunder into one of them, and other times when survival seemed uppermost in his mind. “When Bernard got hurt,” Jackson noted, “he’d go into his shell, gather himself together for a few rounds, then try another attack.”

There was drama in the fight in large measure because one of the combatants was Bernard Hopkins.

Then, in round twelve, the drama escalated. Everyone in the arena (including Hopkins) knew that Bernard needed his first knockout in ten years to win. He went for it. And got rocked in return. That led to some big exchanges and ended with Kovalev battering Hopkins around the ring while Bernard struggled courageously to stay on his feet until the final bell.

One could make an argument for giving round seven to Hopkins. Kovalev didn’t do much in that stanza, and Bernard snapped Sergey’s head back with two good right hands. Other than that, it was all Kovalev. The judges’ scores were 120-107, 120-107, and 120-106. Kovalev outlanded Hopkins by a 166-to-65 margin. Bernard averaged a meager five punches landed per round.

After the fight, Hopkins handled his defeat with dignity and grace.

“Sergey is the real deal,” he acknowledged at the post-fight press conference. “I felt like a middleweight in there with a cruiserweight . . . I had some success here and there, but I never got him off his game . . . He was the better man tonight.”

There was also a bit of humor when a questioner asked if Hopkins would fight again.

“Asking me about fighting again now is like asking a woman who’s just out of nine hours labor about having another baby,” Bernard responded.

Three days later, Hopkins told Fox Sports that he planned on having at least one more fight, most likely at 168 pounds. That would take him past age fifty in the ring.

Kovalev has a bright future ahead of him. Prior to fighting Hopkins, Sergey had declared, “I want to get some lessons from the professor of boxing. I want to get some experience from this fight that can make me better for another fight.”

He achieved that goal and got the win. He’s an exciting action fighter and the best light-heavyweight in the world. But before one gets too carried away with superlatives, let’s not forget that the man Kovalev just beat is 49 years old. A remarkable 49-year-old, but 49 just the same.

In recent years, Hopkins has alluded to retirement. “When I leave, you all are going to miss me,” he told the media at a press conference last year. “Where else are you going to get these sound bites?” Then, on a more pensive note, Bernard added, “Boxing is always going to be here. That’s just the way it is. Boxing will be here way after me and everyone else in it now is gone.”

It’s impossible to know with certainty what Hopkins will do next. He likes to steer his own ship and will continue to confound. When he joined Golden Boy in 2004, one would have been hard-pressed to find an observer who thought that his tenure with the company would outlast Richard Schaefer’s. But here we are in 2014 and that eventuality has come to pass.

Prior to Hopkins-Kovalev, there was a lot of talk about Hopkins “punking out” if things went against him inside the ring. If Sergey was dominating, if Sergey was landing heavy blows, Bernard would fake an injury or instigate a disqualification rather than go out on his shield.

That didn’t happen. In round twelve, Hopkins was in extremis, unable to fully control his mind and body, facing the onslaught of a devastating puncher. In those perilous moments, Bernard didn’t look for a way out. He put everything on the line and fought with remarkable courage and heart; the courage and heart of a champion.

If round twelve of Hopkins-Kovalev turns out to have been the final round of the remarkable ring career of Bernard Hopkins, it would be a good round on which to end.

Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at thauser@rcn.com. His most recent book (The Final Recollections of Charles Dickens) has just been published by Counterpoint.

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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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