Ál­varez and Golovkin – hard side of the street to glitz of Las Ve­gas

Prod­ucts of tough up­bring­ings meet to de­cide who is world’s best mid­dleweight

The Guardian - Sport - - Football - Box­ing Kevin Mitchell Las Ve­gas

On the in­side of Saul Ál­varez’s left bi­ceps is tat­tooed a faded mes­sage that he em­braced a long time ago: “No box­ing, no life.” He smiles as he ex­plains: “It’s ex­actly that: no box­ing, no life. Box­ing has given me a life. It has made me the man I am to­day. I owe a lot to box­ing and I love it.”

And with­out it? “Re­ally, I haven’t given that a thought. Maybe an­other sport.” That was never likely. Ál­varez, fa­mously called “Canelo” – Span­ish for cin­na­mon – is the un­mis­tak­able red-headed Mex­i­can who loves horse-rid­ing and life in the city where he was born, Guadala­jara, who has three brothers who boxed, and the odds on his be­ing any­thing else but a fighter in a coun­try so im­mersed in the sport were al­ways in­fin­i­tes­i­mal.

It is per­haps not the lifeblood of the poor it once was but box­ing will al­ways tug hard on the emo­tions of his tough com­pa­tri­ots. Gyms are still packed with dead­eyed hom­bres des­per­ate to fight their way out of dire cir­cum­stances, to es­cape crime and all its ten­ta­cles, to make bet­ter lives.

Ál­varez has been fight­ing all his life, and has boxed for a liv­ing since he was 15. He is nearly eight years younger than the 35-year-old Gen­nady Golovkin, and they have ar­rived at this point along dif­fer­ent roads. Golovkin’s cul­ture was steeped in the am­a­teur game and he was a renowned oper­a­tor, robbed, ac­cord­ing to many, of an Olympic gold medal in 2004. But he saw plenty of un­sanc­tioned vi­o­lence on the streets of Kara­ganda when grow­ing up.

As a youth, two of Golovkin’s older brothers, Sergey and Vadim, sol­diers in the for­mer Soviet Army, would en­cour­age him to en­gage in fights with older men. Both were killed in ac­tion and, while Gen­nady re­mem­bers the hard up­bring­ing they im­posed on him, he dis­tances him­self from that mem­ory.

He lives in Los An­ge­les, a mil­lion­aire, and, in his sim­ple and charm­ing way, has turned him­self into an im­mensely like­able and mar­ketable char­ac­ter in a sport not known for shift­ing mer­chan­dise. As the WBA, WBC and IBF mid­dleweight cham­pion said this week: “That was dif­fer­ent back then. Some have street fights, bar fights but I am a pro­fes­sional ath­lete. I am a boxer. I re­spect my sport.”

It says much for their pure box­ing skill that their inar­tic­u­lacy in English has not hin­dered their ca­reers. Ál­varez un­der­stands the ques­tions per­fectly well but prefers to an­swer in Span­ish and leave the fi­nal con­struc­tions to his in­ter­preter. Golovkin care­fully picks his way through his re­sponses in English, paus­ing to check men­tally if he has given the right em­pha­sis. He is as metic­u­lous in front of the me­dia as he is con­struct­ing a con­cus­sive right cross.

He is aware, also, of the largely un­spo­ken spec­tre of his call­ing: in­jury and death. He has re­ferred to the per­ils of box­ing in­creas­ingly lately; per­haps the ar­rival of a child and the ad­vanc­ing years are sear­ing their way into his con­scious­ness.

“One punch can change your life,” he says. “Be­cause of my power, I see it all the time from my work with my spar­ring part­ners. Some­times I see what hap­pens. So many peo­ple are hurt in fights. It’s not hard for me to bal­ance that. I un­der­stand it.

It’s very dan­ger­ous. This is not a game. Go too far, you know you’re not go­ing back home, you’re go­ing to a hos­pi­tal. Ev­ery­body un­der­stands that.”

He knows it is a two-way deal. “I get fo­cused on my job, my box­ing, be­cause I un­der­stand it’s very dan­ger­ous. Se­ri­ously. It changes lives. Canelo has power. He’s a very dan­ger­ous guy, too. I un­der­stand be­cause I have my own power.”

Ál­varez, a counter- puncher with power that can scram­ble the senses be­cause he throws his best shots from un­de­tected ar­eas, is un­equiv­o­cal about his in­ten­tions. “I’ve pre­pared like never be­fore to look for the knock­out, to give the fans a beau­ti­ful fight.”

On sug­ges­tions Golovkin, the big­ger man, might wear him down, he said: “Words go with the wind. For the peo­ple who said this fight wasn’t go­ing to hap­pen, for the peo­ple who said I’m go­ing to get knocked out, we’ll see on Satur­day night.

“The styles add an in­gre­di­ent that will go to make this his­toric, a fight that will go down in his­tory and be re­mem­bered for many years. Sim­ply put, the peo­ple wanted this fight. This is not only for money. It’s for my coun­try, for my peo­ple, for my team, for me. My men­tal­ity is 100% to win. Ev­ery night be­fore I go to bed, that’s all I think about. I’ve al­ways be­lieved it.

“He has many [vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties]. They are there. You’ve got to just know how to find them, at­tack them. He’s an ag­gres­sive fighter, comes for­ward to knock out. I’m

Ál­varez has been fight­ing all his life and has boxed for a liv­ing since 15

a coun­ter­puncher who’s gonna be right there, coun­ter­ing him strong.”

They are here to work, no ques­tion. This is so far re­moved from the ex­trav­a­ganza in the same T-Mo­bile Arena two weeks ago be­tween Floyd May­weather and Conor McGre­gor it hardly bears com­par­i­son. Golovkin has stopped 33 of his 37 op­po­nents, and is a re­lent­less hunter in the ring; he will not be in there danc­ing. Ál­varez, who does his best work in re­ply, has stopped 34 of his 51 op­po­nents, a sea­soned oper­a­tor who has im­proved markedly from the night May­weather out­boxed him at the MGM Grand in Las Ve­gas four years ago.

Golovkin knows Ál­varez is not the same fighter, that he is a con­sid­er­ably big­ger threat and he dis­tances this oc­ca­sion from that of a fort­night ago in forth­right terms.

“This is a real fight, not just a [one-off] event or a show,” he says. “This is more im­por­tant for box­ing. Of course it is for money but it is a his­tory fight.”

If he were to get a tat­too, he prob­a­bly would have one like the young man who will be try­ing to ren­der him un­con­scious to­mor­row. They are dif­fer­ent box­ers but very sim­i­lar hu­man be­ings.

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