It is boxing’s ultimate irony that in this most singular, deeply individual sporting quest, a fighter should rely so implicitly on the existence of a worthy rival to elevate him to greatness.
Very few combatants earned ultimate respect without a nemesis. Muhammad Ali had Joe Frazier; Sugar Ray Robinson had Jake LaMotta; Ray Leonard had Roberto Duran and Gennady Golovkin and Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez have each other.
Such is the heady anticipation for tonight’s world middleweight championship bout in Las Vegas that the optimistic among us are already hoping that we get to see it more than once. For that to happen it must be every bit as good as expected, and the probability is unusually high that it will be.
Boxing occasionally has an unwelcome tendency to fall flat when it has the world’s attention but this fight comes with as close to a guarantee of excitement as you can get.
Three weeks ago, in the very same venue, the combat sports world wallowed in fakery, on Saturday it will celebrate the skill and authenticity of a real fight between two supremely talented sportsmen.
In one corner you have Golovkin, a beastly pressure fighter with awesome knockout power who turned the lights out on 23 straight opponents before inconveniencing the judges last time out against Danny Jacobs.
In the other you have Alvarez, plenty aggressive in his own right, but more known for his brilliant counter-punching and success against those who come to him.
While the phrase ‘styles makes fights’ is one of boxing’s most wearying axioms, it is also one of its truest. This fight, it seems, is a marriage of two perfectly complementary styles and the result should be spectacular.
That’s not to say we will see a frenzied Hagler/Hearns style war – there is too much mutual respect – but what will likely start as an intense tactical battle will inevitably give way to brutal back and forth action down the stretch.
Added intrigue comes from a pre-fight narrative suggesting Golovkin, at 35, has lost a step, while Alvarez, eight years his junior, is peaking at just the right time. Whether you believe either statement, it means the bout is widely regarded as 50-50 ahead of the opening bell at the T-Mobile Arena.
The notion that Golovkin is in decline comes from the punishment he shipped on his way to a fifth round stoppage of Kell Brook, before seeing his KO streak ended by a resolute Jacobs in March.
However, logic would suggest that Brook, a quick-handed natural welterweight, was always going to land some eye-catching shots given his massive advantage in speed, and it shouldn’t be forgotten Golovkin walked right through them and then literally broke Brook’s face.
And to denigrate his last performance is to ignore Jacobs’ brilliant effort, not to mention the significant size and reach advantage the American enjoyed.
In contrast, the overwhelming belief is that the best ever version of Canelo will step into the ring tonight following impressive victories over Miguel Cotto, Amir Khan, Liam Smith and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.
The counter to that of course is that none of those opponents could possibly prepare him for Golovkin. The Kazakh could probably beat Khan, Smith and Chavez on the same night. Conversely, how would Canelo fare against Brook and Jacobs?
The form book may not be entirely trustworthy, but it’s hard to imagine this being anything other than a tense, elite match-up between two men who boast immense ring generalship. Canelo ostensibly has the tools to win, but can he handle the pressure and power Golovkin invariably brings?
Perhaps the biggest concern for the Kazakh will be the presence of Dave Moretti and Adalaide Byrd among the three ringside judges. Moretti has form for leaning heavily in Canelo’s favour while Byrd has a reputation for erratic scoring.
Controversy would of course fuel interest in a second instalment but this match-up deserves better. A far more desirable outcome would be that it is so explosive the public simply demands to see it again.
Boxing’s most iconic moments have been forged in the struggles of familiar foes – tonight we could see the start of another truly special rivalry.
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