For fighters, it’s personal
Alvarez vs. Golovkin rematch
LAS VEGAS – When Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and Gennady “GGG” Golovkin stepped into the ring to trade venomous blows a year ago, it came on the back of a promotional campaign that took a willing and imaginative dive back in time.
Boxing fights hinge their financial success on the narrative created around them, and Canelo vs. GGG neatly fitted the theme of a throwback. While every pay-per-view publicity campaign uses a degree of artistic license, there is no question that both Alvarez and Golovkin bought into the concept, dressing up in Prohibition era garb and filming a promotional video on a set resembling a smoky pre-war gym.
The message was clear, that this was a glance back to the era of the gentleman fighter, when pugilists didn’t dabble in trash talk but instead shook hands and showed respect before and after knocking seven bells out of each other.
Precisely a year on, Mexico’s Alvarez and Kazakhstan’s Golovkin will face off once more Saturday, revisiting T-Mobile Arena. They are still acclaimed as the world’s best two middleweights and two of the very best pound-for-pounders. With the initial bout having ended in a draw, bragging rights have not been earned. But the storyline? That’s different.
“The respect,” Golovkin said. “It’s gone.”
A rivalry that started with noble vintage themes of honor and integrity has devolved into a genuine feud, one that has brought out the inner fire of both.
Much of the angst stems from a sense of injustice that burns strongly within Golovkin, following what he perceives as a series of slights. He accepted a lesser share of the purse last September as Alvarez is a bigger draw, thanks to Mexico’s huge boxing fan base. Then he felt spurned by the judging, with one outlier official giving Alvarez the bout by an outrageous 118-110 margin in a contest most neutral observers thought Golovkin won.
And finally, after contentious negotiations for a rematch were finalized, Alvarez twice tested positive for the banned substance clenbuterol, forcing the rematch to be postponed as he served a six-month suspension, despite the Nevada Athletic Commission accepting the result came about from accidentally ingesting tainted meat.
“(It changed) after the doping scandal,” Golovkin added. “After the first fight I remember I said, ‘Thank you for the fight, it is a great fight.’ He said the same. He said I was a champion, all this. We were friendly. After doping? No. For me this is terrible situation and right now we have only business. I am ready.”
While McGregor and Mayweather hurled taunts and obscenities on a fourstop, three-nation press tour last year, Canelo and GGG instead took the higher road, while promising an action-packed brawl of epic proportions. The contest delivered strong entertainment, with Golovkin attacking relentlessly and Alvarez counterpunching with effectiveness and speed.
Now, Alvarez also is enraged, feeling Golovkin and his trainer, Abel Sanchez, have repeatedly sought to dirty his name by consistently referring to the drug issue.
Public opinion is split — tainted meat is a legitimate problem in Mexico but one that has cropped up in boxing enough times that Alvarez should probably have been more careful. Either way, Alvarez no longer sees Golovkin as simply a sporting rival, but as a personal enemy.
As a result, the promotion this time has taken a drastic shift in approach. (As a disclaimer, I was hired to write the script for the rematch’s countdown show, with promoter Oscar De La Hoya serving as executive producer and veteran fight film guru Leigh Simons as director.)
The direction was both clear and obvious — to capitalize on the level of animosity that had sprung up between the men. No more old school chivalry here. In interviews for the show, Alvarez and Golovkin promised to do what they could to make the other pay, talking of revenge and redemption and the settling of a score. What respect was once there, has long since disappeared.
Middleweights Canelo Alvarez, left, and Gennady Golovkin faced off last year in Las Vegas. The two return for the rematch Saturday.