If you consider the 12 rounds that Saul "Canelo" Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin were in the ring and throwing punches, and disregard everything else, there is no way you can consider Canelo-GGG II anything but a marvel. An easy fight of the year candidate across all of combat sports, it brought out the absolute best in both fighters and was that perfect occasion where two multi-millionaire athletes fought like men desperate for their paycheck. Many, however, will be content to bicker over the result (a majority decision for Alvarez) and insist that it was bought and paid for before the two men got into the ring.
But that path has already been trodden into a muddy quagmire by writers over the last two days. Let us instead consider how this fight differed from the last and all of the wonderful science and spectacle that took place between the entrances and the scorecards being read.
The most obvious factor in the first fight was Canelo Alvarez’s choice to stand on the ropes and try to counter fight off them. Some fans suggest that Alvarez was awed by Golovkin’s reputation, but Canelo never worried about getting off the ropes and instead stood there trying to draw Golovkin onto counters. As Golovkin stayed behind flicking straight blows and put out tremendous volume, Canelo’s task was very dificult.
When Canelo fought Mayweather—a fight which has taken on a master-and-student kind of mythos in the years since—Mayweather was able to counter off the ropes well because Canelo kept opening himself up to throw hard shots against Mayweather’s guard.
When Canelo took Mayweather’s position against Golovkin, Golovkin wasn’t offering him any of the same opportunities and stood behind the jab and the flicking right straight. Furthermore Canelo was throwing one counter at a time and showing no variety in target or even hand used.
Compare that first performance to Canelo’s work in Saturday’s rematch and it is very clear that his coaches earned their fee studying the tape. Canelo came out and stayed in the center of the ring—as he had in his few moments of successful combination work in the first fight. Not only does going to the ropes remove the option of retreat and put everything on two dimensions, getting pressed into the ropes shortens a fighter’s stance, brings him up on top of his feet and removes his ability to change levels effectively. Out in the open and never leaving his stance, Canelo was able to change levels with his knees and get to Golovkin’s body in ways he couldn’t when he was pretending to be Mayweather and this changed the complexion of the fight completely.
In the first and second round, Canelo went on offense and picked at Golovkin with jabs and hooks both to the head and the body, showing the variety we called for in our pre-fight Tactical Guide. Not only did this mean that Canelo wasn’t dropping behind on the scorecards while waiting for Golovkin to overcommit, he could now encourage Golovkin to overcommit. That is the thing about pure counter-fighting—it stops working when the opponent works out what you’re doing and is good enough to just pick at you. To land good counters against the monstrous punchers it is often necessary to do the frightening thing and get into a fire fight—always being ready to sway back or duck under and come up with the counter you had been waiting on. By throwing hard pot shots at Golovkin, Canelo invited him to do the same and it was in this way that the counters suddenly became a threat when they were such a failure in the first fight.
The kind of opportunities that Canelo just couldn’t get out of Golovkin when he was standing still against the ropes.
Canelo did a terrific job of getting to Golovkin’s body throughout. The body jab has always been a Canelo favorite but only works if you’re out in the open and able to use your legs. The left hook to the body paired with Canelo’s long left hook to the head, which in turn paired with Canelo’s jab to establish a pot-shotting triple threat. Throughout the fight Canelo was also looking to get under the elbow every time Golovkin threw. There are very few punches that can be performed with the elbows tight to the sides and so counters have always been the best ways to get to the prized shots on the floating ribs and liver.
At the risk of drawing yet another parallel with Mayweather, Canelo also showed a vicious counter right uppercut to the solar plexus. It was this punch which settled down the ferocious Marcos Maidana in his second fight with Mayweather.
Golovkin was clearly vexxed through the first few rounds but he quickly changed up his tactics. Golovkin’s frequent retreating became a storyline for the HBO commentary team and for those who wanted to argue the case for Canelo winning the decision—but by giving ground Golovkin was able to set up some of his best shots in the bout. Many of Golovkin’s best jabs came as he stepped out of the kitchen and then Canelo followed, face first onto the blow.
The Golovkin jab was a constant, but the Golovkin flicking right straight was also present in abundance. You will notice that when Golovkin wants to hurt someone with his right hand he can overcommit and open himself up to those counters—but when he wants to stay very much on the end of his reach he will get on the ball of his back foot, lean forwards at the waist, and flick out the right hand well ahead of him in a manner similar to Roy Jones’s sneaky right hand leads but lacking the weight.
Famous boxer and occasional MMA fighter, Conor McGregor takes this to extremes, throwing his head three feet forwards of his waist to flick in a left straight from half way across the ring while hoping to avoid counters and—to his credit—he got away with this look against Mayweather even if he didn’t land all that often.
Golovkin is often cast in the role of the banger, and because he plays that part so well fans forget about his craft; Golovkin’s jab is CompuBox approved, one of the more frequent and accurate in the game, and yet it still came as a surprise to many fans in the first Canelo fight. In the course of Canelo–GGG II, the Kazakhstani champ changed gears and tactics at several points and was always looking for a way to get Canelo out of his comfort zone once those pot shots and body counters began landing.
In addition to backing off and pivoting off line to draw Canelo onto stiff jabs after exchanges, Golovkin started to meet Canelo head-on-head in a classical infight position, one which Canelo hasn’t shown himself to be tremendously comfortable with in the past. From here Golovkin would land a couple of short digs to the body or an uppercut with his elbow kept in tight, and then would try to exit but Canelo would crack him with a right hand on many of the breaks. The position proved both a literal and a figurative butting of heads as both men fought to control the fight’s momentum.
In the last third of the bout, Golovkin—bruised from the pot shotting and breathing hard from the body work and the pace—summoned up some tremendously gutsy work, pouring on combinations and working at a pace which had Canelo—who hadn’t been eating body shots for the previous nine or ten rounds—struggling to keep up. And while it is fun and entirely necessary to bemoan the state of judging in boxing, rounds 11 and 12 made most viewers glad the result of the bout wasn’t resting on them as the two men went tit-for-tat in blistering exchanges and control of the exchanges swung like a pendulum.
This clip didn’t fit anywhere but the writer likes Golovkin’s uppercuts. They make an interesting contrast with Canelo’s more loopy uppercuts from the shoulder. That’s just a stylistic thing, obviously both work.
The narrative has always been that Canelo is the promoters’ pet and the media darling, while Golovkin is the underappreciated great, and the result won’t help that perception. But no one who knows who these men are is going to look down their records and forget just how these fights went when they see the results on paper. Take a step back and consider that (Mayweather-McGregor aside) this pairing has been the fight for the last two years. If there is another obscene sum of money to be made from a third bout, the narrative is there for it and no real fight fan is going to turn down the chance to watch it.
Jack wrote the hit biography Notorious: The Life and Fights of Conor McGregor and hosts the Fights Gone By podcast.