A year removed from their original meeting, Gennady Golovkin and Saul "Canelo" Alvarez are set to lace up their boots and face off once again. The first fight was not lacking in quality and delivered a few good surprises, but left a sour taste as Adelaide Byrd once again stained a perfectly good fight with her perfectly nonsensical judging. While one judge scored it narrowly for Golovkin, and another a draw, Byrd found the fight 118-110 for Alvarez, a score that Alvarez’s own mother would have a hard time accepting.
A rematch was inevitable: neither man had lost their belts, and bickering between the two fanbases never did subside. Everyone involved stood to make an obscene amount of cash from another GGG-Canelo in May of this year, but it all went awry when Alvarez failed a drug test. Golovkin got his Cinco De Mayo bout anyway when he smashed Vanes Martirosyan in under two rounds, and when Alvarez’s commission troubles had been cleared up the two were rebooked for September 15th.
Coming off the first Canelo fight, it was a little strange to see Golovkin back in action as his usual destructive self against Martirosyan. Golovkin’s strategy against Canelo was a change of gear, using the best skills to get the job done but never quite straying into the all out slugger that fans hoped to see. Golovkin’s game against Canelo was centered around his always accurate jab and use of a very high guard. These are common features of a Golovkin fight, of course, but watching Golovkin against Martirosyan and against Canelo was like night and day. Against a lesser opponent, rather than flicking that jab out in twos and threes and quickly returning to his shield-like guard, Golovkin was jabbing and immediately moving into position to drop his right hand or come up with a powerful left hook.
Against Canelo last September, though, Golovkin offered an interesting application of the jab in an offensive capacity. He walked forward from the opening bell, applied pressure continuously, but only infrequently stepped away from purely straight hitting—often with partial punches delivered with the snap of the arm. It worked absolutely beautifully as Canelo was forced to give ground but struggled to find solid exchanges in which to land counters. Ending up along the ropes Canelo would sit helplessly on the end of two or three right jabs and a flicking right straight before eventually circling off.
Canelo for his part wasted the majority of the first half of the fight backing onto the ropes. Staying there for a while without achieving anything, Canelo would wait on the right hand so that he could hit a pivot to get out into the center of the ring, often with a foot shuffle and a look that suggested he thought purely defensive action could win him the bout.
While Canelo was able to get away from his purely defensive attitude in the second half of the fight—enough that he was able to steal a draw—he did so too late to build on his successful bodywork against Golovkin.
Though Golovkin was considered the victor by the general public, there were certainly areas of success on which both men could build for the rematch. If Canelo hasn’t found an answer to Golovkin’s jab—aside from dropping his hands and trying to slip and load up an uppercut—he’s going to have a very rough night. The lack of commitment required on his jab allowed Golovkin to put out plenty of volume and throw Canelo off the scent on his counters.
Part of Canelo’s issue through much of the first fight was his bizarre choice to fight off the ropes. Rather than circling out as soon as he hit them, or putting up a fight on the way there, Canelo just floated back towards them and then stayed there for extended periods—looking to slip or shoulder roll and follow with a big right hand. Perhaps this was something the team had specifically worked on for Golovkin that just didn’t work out the way they planned, or perhaps it was some anxiety when actually face-to-face with the legendary knockout puncher.
Danny Jacobs put on a great showing against Golovkin by jabbing and circling to make the actual act of getting to him difficult. Canelo’s punch stats came out with him throwing around 230 jabs to Golovkin’s 361 over the course of the first fight, but watching each round that difference seemed even greater as Canelo’s was being used so ineffectively and largely just thrown in brief moments of attack or off the ropes.
Canelo’s best work in the first fight came when he stood his ground in the center of the ring and opened up in flurries. Not only did it allow him to fight out of a more mobile and powerful position with his feet under him against the ropes, but he could also get to the body with both hands. This was a target that Golovkin’s very exaggerated high guard—with his elbows almost out in front of his head at many points—opened up. That high guard made Golovkin a very hard mark for single shot power counters, but when Canelo opened up with both hands to the body and head, Golovkin was forced to react and he became more hittable. Getting to Golovkin’s body early would weigh on Golovkin’s gas tank and as Golovkin’s volume and activity with the jab were what stood out so much in the first fight, body work seems like a can’t miss investment for Canelo in the rematch.
Most importantly, once Canelo actually made a fight of it in the middle of the ring, Golovkin began to open up with his power punches instead of just the jabs and straights. As terrifying a hitter as Golovkin is, power punches are things that Canelo can work with—they involve a transfer of weight and can be capitalized upon.
It seemed as though the original match was marked by Golovkin taking what he was good at and adjusting the proportions to best match Canelo, while Canelo tried to land his big counters without considering how best to take away Golovkin’s best weapons. When faced with a great pressure fighter, good hard counter punches can make them more tentative to step in, but if that pressure fighter is effectively and frequently applying the jab, picking the perfect counters gets tricky.
In some ways this pairing seems reminiscent of Andre Ward and Sergey Kovalev. In that pairing Ward was touted as the smoother technician and Kovalev as the big hitter, but their first fight was marked by Kovalev’s jab keeping Ward guessing. In the rematch Ward had sharpened up some on the outside but was also flowing into the inside game to attack the body with both hands to slow Kovalev down.
Golovkin’s jab remained very underrated before the Canelo fight despite his general punch stats suggesting otherwise—rather than hoping for Canelo to have spent the entire year working on countering that jab with a jab of his own, it would be best to see him use a range of tactics to counter the one. Certainly anything beats sitting on the ropes, missing single counters and mean mugging.
For Golovkin’s part, while he is known as the master blaster, he did struggle with the quickness of Canelo’s hands when the Mexican fighter actually worked in combinations. If he finds Canelo working in combinations from in close, rather than fleeing from him and drifting onto the ropes, Golovkin might do better simply to tie Canelo up. While Golovkin has always done a decent job of using his head to pry his hands free from opponents who are desperate to hold him, Canelo has proven largely hopeless in this grey area of boxing. Floyd Mayweather was able to loosely throw his arms around Canelo and tie him up completely in their fight and he hasn’t shown much of an answer to this since. Canelo has never done much fighting in a classical infighting position—with his head leaning on the opponent’s chest or head—and when he does throw close range combinations he tends to do so from his usual stance, open to being tied up.
Despite the delay and all the drama before the fight, Golovkin and Alvarez remain two of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world today, as well as two of the most exciting. They are both certifiable hitters but both have a good degree of science to fall back on as well. You couldn’t ask for a better match up and if it is identical to the first or something new altogether, it promises to be a treat for the fight fan.