Saturday, September 16, 2017

Golovkin vs. Alvarez - This Fight is Worth the Price

It’s here! The day has finally arrived!  For the first time in a long, long time, an actual fight of the century that isn’t 100% manufactured hype. Saul “Canelo” Alvarez is squaring off against Gennady “GGG” Golovkin in Las Vegas tonight.  It’s the best birthday present a semi-regular boxing writer could ever hope for.

I’m not here to tell you how to spend your money. If I was, then I would say - just send it to me. However, if you were to splurge on just one pay-per-view event this decade I would say this is the one. This is what boxing is supposed to be about. Two world-class fighters meeting up in their relative primes.  They’re fighting not just for some belts (although I guess some of them are on the line) but because they want to show who is the better boxer.

The only thing boxing related these two aren’t great at is promoting a fight. This bout should be headlining ESPN, CNN, Sports Illustrated, all of the traditional media outlets. Your grandmother should be posting about this on Facebook. Yet, there is just a mild interest outside of boxing circles. That is just unfair. Floyd Mayweather, Jr. is a despicable human being, but he knows how to sell a fight. Neither fighter involved is a natural showman. They just quietly go about their business.

In street clothes, Golovkin looks like a guy that your friend set you up with because he’s nice and has a good job. Inside the ring, he is a 160lb emotionless wrecking machine.  He’s like a shark in the sense that he is constantly moving forward finding weaknesses.  Early rounds are used to set up later rounds as he probes for an opening. Eventually he finds it and buries a left hook.

No one is ever ready for his power.  They say they are, but they aren’t.  He has quiet power. What’s the tell-tale mark of quiet power? The left-hook delay.  It’s the three or four seconds after his punch lands that it takes for his opponents to realize that it is no longer in the body’s best interest to continue taking punishment.  

The look of someone punched in the stomach by Gennady Golovkin

Golovkin lands the punch, the crowd gasps, his opponent looks like he is ok, after all his hands are still in a defensive position. As GGG reaches back to throw another shot, the man in front of him just crumbles to the ground. That’s quiet power.  Honestly, it’s easy to see why people think they can handle it. A body shot knockout isn’t as glamorous as knocking someone out by punching them in the face. Not that he has any trouble doing that as well.

He has spent the last decade knocking people out. That is not an exaggeration.  Since 2008 only two men have made it to the final bell against him, Amar Amari in June of 2008 and Daniel Jacobs earlier this year. In between those two, twenty-three other men ended their fights against Golovkin on their backs. So why is a knockout machine only a -160 favorite?

First off there is his opponent. Alvarez is no slouch. The big Mexican fighter has a 49-1-1 record and has never been knocked out. And it isn’t because he shies away from contact. He can be hit and he’s proven that he can take a punch.  Granted, he hasn’t been hit with someone of Golovkin’s power, but so far he’s shown a fairly strong chin in his career.

The main reason that Golovkin isn’t an overwhelming favorite is that in addition to facing Alvarez he is facing the undefeated opponent - time. He is 35 years-old, an age at which, unless your name is Bernard Hopkins, skills start to deteriorate. One of the first skills to erode is power.  Knockout punches become knockdown punches and knockdown punches become regular punches.

Was the fight against Jacobs a sign that the Kazakh native is starting to slow down? The cynical critic would say yes. Not only is he starting a decline, but the relatively bad showing, at least by Golovkin standards, is the only reason Alvarez agreed to the fight. It’s a fairly harsh view to have, but if you spend more than two weeks in the boxing world, cynicism becomes your standard default.

Even with a slightly depleted Golovkin, Alvarez is going to have his hands full.  A lot of casual fans only know Golovkin for the highlight reel knockouts, they might fast forward through the rounds where he sets up those devastating finishes. By doing that they miss out on how good of a technical fighter he is. His balance is phenomenal and he can outbox pretty much everyone in the ring.  

This fight is just as important to Alvarez as it is to Golovkin. With a convincing victory over a stone-fisted knockout artist, Canelo can win over the critics who say that he is media creation who has cherry-picked his way to almost 50 wins in the ring. How will he do it? By walking through a thunderstorm to land his punches. He knows he’s going to get hit, he is just betting that he can take the punishment and dole more.

Amir Khan's body told him it was time to take a 10-second nap

It’s not a bad bet. Canelo Alvarez throws no small punches. Not in practice and not in a fight. Every punch the unleashes has energy behind. There are no tap-tap-tapping jabs to gauge distance. He wants to hurt someone every time he lets it go. He will be the biggest puncher that Golovkin has faced. If Saul can absorb the shots, he will put himself in position to do damage.

So the big question, and the only reason why you’re still reading this, is who is going to win this fight?

Two outcomes are most likely:

Golovkin wins by knockout.  Alvarez is not going to be hard to find. He will eat a lot of punches in order to get in position to throw his. If GGG connects with a couple of clean blows, this fight could end early.

Alvarez wins on points.  If he can get inside on Golovkin and smother the smaller man, he can limit the amount of space the Kazakh has to throw his power punches. Not too many fighters have crowded Golovkin for an entire twelve rounds, mainly because it requires getting punched a lot to get in. Despite both of them weighing 160 lbs at Friday’s weigh-in, Alvarez is going to be the much bigger man after he rehydrates up to about 170. He will use that size to bully GGG around a bit. With the bigger man in close, leaning on him, it will be hard for Golovkin to get the space he needs to throw big punches.

It’s unlikely that Alvarez wins by knockout. While Amir Khan and James Kirkland can attest to Saul’s lights-out power, neither really has the chin that Golovkin has.  Gennady has been tagged cleanly a few times in his fights and brushed them off fairly easily.

Golovkin could win by decision. He is the technically superior boxer in this fight. Even if he fails to land the knockout shot, he could do enough damage to convince the judges that he won the fight.

No matter what happens it should be a hell of a fight. The kind that generates long think pieces cleverly  titled, “Don’t Count Out Boxing Just Yet”. Both fighters want to fight and they want to win by knockout. That means they’ll both be coming forward and meeting in the middle of the ring. Both have knockout power and a somewhat casual disregard of defense. Big punches will land. Do yourself a favor and just watch the fight.

The Hopeful Chase Prediction - Golovkin wins a split decision.  Rematch booked for the first weekend in May.