Canelo Alvarez dominates faded Gennady Golovkin to cap the trilogy

Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez erased the problems of his difficult year and a bitter rivalry when he defeated Gennady Golovkin in a unanimous points victory in his third fight in Las Vegas on Saturday night. Alvarez, the undisputed world super middleweight champion, was a comprehensive winner and the only surprise was that, for once, the judges sympathized with Golovkin. Two 115-113 cards were strange, with the third official’s verdict of 116-112 in favor of Álvarez a slightly more accurate reflection.

Alvarez was too young, too strong and too driven for Golovkin, a great world champion who is now a relentless 40-year-old in the ring. Under the bright lights and the percussive impact of Álvarez’s powerful punches, Golovkin cut a dim figure early in a one-sided contest. He was unable to prevail and, especially in the first seven rounds, looked like a despondent version of the once formidable middleweight champion who dominated his division for so many years.

Instead, Álvarez did his job with fire and force. He was aggressive, if occasionally wild, and repeatedly knocked Golovkin back. By the end of the fifth round, the big man would be lonely on the corner stool, his face flushed and a swelling forming under his right eye.

Alvarez continued to land meaningful punches and it looked like Golovkin would have to draw on all his considerable courage to survive a slow and methodical beating. But, to his credit, Golovkin dug deep into himself and there were fleeting bursts of effective work. Alvarez was dragged into a real fight in the ninth and tenth rounds when Golovkin finally let his hands fly. For those six minutes he fought with real purpose and determination because, unlike the hapless judges, he realized that he needed something special to try to change the pattern of the bout.

Golovkin landed hard punches, even backing Alvarez against the ropes. But in those hotly contested exchanges, Álvarez still fired volleys of punches in return. Both rounds could rightly be awarded to Golovkin, but they were his only real success of the night.

Canelo Alvarez
Canelo Alvarez lands a right hand during Saturday’s bout. Photo: Joe Camporeale/USA Today Sports

He tried to build on that momentum but, in the final stretch of the fight, Alvarez cruised home comfortably. Despite the caveats of Golovkin’s age and disappointing performance, he can claim this win as one of his most satisfying in a professional career that began when he was just 15 years old in 2005.

Alvarez has a troubled history at the T-Mobile Arena, which was, again, electrified by his stupid Mexican fans. It was here, in May, that he lost for only the second time in 17 years, when he was sent off by Dmitry Bivol. Alvarez had moved up in weight to challenge Bivol for his world lightweight title, and while the context was clear that he was the much smaller man, the big Mexican’s aura was heavily clouded. Bivol exposed him and frustrated him.

Of course, Golovkin had already undermined the Canelo hype machine that was just starting to roll when he fought Alvarez at T-Mobile for the first time five years ago this week. Golovkin won that bout in the eyes of most sane observers, but the Las Vegas judges scored it as a damagingly controversial draw. Exactly one year later, in September 2018, they returned to the same ring and Alvarez nuanced a very close decision in a less controversial way. It was clear then that he and Golovkin were two champions of almost equal merit.

Over the next four years, Alvarez smoothly rose to the status of celebrated boxing master who also became the cash cow of this greedy old business. He proved to be an outstanding technician, who became as interesting outside the ring as he was between the ropes. But Golovkin’s shadow still hung over him. It seemed typical of boxing that a third fight between them would have to be delayed for years while Golovkin, who hails from Kazakhstan and is not as marketable as Canelo, labored in relative obscurity.

Golovkin and his supporters believed that Alvarez, who is a shrewd businessman and ruthless boxer, was simply waiting for his arch-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 painful night for the older man.

The only real damage Alvarez suffered was to his left hand, which he revealed after the fight might require surgery. But, next May, he will presumably move on to the much more dangerous test of trying to outdo Bivol, who is neither old nor 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 a relentless and ferocious world champion. He was as good, and probably better, than Alvarez in his first two fights. But on a rough night in Vegas, Golovkin resembled a ghost of his former self.

At the end of their trilogy, a triumphant Alvarez hugged and consoled his defeated old rival, as if to tell him that there is no shame in succumbing to time and the harsh reality of boxing.

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