‘Real fight’ of the sum­mer could be one of box­ing’s best in decades

Satur­day’s win­ner of Golovkin-Al­varez bout has abil­ity to tran­scend the sport

Vancouver Sun - - SPORTS - RICK MAESE

There’s the fight purse and the world ti­tles, of course. A bet­ter fight record and a brighter fu­ture. Plus the adu­la­tion of fans and the re­spect of the box­ing press. There’s plenty on the line when Gen­nady Golovkin and Canelo Al­varez fi­nally step into the ring Satur­day night in Las Ve­gas in a bout the sport has spent the past cou­ple of years sali­vat­ing over. To the man who raises his hand in the end, though, goes some­thing much big­ger than a belt or pay­cheque.

“The win­ner of this fight earns the po­si­tion to be the face of box­ing,” said Bernard Hop­kins, who won a clos­et­ful of belts and was one of the top fight­ers of his gen­er­a­tion. “He can be what (Muham­mad) Ali was, what Mike Tyson was, what Os­car (De La Hoya) was. It’s not just about be­ing a cham­pion, it’s big­ger.”

Box­ing is loaded with good fight­ers, but not house­hold names. The prin­ci­pals in­volved in stag­ing Satur­day’s megafight are con­vinced that the vic­tor will be able to tran­scend the sport and gal­va­nize fans who might tune in for only a fight or two each year.

While last month’s fight be­tween Floyd May­weather Jr. and Conor McGre­gor, the UFC star, gen­er­ated world­wide at­ten­tion and was a bona fide pop-cul­ture event, most in box­ing re­gard Satur­day’s show­down as the sport’s mar­quee event of the year — the “real fight,” as every­one in­volved keeps say­ing.

It’s not a to­tally un­fa­mil­iar place for Al­varez.

He’s been on this doorstep be­fore, a cham­pion knock­ing on the door of next-level suc­cess and fame.

“I’m writ­ing my his­tory now,” he said this week.

The lone blem­ish on his ster­ling record (49-1-1, 34 knock­outs) is im­pos­si­ble to skip over. He has beaten Shane Mosley, Miguel Cotto and Amir Khan. Those vic­to­ries showed the box­ing world what he is: a great cham­pion and a gen­er­a­tional tal­ent. But his 2013 loss to May­weather showed every­one what he isn’t — or at least what he wasn’t at the time: a tran­scen­dent fighter who could carry the sport on his shoul­ders.

Surely, there’s no shame in los­ing to one of the best fight­ers ever, but Al­varez and his camp are quick to point out that a lot has changed. The Mex­i­can-born boxer was 23 years old then, fight­ing May­weather when other foes could barely lay a glove on the five-di­vi­sion cham­pion.

“He did take that fight too soon,” said De La Hoya, whose Golden Boy Pro­mo­tions han­dles Al­varez’s fights, “but the progress that he has made has been in­cred­i­ble.”

Since then, Al­varez’s power is stronger and his jab more ef­fec­tive. He steps into the ring with more con­fi­dence and the abil­ity to dic­tate the tempo against any­one. Both Al­varez and Eddy Reynoso, his long­time trainer, said he’s “more of a com­plete fighter now.”

“He’s 100 per cent of a dif­fer­ent fighter than the fighter that faced May­weather,” the trainer said.

“I’m more of a ma­ture fighter now. I’ve changed and I learned from it,” Al­varez said.

Satur­day rep­re­sents his tough­est chal­lenge since then. While May­weather would set traps and lull foes into mis­takes, Golovkin (37-0, 33 KOs) charges ahead with power the mid­dleweight di­vi­sion has rarely seen. The Kaza­khstani has an im­pres­sive pedi­gree, an ex­ten­sive am­a­teur back­ground and per­haps the best jab in box­ing. Mak­ing mat­ters tougher, Golovkin doesn’t hurt eas­ily and has never been knocked down, not as a pro­fes­sional and not as an am­a­teur.

For his part, Al­varez also has never been knocked down and also has the power and bal­ance that make box­ing train­ers drool. Odd­s­mak­ers list Golovkin as a slight favourite, but many in the box­ing world con­sider the bout a vir­tual coin flip, a matchup that could help en­er­gize the sport and evoke mem­o­ries of the glory days of one of box­ing’s most sto­ried weight classes.

“On pa­per, ob­vi­ously, it’s go­ing to ri­val some of those big fights, but it re­ally de­pends how the fight comes out, how it pans out,” Al­varez said. “I’m go­ing to do my part to make it mem­o­rable so I can go down in his­tory as one of the best fight­ers.”

De La Hoya’s era in­cluded cham­pi­ons such as Felix Trinidad and Hop­kins, who’s a part­ner in Golden Boy. Back then, fight fans reg­u­larly felt they were see­ing the best against the best. By com­par­i­son, Satur­day’s bout took two years and plenty of public hand-wring­ing to make.

“I want to win this fight,” Golovkin said, “be­cause maybe for me this win will be like a his­tory fight, like (Sugar Ray) Leonard ver­sus (Marvin) Ha­gler. Like mid­dleweight di­vi­sion, I be­lieve the box­ing di­vi­sion will come back.”

De La Hoya doesn’t shy away from hy­per­bole, call­ing the bout the big­gest the di­vi­sion has ever seen. Granted, as a pro­moter he has a huge stake in the card and plenty of rea­son to as­sert such things, but he says the fight is even big­ger than the mid­dleweight clashes of the 1980s, a pe­riod that in­cluded Leonard, Ha­gler, Thomas Hearns and Roberto Du­ran all bat­tling it out.

“I mean, ob­vi­ously, we have to wait for the ac­tual fight to see what un­folds and takes place,” De La Hoya said. “But in terms of mag­ni­tude, in terms of PR, in terms of at­ten­tion that it’s re­ceiv­ing, in terms of peo­ple that will be watch­ing, yeah, this has to be the big­gest. It has all the in­gre­di­ents to un­fold to be one of the best fights in the last 30 years.”

It’s cer­tainly the big­gest since May­weather fought Manny Pac­quiao and given the box­ers and styles in­volved, many ex­pect a more mem­o­rable fight — cer­tainly one with big­ger stakes for the sport.

Box­ing has waited a cou­ple of years for the matchup, but both fight­ers feel they have been wait­ing longer. While Golovkin has had trou­ble get­ting top-tier op­po­nents in the ring with him, the fight rep­re­sents some­thing dif­fer­ent for Al­varez.

It won’t erase the May­weather loss, but it could su­per­sede it in a sense.

A win Satur­day could fi­nally anoint him as the kind of cham­pion box­ing has been seek­ing, the type of per­son­al­ity and mar­ketable star who can serve as the face of an oth­er­wise face­less sport.

“When I was a young boxer start­ing out, of course you never imag­ine all of this com­ing true,” Al­varez said this week. “How­ever, in my heart, I’ve al­ways wanted this and I’ve al­ways dreamed of the day in which my dis­ci­pline would pave the way to where I am.”

The win­ner of this fight earns the po­si­tion to be the face of box­ing. He can be what (Muham­mad) Ali was, what Mike Tyson was.

JOHN GURZINSKI//GETTY IMAGES

Chal­lenger Canelo Al­varez, left, will be look­ing to de­throne WBC, WBA and IBF mid­dleweight cham­pion Gen­nady Golovkin in Satur­day’s highly an­tic­i­pated bout in Las Ve­gas, which has been un­duly over­shad­owed by last month’s Floyd May­weather-Conor McGre­gor fight.

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