Golovkin-Alvarez was an important fight for so many reasons. Most notably, the complete set of four middleweight titles on the line. Leading up to the fight, the talent, strength and condition of both fighters was so exceptional that the fight was hailed as the next Hagler-Hearns. The promotional theme was 1930’s-era fashion and dramatic noir-lighting, reporters in bow-ties clamoring for a shot of the ring with their flashbulbs. An effective campaign, no doubt, but did the implication fit the event? The idea was obviously an attempt to evoke historic fights like Hagler-Hearns, but with an atmosphere most closely resembling that of what could be considered the greatest boxing series ever, between Jake Lamotta and Ray Robinson. Aside from the weight division, I certainly see no resemblance.
I’ve watched a lot of Alvarez fights biting my nails and condemning him for throwing away his career on risky fights with low reward. Erislandy Lara and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. come to mind. And then there was Mayweather. This fight may not have been as much of a miscalculation for Canelo’s team as Mayweather was, but it wasn’t too impressive. Alvarez was criticized heavily for giving up a middleweight title in 2015. After winning it from Miguel Cotto, he forfeited the “lineal” championship in favor of scheduling other fights between first, before his meeting with Golovkin. It was a good idea for Alvarez at the time, and as Teddy Atlas was quick to point out, Golovkin would probably have knocked him out if he had accepted the challenge back then. Since then he’s earned some impressive decisions against larger fighters, but none anywhere near Golovkin’s level. His team ranted incessantly about how much bigger and stronger he was getting, how it was his time, and how his skill had grown to match his size. By all accounts, most of that is true. It just wasn’t enough to match the ability of a larger, highly skilled fighter.
The judges’ scorecards, or to be more precise, judge’s scorecard, is the source of the controversy over this fight, and I’m as upset as anyone else when a blatantly clueless judge influences a major fight. Anyone who knows me or reads this blog, however, also knows that I’m an intensely loyal Alvarez fan. So much so, that I went against my better instincts when making my prediction. I said I thought Alvarez could take a decision, but I really thought Golovkin was too strong and too good. He was. In my eyes, he won that fight. A friend of mine pointed out an important insight into the sport, though, when he said that boxing is a subjective sport; it’s judged by three people specifically because one or more of them might make mistakes in their scoring. Therefore, based on the nature of the sport, the best outcome for any fight is good action and a fair decision. A fair decision, as opposed to the one you think is correct. After all, your judgment may be as skewed as that of any official. Especially from thousands of miles away, behind a tv screen with a few beers in your belly.
That’s absolutely true and it addresses at least half of what I was upset about after that fight ended. The two people I was watching with, both of whom know and understand the sport, were fairly happy with what they had seen. They were quite satisfied, if not with the result, then at least with the performance. I was not.
I’m glad the final decision was fair. A draw is always fair, if the two fighters are competitive throughout and the rounds are close for a majority of the event. The aberration, however, is reminiscent of the scorecard CJ Ross turned in for Alvarez after his showdown with Mayweather. Almost everyone watching saw Mayweather dominate his opponent in twelve of the most one-sided rounds ever fought, but Ross scored the fight a draw. At the time, there was no bigger fight in boxing, and no clearer winner, and yet one of the officials whose job it was to evalute the action was confused. I understand the feeling. I was so excited for the dawning of the Alvarez era that I rushed home the day after my wedding, actively ignoring tv, radio and the internet, in order to see the fight unspoiled. Finally, I thought, someone with the skill and the ability to stop Mayweather’s reign. If anything, the performance only further solidified Mayweather’s dominance in the sport and his status as an iconic athlete. But hey, at least Mayweather put on an epic performance. I wasn’t quite that disappointed in this past Saturday’s showdown. Instead of being completely heartbroken for one fighter, I was just mildly aggravated by both. Strike that, mildly aggravated by both fighters’ performances, and then crestfallen in response to the robbery which denied this contest between two great athletes any dignity. I wanted Mayweather to lose that fight to Alvarez as much as I wanted Alvarez to win, but if the scores CJ Ross submitted contributed to a loss for Mayweather, or even a draw, that would have been a travesty.
When an athlete works hard enough to be the best in the world at what he or she does: it’s important that he or she trains and competes safely, but it’s almost as important that his or her performance is evaluated fairly. A historic performance is deserving of at least that much respect. I was disappointed that the fabled knockout artist Golovkin couldn’t seem to hurt Alvarez, I was even more disappointed that Canelo’s improved skill and body mass weren’t enough to so much as budge Golovkin during the fight, but I was really pissed off when I heard the decision. Again, not just because the ultimate result was a draw. That was bad enough, but it was so bad because one judge turned in a score so wrong it was professionally criminal, and another turned in a score that seems plausible, but only “fair” if bribes of some kind counted for points in Canelo’s favor. De la Hoya touted this fight as the “real” boxing match, in contrast to the carnival presented by Mayweather and McGregor just a couple of weeks previous, but was it? In the sense of traditional boxing, it was, but he also claimed the two fighters were going to give an epic performance worthy of the names evoked by the highly stylized promotional campaign. Neither fighter lived up to that description. Atlas described it well when he said Alvarez “fought in spots, to survive.” In other words, he didn’t moderate his aggression and activity to deliver the best possible performance, he did what he thought would keep him out of trouble and give him the best chance of benefitting from an unfortunate scorecard or two like the ones we saw. It worked.
Some people felt the first fight between Andre Ward and Sergey Kovalev should have been scored more in favor of Ward. Others felt it was a fair decision, much like the response to this fight. Still, there was no question (for most fans) that Kovalev did, in fact, take some of the rounds decisively. For Alvarez against Golovkin, that was not the case. People still talk about whether McGregor was stopped early against Mayweather, and if a rematch would be worth watching. But why is anyone clamoring to see this one again? The draw for Alvarez against Mayweather was absurd, sure, but that was 6 rounds misdiagnosed. The disparity in the fight between Alvarez and Golovkin, on the other hand, was arguably 8 rounds. When half the rounds could go either way, that’s one thing; it’s something entirely different when there are only a few rounds that could go either way, and all the rest clearly go to one person.
Alvarez had the chance to prove himself great, but failed utterly. Golovkin had the opportunity to show himself to be special, but he also failed. Given the styles of the two fighters (styles make fights) it was the worst possible scenario for action that we could have seen. Neither fighter has fought a significantly more conservative fight in recent years. Both are known for walking opponents down and imposing their strength. In this fight, it didn’t look like either one was fighting to secure a legacy. It was no epic confrontation between two men battling for a place in history. It looked like they were fighting to secure a rematch and millions of dollars. The judges scores looked like they had been written to ensure that potential revenue stream as well. Instead of a raw, unrestrained fight for the ages, it looked like business as usual.