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Canelo vs Golovkin II: Top class, timely, yet tainted

The wait is over for the rematch of last year’s ‘Supremacy’ fight. What’s changed in 12 months?

Lewis Watson is a sports writer from London, UK, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He has been a contributor at Bad Left Hook since 2018.

So here we are again. After last year’s ‘Supremacy’ draw between the two best middleweights on the planet, we are set to do it all again.

Marred by Adalaide Byrd’s controversial 118-110 scorecard in favour of Canelo, the first fight had a quick, easy narrative to fall back on in promoting the rematch. “Justice”; “revenge”, were the words that battled “corruption”; “politics”; “incompetence”, as the dust settled on the T-Mobile Arena, Nevada.

How much has changed in the context of this fight as we sit twelve months on from one of the most viewed bouts in pay-per-view history? Is it as important? Is it still legacy-defining?

In the run-up to September 16, 2017, I covered fight week closely. Toing and froing between predictions, jumping on and off the fence, I summarised the upcoming fight as the following:

”Albeit two years too late, Canelo-Golovkin is the super-fight that makes the boxing world stand still. Pound-for-pound contenders and middleweight assassins, both fighters come into Saturday’s ‘Supremacy’ bout with a belief that they will walk away the victor, draped in three-quarters of the middleweight marbles.

Golovkin hasn’t looked his spine-chilling self in his last two outings, and with Canelo growing and maturing fight-after-fight, I can’t help but agree with the narrative that the timing is right for the Mexican challenger. If Golovkin walks down Canelo in the mid-rounds, sharp counters and quick head movement could prove to be the antidote to Golovkin’s main weaponry, with Canelo looking strong at the weight and able to shake off the Kazakh’s power.

Golovkin has been easy to hit in his last few fights, and despite escaping unscathed with a 37-0 record intact, ‘Triple G’ may not be able to rely on his power to stop the seasoned Mexican. Expect Golovkin to have success throughout the fight but for Canelo to land the cleaner and sharper work concentrating mainly on the body, with Golovkin looking each one of his 35-years at the end of the fight.”

The first thing that jumps out when reviewing this a year on, is Canelo’s size. The Mexican was strong at the weight and was able to shake the power of GGG throughout the 12 rounds. However, now we know why.

The Mexican meat scandal that Canelo has found himself embroiled in has lingered over this rematch since the news broke in early March. With clenbuterol found in the fighter’s system - prior to their previously scheduled rematch on May 5 - the boxing world has since debated whether the Mexican deliberately cheated, was unlucky, or was naive.

Speaking after the news broke, Canelo was quick to defend his positive test result: “I am an athlete who respects the sport and this surprises me and bothers me because it had never happened to me. I will submit to all the tests that require me to clarify this embarrassing situation and I trust that at the end the truth will prevail”.

These blurring of lines have done their best to detract from the legitimacy of the upcoming second fight. We will never know the truth; we can only go by the facts. With a powerhouse promotional stable behind him in Golden Boy and Oscar De La Hoya, Canelo has gotten off lightly where others may have suffered worse consequences. In fact, this failed drugs test and the subsequent six-month ban has allowed the Mexican to gain advantages: knee surgery has been a success, and GGG isn’t getting any younger...

This cloud, for me, hangs heavily over the rematch. What if Canelo wins? Can we be sure that he is clean, or are we to assume that politics and corruption in the sport have enabled him to gain an advantage once again? Sure, he looks sleeker this time around, lighter, more defined than built; a tactical decision to avoid gassing out in the latter rounds. Does this add further fuel to the fire that he knowingly cheated previously?

Then, of course, we have the scorecards. Adalaide Byrd scored the fight 118-110 for Alvarez. Dave Moretti scored it 115-113 for Golovkin, while Don Trella had it a draw. According to judge Byrd’s scorecard, Golovkin only won the fourth and seventh rounds. Two rounds?! There can be no arguments in scoring this fight a draw, but the disparity between cards lead to arguments between Byrd’s incompetence vs. possible corruption.

This time last year there was very little doubt what a clear winner would have achieved. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who would deprive the winner of the mythical pound-for-pound top spot (despite Terence Crawford’s undisputed victory).

Can we really say that this time around? Lomachenko, Usyk, Crawford, and Garcia appear to be the new faces of the sport. There is a feeling that this fight has suffered a degression from the best vs. the best, into wrong vs. right. Canelo still has his army of fans, however, the narrative has changed the opinion of the neutral.

GGG’s candid, honest and affable nature has made him a hit with the boxing media in recent years; his English is improving rapidly. A win for the Kazakh would be celebrated by myself, more due to the feeling of justice prevailing. Golovkin and his team have bent over backwards to ensure that this rematch takes place; if the contaminated meat was on the other foot (figuratively speaking), would Golden Boy have accepted the rematch?

Golovkin has cited his anger at the situation in recent interviews: “I want to punish him. I want to have a fight and punish him for all the bad things that he and his team have done, so basically to put them … to size him down and to put him and his team in their place. Nobody knows how it’s going to end, what’s going to be the result. But nobody is going to congratulate anybody, that’s for sure.”

This transformation into a ‘grudge match’ of sorts has completely altered the way the fight is being viewed. Technical analysis has taken a backseat, making room for conflict between the camps and further talk of drug tests and appointment of judges.

It turns out, twelve months is a very long time in boxing. A fight we once lusted over for all the right reasons has soured; the narrative flipped from that of the sweet science into a tale of bitterness and deceit. Now - as is so common in our sport - we are left with a carcass of what once remained; picking over the fractured meat which we once gained such pleasure from.

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