Last September, Saul "Canelo" Alvarez and Gennady "GGG" Golovkin gave boxing fans a great fight, but the scorecards from the judges at ringside revealed a draw, leaving a resounding sense of disappointment around the sport.
On Saturday night, the two fighters met in the ring again and once again engaged in a sport-revitalizing match that left viewers ringside and around the world with a indomitable pleasure that managed to feel incomplete.
Let's rewind the tape.
The two men entered the ring a year ago with the fate of boxing resting on their shoulders, the two marquee fighters in a sport that's dying for a true king. Alvarez got the better of the early rounds, forcing his will on Golovkin, but the Russian knockout artist made a comeback, surging into round ten with a victory being locked into position. Canelo's corner urged him to come alive and seize the moment, and he did, forcing the judges to make a tough call.
I had Golovkin winning, but the judges, including one terrible scorecard, ruled it even. A thrilling and close fight with an uneven and disappointing conclusion means more money for the makers and excitement for the takers. A second chapter had a green light before the two fighters left the ring.
And then the drug suspension delayed the inevitable rematch. Canelo tested positive twice for a performance-enhancing drug, earning a six month suspension, which pushed the fight back to September. One year later, the two men climbed into the ring hoping to settle a score that had stretched three years and 12 vicious rounds of boxing.
Once again, Alvarez controlled the early rounds with his wicked-sharp counter-punching ability and a powerful hook that kept the slower-moving Golovkin at bay. While Golovkin consistently landed his jab, it was Alvarez who landed the more succinct shots and controlled the action. Body posture and rhythm aren't necessarily easy to include on a score sheet, but Canelo had his game plan working to perfection: keep Golovkin on the defensive, land the better punches, and stay off the ropes.
However, there were at least two rounds you could flip a coin on in the first six rounds, and that was due to Golovkin landing more punches while Alvarez seemed to be doing what he wanted.
Around the seventh round, Golovkin landed a few more healthy shots to start to swing the tide, slowly yet surely. In the eighth and ninth rounds, he found some consistency and began to push Alvarez back, and opening up the Mexican's left eye with a cut. In the tenth round, Golovkin hurt Alvarez with at least two huge combinations. It was Golovkin who owned the most definitive round of the fight.
Golovkin continued to assault Alvarez, who started to tired and worn down, in the eleventh round. When the final round opened up, I had the undefeated Russian winning seven rounds to four rounds, so Alvarez in my mind needed a knockout to win the fight.
It was a close round, with each fighter getting their final shots in without landing a thundering blow to the other. Alvarez took the round, but there was no knockdown, so I had it 7-5 in Golovkin's favor.
The judges thought otherwise, awarding two of the official scorecards to Alvarez by 115-113 (seven rounds to five) with one being a draw. Alvarez escaped with a win, improving to 50-1-2, but the boxing world was taken aback by the decision.
Here's the thing about leaving a close fight without a single knockdown to the judges: it's more than likely a glorified coin flip. You have to assume the toss-up rounds could truly fall on either fighter's side, and then you look to the numbers. Overall, Golovkin threw more punches, but Canelo landed more. Overall, Canelo landed more power shots. Each fighter finished with a bloody face, and there were moments in the fight where each fighter looked like they were on the verge of being knocked out.
If Golovkin didn't win, the more clear cut conclusion, at least according to ESPN boxing writer Dan Rafael, was another draw.
I agree. Canelo-Golovkin II felt more like a draw than the original, but far from a fight that Alvarez won. I re-watched certain rounds afterwards and gave the twelfth round two extra looks. Two of the official ringside judges gave Alvarez the final round, which swung the fight in his favor on both of those cards. One decisively even round ended up deciding the fate of the fight, and that is why many boxing aficionados will tell you let your hands be the judge instead of three random minds.
A third fight seems necessary, even if it carries the aura of a meeting that won't change much on the cards. When you have two of the best fighters going at each other eating every kind of punch known to man, it's hard enough to score. Since Alvarez and Golovkin can't knock each other down, much less out, then you really have a hard job. If the fight goes to the judges, they are going to give it to Alvarez or make it a draw. I don't think Golovkin can do enough to change that.
Two fights have elicited similar results. Canelo commands the early going, Golovkin closes the gap with a late surge, but Canelo manages to finish better. A third fight should bring about the same conclusion, unless Golovkin's soon-to-be 37 year old legs blow a tire and allow the Mexican an opportunity to turn out his light once and for good.
In the end, I can see why the fight could happen, but also how Golovkin is too old and fed up to give it another go. After the fight, he had no words for HBO's ringside reporter, the esteemed Max Kellerman, running off to his locker room and declining an interview. Shunned by the first fight ending in a tie, Golovkin and his trainer, Abel Sanchez, were visibly destroyed at the second fight's decision. I can't blame them.
Here's my takeaway: boxing scored a big win on Saturday night. Unlike Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao getting together to produce a snoozefest three years ago, Alvarez and Golovkin gave fans a bang for their buck. These are two tough dudes taking heavyweight-caliber shots to the head and body while moving forward. For twelve rounds, these two guys gave until it was gone, and while it left fans wanting more in the end, the excitement during the fight matched the hype going into the bout.
An outcome with a hint of disappointment doesn't declare the rest of the fight as a futile endeavor. When you are sitting on your couch around midnight riveted by boxing and not feeling like a sleeping pill was dropped in your beer, there's a good time being experienced. I didn't leave mad at the sport, just frustrated that the writers of this tale couldn't figure out an ending that felt right.
It's very possible that these two fighters aren't made for one another, which can cause complex and often disappointing finales. Their styles seem to fit each other, but 24 rounds into their epic clash, I can tell you boxing fans may not get the closure they need. Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin have proven to deliver on a great fight, but one that doesn't carry a likable finish. Two guys beating each other up in every way imaginable has resulted in a draw that many felt tilted Golovkin's way and a Canelo win that the majority felt was a draw at worst.
While I don't believe a third fight will give us the satisfying conclusion that we need, I'm still all for it and ready to hand over my cash to see it. The reason is simple: boxing needs these fights. Quick knockout wins are nice and all, but an old school battle of the best where few can point to a definitive winner in the end give the sport its real legs.
Alvarez won the battle on Saturday night, but he didn't win the war with Golovkin, so there must be more. The book is unfinished, looking for another rewrite. A third chapter will happen and once again, boxing fans will be left wondering if entertainment and satisfaction always co-exist-or if this pairing of legends can ever produce a worthy final page.