For fight­ers, it’s per­sonal

Al­varez vs. Golovkin re­match

USA TODAY US Edition - - SPORTS - Martin Rogers Colum­nist

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.

JOE CAMPOREALE/USA TO­DAY

Mid­dleweights Canelo Al­varez, left, and Gen­nady Golovkin faced off last year in Las Ve­gas. The two re­turn for the re­match Satur­day.

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