Saul “Canelo” Alvarez shrugged off his tough year and bitter rivalry when he defeated the faded Gennady Golovkin in a unanimous points victory in his third fight in Las Vegas on Saturday night. Alvarez, the undisputed super middleweight champion of the world, was the outright winner and the only surprise was that the judges favored Golovkin this time. The two 115-113 scorecards were surprising, and the third judge’s 116-112 verdict in Alvarez’s favor was a slightly more accurate reflection.
Alvarez was too young, too strong and too eager for Golovkin – a once great world champion who is now a 40-year-old man in the ring. Under the bright lights and Alvarez’s striking, Golovkin cut a subdued figure from the start of the one-sided contest. He failed to assert himself and, especially in the first seven rounds, he looked like a lackluster version of the once formidable middleweight champion who dominated his division for so many years.
In contrast, Alvarez went about his work with fire and vigor. He was aggressive, sometimes wild, and repeatedly pushed Golovkin away. By the end of the fifth round, the elderly man looked lonely on his stool in the corner, his face red and a tumor forming under his right eye.
Alvarez continued to land big shots and it looked like Golovkin was going to have to rely on all his considerable courage to survive the slow and methodical beating. But, to his credit, Golovkin dug into himself, and there were fleeting bursts of effective work from him. Alvarez was engaged in a real fight in the ninth and tenth rounds when Golovkin finally let go of his hands. He fought with real focus and determination for those six minutes because, unlike the hapless referees, he understood that he needed something special to try to change the pattern of the fight.
Golovkin landed some sharp punches, even keeping Alvarez on the ropes. But in those tough exchanges, Alvarez still fired back. Both rounds could rightfully go to Golovkin, but they were his only real success of the evening.
He tried to build on that momentum, but Alvarez came home comfortably in the final stretch of the fight. Despite Golovkin’s age and disappointing results, he can call this victory one of the most satisfying in his professional career, which began when he was just 15 years old in 2005.
Alvarez has had a turbulent history at T-Mobile Arena, electrified once again by his raucous Mexican fans. It was here, in May, that he lost for only the second time in 17 years, when he was outboxed by Dmitry Bivol. Alvarez moved up in weight to challenge Bivol for the world light heavyweight title, and while the context remained clear that he was a much smaller man, the big Mexican’s aura was badly damaged. Buffalo exposed and disappointed him.
To be sure, Golovkin has already blown away the Canelo hype machine that was just starting to roll when he first fought Alvarez at T-Mobile five years ago this week. Golovkin won this fight in the eyes of the most intelligent observers, but the judges in Las Vegas declared it a very controversial draw. Exactly one year later, in September 2018, they were back in the same ring, with Alvarez taking a very close decision in less controversial fashion. It is clear that he and Golovkin were two almost equal champions.
Over the next four years, Alvarez smoothly rose to the status of a respected boxing master who also became the cash cow of this greedy old business. He has proven himself to be a great technician who has become just as interesting outside the ring as he is between the ropes. But Golovkin’s shadow still hung over him. It seemed typical of boxing that a third fight between the two should be delayed for years while Golovkin, who hails from Kazakhstan and is nowhere near as marketable as Canelo, labored in comparative obscurity.
Golovkin and his supporters believed that Alvarez, who is a shrewd businessman as well as a ruthless boxer, was simply waiting for his main rival to reach middle age before they met again. Alvarez, 32, is eight years younger than Golovkin, and the age difference was evident on a harrowing night for the older man.
The only real injury Alvarez sustained was his left hand, which he revealed after the fight could require surgery. But next May, he’ll likely turn to a much more dangerous challenge, trying to defeat Buffalo – who isn’t old or ring-worn. Golovkin’s own future in the ring is far less certain. However, it should not be forgotten that for most of his career he was an uncompromising and ferocious world champion. He was just as good and maybe better than Alvarez in their first two fights. But on a harsh night in Las Vegas, Golovkin resembled his former ghost.
At the end of their trilogy, a triumphant Alvarez hugged and comforted his defeated old rival – as if to tell him he was not ashamed to submit to time and the harsh realities of boxing.