LAS VEGAS – It’s amazing when you think about it that Gennady Golovkin entered Saturday’s middleweight title bout with Canelo Alvarez with a 37-0 record, 33 knockouts, three championship belts and a lot of questions to answer.
He answered most of them before a loud and engaged sell-out crowd of 22,358 at T-Mobile Arena in a bout that was, disappointingly called a split draw.
He proved he’s the best middleweight in the game, though just barely. He proved he deserves to be considered one of the 10 best pound-for-pound fighters in the world. He proved he’s one of boxing’s most exciting fighters.
But that part about being one of the 10 greatest middleweights ever? Nah. That’s where we have to draw the line.
It’s hard to imagine Sugar Ray Robinson, or Carlos Monzon, or Marvelous Marvin Hagler, or Harry Greb, having to complain about the judging in a fight like that.
Alvarez, who is also among the finest fighters in the world, fought brilliantly and took the best that Golovkin had to offer. For 12 rounds, Golovkin stalked his man, but Alvarez took his best punches and was not only never dropped, but was never in serious jeopardy.
Alvarez was better defensively than he’d been in the past and limited Golovkin to a 32.2 connection percentage on his power punches, according to CompuBox, after Golovkin had landed 46 percent of them in his previous 13 bouts.
This was a fight that could have gone either way, despite judge Adalaide Byrd’s ridiculously wide 118-110 card in favor of Alvarez. A 115-113 verdict for either man, or a draw, was fair. Giving 10 of the 12 rounds to Alvarez was far from it.
“She’s an outstanding judge and like in any business, you have a bad day,” said Bob Bennett, the executive director of the Nevada Athletic Commission, about Byrd’s work.
But a fighter who aspires to be regarded among the best in the glorious history of one of boxing’s glamour divisions needs to be better than having to complain about bad work by one of the judges.
Yahoo Sports scored it 115-113, giving Golovkin Rounds 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9 and 11. But there was never a round in which the 35-year-old Kazakh imposed his will on the 27-year-old Mexican. He never had Alvarez reeling and he didn’t make many adjustments.
Oh, it wasn’t a bad performance by any means, particularly given the opposition was a fighter the quality of Alvarez. But the greatest step up and make a statement and while there are many who believe Golovkin won, it was not a statement victory.
If he won – if – it was by a whisper.
That’s where the problem comes in for Golovkin. He needed to validate that 37-0 record and those 33 knockouts in this fight. He remains boxing’s longest reigning champion at more than seven years and counting, and he’s clearly an elite fighter.
But at 35, he doesn’t seem to have the explosiveness that he had even two years ago. He won a decision in March over Daniel Jacobs that many observers felt should have gone Jacobs’ way. And then he let a winnable fight Saturday slip out of his hands by dropping the final three rounds on all three cards.
That is the difference. That’s where a Hagler or a Monzon would have found a way to get it done.
Golovkin thought he had won the decision, and there was ample evidence to support that. But imagine Sugar Ray Robinson – the greatest fighter ever, the greatest welterweight ever, the greatest middleweight ever – struggling to find a way to win one of three rounds down the stretch.
Had Golovkin won any of the last three rounds on Trella’s card, he would have won the fight. But he was outhustled by Alvarez when the fight was on the line and that is unforgivable when you’re being compared to the all-time greats.
Abel Sanchez, Golovkin’s highly regarded trainer, didn’t have much bad to say.
“No surprises,” Sanchez said. “We knew going in this would be a war. Canelo was very resilient.”
Golovkin is an offensive fighter and he wasn’t able to find his offense for long stretches of time.
It could be bravado, but Alvarez said Golovkin’s vaunted punching power wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, six months after Jacobs said the same thing.
“No,” Alvarez said flatly when asked if he felt Golovkin’s power. “Truthfully, not really. There wasn’t any power that surprised me. In the first rounds, I came out to see what he had. I was building from there. I think I won eight rounds.”
They’ll fight again, and Golovkin will get a chance to alter the result. But will it matter? On the biggest night of his life, when he needed to raise his game to the next level as the elite of the elite frequently do, he wasn’t there.
Golovkin said he felt he won and noted that he was the guy who was pressing the fight. He landed 49 more shots and threw 198 more, and landed more punches in 10 of the 12 rounds.
But the big one, that straight right or the hook behind it, never came. When he caught Alvarez cleanly, he couldn’t follow it up and take advantage. Alvarez deserves credit for that – there are two fighters in the ring and Alvarez is one of the 10 best in the world, too – but it was disappointing not to see Golovkin take that next step.
He remains a can’t-miss fighter, but let’s forget this idea that he’s an all-timer.
One of the best in the game today?
Is it worth circling the calendar in red every time he fights?
But another Hagler, Robinson, Monzon or Greb?
Nah. And sadly, he’s not even close.