By Jason Keidel
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Ask five people and you’ll get five takes on the Mayweather-McGregor bout a few weeks ago. It was either a fraud, a farce, or a fine evening of fisticuffs.
But if you love boxing at its purest and finest form, then it’s Sept. 16, not Aug. 26, that should have been circled on your calendar.
Indeed, this weekend will showcase as sublime a bout as you will find in the sport, when Saul “Canelo” Alvarez fights Gennady “Triple G” Golovkin at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Even in this new, opaque world of rankings and soup of sanctioning bodies, this is undoubtedly for the official and linear middleweight crown, with more belts attached than a rack at Nordstrom.
The winner will walk out with the IBF, IBO, WBA, and WBC middleweight titles. And perhaps the symbolic crown as best boxer in the world.
This is not only the best fight today, it summons the spirit of boxing in its heyday. This is the kind of bout you found with refreshing regularity from the 1970s through the 1990s, when the best fighters fought each other, rather than hide behind lawyers, promoters, and Pay-Per-View numbers. This is the stuff of the Four Kings (Duran, Leonard, Hagler, and Hearns), when the greats jumped off the boxing carousel, punched through the red tape, and pounded each other.
This is today’s version of De La Hoya vs. Trinidad, Roy Jones vs. Bernard Hopkins. And, we hope, the adrenaline-draining action of Gatti vs. Ward. We can debate whether Canelo and Triple G have earned the respect of their iconic predecessors, but there’s no doubting their talent, temerity, or star power. And there’s no doubting they are doing the sweet science a big service by facing each other, rather than plodding through a conga line of pretenders or low-end contenders.
Alvarez (49-1-1) has just the one loss to Floyd Mayweather Jr., and it happened exactly four years ago (Sept. 14, 2013). Mayweather was a bit too fast, too seasoned, for the young Mexican champion, who was just 23 at the time. But it was that rare moment when losing a fight got you more street cred than pummeling a lesser boxer. Canelo is in his prime and primed to step up and claim the symbolic belt as boxing’s pound-for-pound champion.
And to Canelo’s credit, he’s taking on quite a load in Golovkin. Triple G isn’t just a cool handle. The boy can bang, with a jab that can break top-10 fighters, a robust chin, and a Mexican’s lust for action. Indeed, Golovkin, who hails from Kazakhstan, often brands himself an honorary Mexican boxer, is trained by a Mexican, and fights like one. Many times after a thrilling knockout, Golovkin goes out of his way to salute the Mexican fans in the arena, asking if he met the high bar set by his heroes in the ring, from Salvador Sanchez to Julio Cesar Chavez. And his record reflects his admiration, winning all 37 of his professional bouts, with an astonishing 33 by KO.
If Triple G is an imported, hybrid Mexican, then Canelo is full-blooded native. No one owns the hearts of his native land like Alvarez, who got his sobriquet “Canelo” from the cinnamon hue in his hair. Alvarez may have fair features, but he is old-school hard in the ring, with nary a weakness in his arsenal, and the ring savvy of someone who has fought since his teens.
Indeed, like many Hispanic fighters who come from more hardscrabble childhoods, Canelo practically swapped diapers for jock straps. We can only guess how many bouts he had as a kid, but he officially became a pro at the pimple-laden age of 15, winning his first fight by TKO in October, 2005.
But despite launching his profession at such a tender age, he’s handled his career with a pristine sense of the sport and the business. He has kept the same circle of friends and managers, and never became so self-involved that he forgot that boxing, not beer commercials, paid his bills. It doesn’t hurt that he’s charming, handsome, a heartthrob in his homeland, and self-effacing enough to attract the key demo.
Inside the ring, it’s practically a coin-flip, with valid arguments for either fighter. And while both are hard-hitting craftsmen who charge first, react later, it’s likely that Golovkin, the naturally larger, stronger man, will be the overall aggressor, with Alvarez relying on his jab, reflexes, and counter-punching. Though they are fighting at middleweight (160 pounds), which is Golovkin’s physical wheelhouse, Alvarez spent the first five years of his carer at welterweight (147 pounds), before moving up to super welterweight (154), and then spent the last two-plus years at middleweight.
The only possible issue is Golovkin’s age. At 35, he’s nearly a decade older than Canelo, when Father Time begins his tax on the aging boxer. Although Golovkin put on a boxing clinic against the dangerous David Lemieux, he looked a lot more human in his last fight, against Daniel Jacobs. We just don’t know if it’s a result of Jacobs’s skill and will or a small decline in Golovkin’s skill set.
No matter age or wage or nationality, Alvarez vs. Golovkin would have been a big fight in a prior year, decade, or era. Because they are the kind of skilled, smart, and aggressive fighters that would have flourished in any epoch. Boxing may not bogart the bold ink the way it used to, but if Mayweather vs. McGregor — a boxer five years past his prime against a rookie — could stir the media and the masses, then Canelo vs. Triple G demands more than a few bucks from our cable bill. They’ve earned our respect, devotion, and attention on Saturday night.
And unlike that exhibition that was held on Aug. 26, the fight on Sept. 16 will be worth every minute, every round, and every dime.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel