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Canelo-Golovkin 2: Lessons from the Prequel

Does Gennady Golokvin have to do more to grab the decisive victory he wants?

Gennady Golovkin v Canelo Alvarez Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

With a big middleweight showdown on the schedule once again for this fall, it’s just about time to start revisiting the September 2017 fight between Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin while looking ahead to the sequel.

There’s no question in my mind that their first fight was a close one (for the record I scored it live for Golovkin by one round, 115-113). And, really, I expect another close one in September’s rematch. So in a battle of the evenly-matched, it’s usually the subtleties that wind up making the difference.

Therefore we’re going to break down some tape on what I thought were some key nuances to their first encounter and discuss which fighter will have to make the most adjustments in order to win the rematch.

As a general disclaimer, the clips we’ll look at here aren’t intended to be taken in isolation — for the purpose of re-scoring the first fight — but rather just to highlight some tactical things that stood out to me and why I believe they’ll play an important role in upcoming fight.

So as with any story — with the exception of Memento, which you should totally watch if you haven’t we’ll start from the beginning...

Setting The Tone

Gennady Golovkin is an excellent fighter, a well-schooled boxer whose technical reputation is only exceeded by his vaunted power. Yet underneath that ‘Mexican Style’ he’s so fond of marketing is an Eastern Bloc foundation. Golovkin’s style is cold, dissociative, calculating and devastating...

It’s also relatively unimaginative.

Golovkin will almost always start his attack with a jab, whether probing or intended for maximum carnage. If you’re familiar with Golovkin this is hardly news, and it’s not even technically a “bad thing.” On the contrary, it’s precisely what most fighters are taught to do. It’s textbook...

But it’s also predictable.

In a fight with Golovkin you know he’ll be looking to start almost all of his offense with his jab — and Canelo knew that’s exactly what he had to start with when implementing his game plan. So if we watch the first round of their first fight, we can see that Canelo was specifically prepared to deal with Golovkin’s prolific jab and reputable power. And what‘s the best way to do that? Foot movement, head movement, and counterpunching.

To consistently counter a fighter’s best weapon is to discipline them, dissuade them. And while the first rounds of fights are often thought to be a ‘feel-out’ period, you cannot always discount the importance of setting the tone in a fight, setting a precedent.

Within the first minute of the fight Canelo is looking for Golovkin’s patented jab, finds it, slips it, and counters with one of his own. I pulled several examples of this from the first round alone, but I’ll show you just a couple here to illustrate.

With Canelo having early success countering Golovkin’s jab with one of his own, Canelo starts putting shots together. Canelo counters Golovkin’s jab and hits him with a hard right hand to the body.

The reason I chose that particular clip is because it shows Golovkin flinch at Canelo’s feint right afterwards. Again, this isn’t a “bad” thing, but it shows that Golovkin is very reactive, indicative of the early surprise at Canelo’s hand speed.

Below watch as Canelo continues to display both speed and elusiveness as he weaves a Golovkin right hook and counters to both sides of his body, making Golovkin aware there will be at least some price to pay for his relentlessness.

The three clips above demonstrate how effective Canelo was in the very early going, turning his defense into offensive opportunities.

In the second round Canelo continued to make a point of using Golovkin’s constant pressure to create opportunities for himself, tagging him to the body with a couple of hard shots. The punches aren’t devastating, but they are hard and well-placed, designed to take some steam out of Golovkin for the later going.

Less than 5 minutes into the fight and Canelo is already making noticeable investments to the body. Canelo would continue his early body assault on Golokvin while Golovkin’s body attack remained noticeably absent.

And just to ensure that Golovkin doesn’t find his way back into his comfort zone too quickly, Canelo continues to counter Golovkin’s jab and target the body.

As Golovkin continues to march forward, Canelo continues to find counter opportunities to the body. But perhaps a bigger subtly was that Canelo was able to consistently circle out of danger to his left — a recurring theme Golovkin had difficulty preventing, and would make a difference throughout the fight. In my mind Golovkin’s inability to make that one adjustment was his single biggest tactical failure in the fight.

After getting Canelo in the corner, Canelo lands a counter uppercut and is able to walk out to his left. Golovkin momentarily cuts the ring off by strafing to his right, keeping Canelo along the ropes, but all the sudden gives up the angle as he goes for a jab, giving Canelo space to retreat.

Giving up that angle means Golovkin suddenly goes from cornering his prey to following a counter puncher around the ring. But really Golovkin — who is one of the best ring generals in boxing — should already be positioning himself to cut off Canelo’s escape route by shading to his right once he backs Canelo to the ropes (especially since Canelo has already demonstrated this tendency). But Golovkin either can’t, won’t, or simply doesn’t.

Now Canelo’s effective counters have started to make an impression on Golovkin, therefore by the start of the third round Golovkin decides that he needs to impose himself a little more in an attempt to stem the tide.

Golovkin is effective in spots, applying pressure and backing up Canelo, but Canelo still take opportunities to land some telling shots to the body and head, then back away from Golovkin’s response.

Some Semblance of Control

At this point in the fight, through three full rounds, Abel Sanchez expresses some concerns in the corner about how the fight is going, unhappy with Canelo dictating the pace. Sanchez urges Golovkin to step in with his punches as Canelo steps out because he’s missing on too many head shots. ‘You gave that one away,’ Sanchez says.

Golovkin then tries to mix it up more in the following round, and is successful in getting Canelo to the ropes (who by this time doesn’t have the legs to continually circle the outside of the ring) but Golovkin still has some difficulty delivering significant punishment, even when in an advantageous position.

This is supposed to be Golovkin’s bread and butter. He typically thrives once he has opponents on the ropes because he can unleash his thunderous arsenal of punches. But he’s taken a lot of body shots already, can’t find a clean target, and appears to be looking to do most of his damage upstairs.

That presents a problem as Canelo is a crafty defensive fighter, even on the ropes, and manages to even steal a page out of the Floyd Mayweather playbook. See if you can spot the resemblance...

Now all of this is well and good to look at, and I’m not showing you these clips to suggest Canelo has been dominating the fight, but he has been extremely effective at scoring on counters and keeping himself away from any of Golovkin’s game-changing punches.

Golovkin would gain momentum in the fight as Canelo would start spending more and more time along the ropes, winning several of the middle rounds. However even in winning some rounds Golovkin, hasn’t been able to put inflict any real damage on Canelo.

But by Round 8 Canelo is exhibiting real signs of fatigue, possibly from all his early lateral movement. Yet even so Golovkin is still unable to properly capitalize without taking some sharp counters in return and continually allows Canelo to escape the ropes — and once again, to his left.

In Round 9 Golovkin is able to land maybe his best shots of the fight, ones that really get Canelo’s attention, but he’s still unable to follow it up to even attempt closing the show. Golovkin shows a propensity to wait until his opponent finishes their attack before following up with his own, giving Canelo the opportunity to escape when he’s done unloading. And yet again Canelo is able to escape danger by moving clockwise.

Golovkin seldom throws his counter shots in between an opponent’s flurry, and instead waits for them to finish before launching his own counter attack. But this approach can be problematic if your opponent is adept at getting out of range once they’re done punching, which Canelo has demonstrated.

However, with fatigue having already set in, Golovkin has been able to press the action in terms of coming forward, keeping Canelo on his back foot. And while Golovkin hasn’t inflicted any real noticeable damage on Canelo, he has been able to win a stretch of rounds...that is, until championship rounds.

A Late Rally

In the final round Canelo showed some real fortitude and dug deep to make a stand. He comes out in the final frame and goes right on the attack, hitting Golovkin to the head and body.

Canelo would continue outwork Golovkin in the final round which ended up being the difference maker on the official scorecards, earning him the split draw instead of a majority decision loss.

This fight ended up being exactly what it was meant to be. Golovkin fought his usual style and Canelo really fought his, which was why it was always a compelling match-up. And although Golovkin was unable to deliver the ferocious body punching he’s been known for in the past, it might’ve just been because Canelo was a better opponent than he’s previously encountered and he commanded that respect during the fight.

But if Golovkin expects to score a decisive win this time around, he’s going to have to make some adjustments. And the reason I’ve highlighted a lot of Canelo’s success in this article is precisely because I believe Golovkin has to address these things if he’s to get a decisive victory this time around. His style is his style, and he can’t nor shouldn’t try to change that, but he will need to be more effective in his approach.

Golovkin will either need to decide that he’s willing to eat more of Canelo’s counters in order to get off his own uninhibited offense (particularly to the body) or preferably just be more astute in setting traps for Canelo, beating him to the spot, providing no room for reprieve.

From Canelo’s point of view, it’s a little more for difficult for me to say. I still hold the feeling that Golovkin took a close decision but Canelo got the kind of fight he wanted. It sounds weird, but that’s just how I see it. It seems to me that if Canelo, who is now entering his physical prime, is able to improve his stamina enough to sustain his attack more and maintain lateral movement for a longer stretch [insert clenbuterol joke here], that should be enough to get over the hump.

Who will ultimately do what? We’ll find out on September 15.

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