It’s the fight that should be defining high-class boxing in 2018. The rematch that everyone was waiting for. Finally, an opportunity to settle the score after the world’s two premier middleweight stars and pound-for-pound behemoths had locked horns and boxed to a disappointing draw.
Unfortunately there sits an elephant in the room. A large grey beast with a dirty syringe sticking out of its trunk. Regardless of how fans and pundits try to spin it – the Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and Gennady “GGG” Golovkin return fixture is shrouded in controversy and almost irreparably tainted.
That the second instalment of this rivalry is taking place at all is typical of boxing, indicative of its commissions and emblematic of the continuous lust for lucre. Now set for September 15 in Las Vegas, it was due to take place originally on May 5 but Canelo tested positive for Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) after trace levels of clenbuterol was found in his system.
Alvarez’s promotional team at Golden Boy, headed up by former multiple world champion Oscar De La Hoya, immediately adopted a defensive posture, claiming that contaminated Mexican meat was responsible for the discovery.
Given that other boxing stars from Mexico, along with members of its soccer team, have also failed tests and blamed Mexican beef (injected to promote more rapid growth in cattle) it was either a clear cut case or a convenient excuse.
Many suspected the latter, and despite Golden Boy stating that they would comply with all doping agency requests for follow up tests, including hair follicle testing, they showed little contrition, and when a paltry six-month ban was handed down to Canelo, it opened the door neatly for this Las Vegas rematch.
A Golovkin victory is seen as imperative for the integrity of the sport.
Bizarrely the WBC was quick to defend Canelo as soon as reports of the failed test came to light. The Mexican star is a cash cow (no pun intended) for sanctioning bodies looking to haul in substantial percentages from big fights. This made the Mexico City-based organisation’s stance depressingly predictable.
In a sport where many high profile names have courted drug controversies in recent years -with some being caught, convicted and banned- boxing fans are wearily resigned to these scandals.
When former pro, Mia St. John, tweeted that the sport is rife with illegal substances and “Everyone does [PEDs], and everyone in boxing knows it”, various fighters and commentators were outraged while others suggested that St. John was merely confirming boxing’s worst kept secret.
September promises to be a financially strained month for UK boxing fans with BT Sport offering the fight on its Box Office platform at a £16.99 price point.
This is the first boxing Pay-Per-View event from BT and, given the name value of the headliners, is more worthy of being placed behind a paywall than some previous offerings from rival outlets.
A week later fans will need to shell out a similar amount to Sky Sports for Anthony Joshua vs Alexander Povetkin. The same group will then have to reach into their pockets again, one week after Joshua if they want to watch the super-middleweight final of the World Boxing Super Series when George Groves and Callum Smith clash in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia — ITV Box Office televise that one.
Tucked away in the early hours of the morning, Canelo and Golovkin will struggle to draw in too many viewers beyond the usual huddle of hardcore fans who always cough up the cash, stock up on energy drinks and try not to fall asleep during the undercard.
Sickened by the constant barrage of negative associations with what is supposed to be an era-defining mega-bout, many fans are struggling to get motivated for the fight. The poor scoring in the first bout (Adelaide Byrd’s 118-110 scorecard in favour of Alvarez is a particular ongoing gripe), followed by accusations of corruption levelled against the Las Vegas Commission were exacerbated by Alvarez’s failed VADA test.
With Billy Joe Saunders defending his WBO title against Demetrius Andrade in Boston on October 20, Danny Jacobs contesting the vacant IBF strap against Sergey Derevyanchenko a week later and Jermall Charlo pushing for a title shot, the status of this bout has been seemingly diminished.
It doesn’t take much to push the paying customers offside, and suddenly Canelo is a cheat, Golovkin over the hill, and the whole event doesn’t mean as much as it should. Putting on an epic spectacle will no doubt pull them back around. Whether Canelo’s stock will be significantly diminished by the fact that he is now perceived to be training without the aid of medical enhancements is open to debate.
Golovkin is advancing in years, his apparent prime dominated by substandard challengers, and has looked less of a destroyer since the opposition levels went up a rung or two. Both men were well under the 176 lbs weight limit for the WBC 30-day weight check. Like the IBF, the WBC have tightened up on fighters crashing the weight and bloating themselves in the period between weigh-in and fight night. 30 days before the bout boxers cannot be 10 per cent over the contracted limit. Canelo looks just as physically carved as in previous contests, so take from that what you will.
Alvarez’s plight has resulted in Golovkin being painted as the good guy in this whole affair. Animosity between the two combatants has sufficiently increased, following a tepid build up to the first fight, pushing the kind of beef into the narrative so enjoyed by promoters like Eddie Hearn.
It has been said that a win for the Mexican would go so far as to clear his name, but for justice to be done its Golovkin who needs to prevail.
A Golovkin victory is seen as imperative for the integrity of the sport. Even though Canelo is undoubtedly not alone in his penchant for some tainted Mexican meat, ‘GGG’ would be justified in treading the moral high ground when he enters the ring on September 15 – the Kazakhstani Jedi is battling the forces of boxing’s Dark Side.
Every big fight needs a storyline, or hook, something to capture the imagination of not just boxing fans, but casual sports fans alike. Whenever Conor McGregor transitions into the noble art, people talk about it. Tyson Fury’s antics engage the interest of even sporting agnostics at the office water cooler. Golovkin and Canelo’s shared level of ability ensures they can compete at the pinnacle of the sport. They need each other, however, to create the buzz, momentum and ultimately generate a big payday.
Canelo sells tickets, flogs bundles of merchandise and can get people to enter that Box Office pin number. Without the right dance partner though even his numbers fall off. He’s not infallible, he’s still human, even with a hefty dose of special juice coursing through his veins he can only create so much momentum.
The fans love Golovkin. His winning smile, his fractured English, his propensity to stop and sign multiple autographs for hungry souvenir collectors has wooed even the Mexican fan base, considered a staple foundation of Canelo’s support. But, without the right opponent, he doesn’t move the needle like a Mayweather, a Pacquiao, a Tyson or, in the UK, a Joshua.
Golovkin’s command of the English language is more impressive than anything I could produce in Russian but take his broken catchphrases, add them to the fact that Canelo’s lines of communication are almost exclusively reserved to Spanish-speaking audiences, and the translation of appeal only stretches so far. Canelo is now being portrayed as the wrestling heel or the pantomime villain and whether the grudge element is genuine or not (I actually suspect it is) the promotional push on HBO has been lacking, and premium tickets have not been snapped up as rapidly as expected.
By scheduling their pugilistic freak show so close in time and date, Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor did serve to take the shine off the first GGG-Canelo bout, despite what the respective promotional camps would argue. The rematch needed something extra.
It needed a clearly defined hero and a bad guy. Both men have accepted and assumed their roles. Hopefully, it will still be an excellent fight, but if Canelo is hindered by a faltering frame crying out for that little something extra, then he could find himself in trouble. Golovkin’s chin is notoriously solid, his speed is somewhat diminished; he showed late on in the first fight, however, that he can handle the hard pace better despite his advanced years.
Regardless of where you stand on Canelo’s PED use: the ban, his excuses, the feigned exoneration that Golden Boy’s Eric Gomez seems to think victory will offer his charge – boxing as a whole needs a big performance from both men.
It has been said that a win for the Mexican would go so far as to clear his name, but for justice to be done its Golovkin who needs to prevail. Drugs are rife in this sport, of that, I have no doubt, and the facts, in this case, are out there, regardless of the reasoning behind them. No means of victory, no matter how hard fought, can absolve a proven breaker of the rules.
An emphatic knockout win for Golovkin, the consensus top middleweight on the planet, would send a clear message that cheaters never prosper and give our sport a distinctly positive shot in the arm.