LAS VEGAS — Canelo Alvarez wanted you to believe him. Needed you to believe him.
He’s a cheater? Some 13 years of clean tests before getting popped in February say otherwise.
His career was tainted? The Clenbuterol problem in Mexican meat is real — how is it so few were willing to believe it?
Alvarez scored a narrow decision win in his rematch against Gennady Golovkin on Saturday, and it will be a long time before anyone brands Alvarez a dirty fighter again. Unquestionably clean, Alvarez spent 36 minutes looking like the better conditioned athlete. Accused of running in the first go-round, Alvarez took the fight to Golovkin, forcing the action, daring boxing’s boogeyman to trade punches with him in the middle of the ring.
It was a close fight, and all three judges saw it that way. Judge Glenn Feldman scored it a draw, overruled by Dave Moretti and Steve Weisfeld, who awarded Alvarez a 115-113 decision.
“I showed my victory with facts,” Alvarez said. “He was the one who was backing up. I feel satisfied because I gave a great fight. It was a clear victory.”
Said Golovkin, “I’m not going to say who won tonight, because the victory belongs to Canelo according to the judges. I thought it was a very good fight for the fans, and very exciting. I thought I fought better than he did.”
“We had a great fight, the one we expected the first time around,” added Golovkin’s trainer, Abel Sanchez. “I had it close going into the 12th round. We had good judges who saw it from different angles. I can’t complain about the decision, but it’s close enough to warrant a third fight.”
What a fight. What a night for Alvarez, who beat back his critics and ascended to the ranks of middleweight elite all in one night. In one night, we remembered that Alvarez was the fighter who has dared to be great, welcoming challenging matchups with the likes of Erislandy Lara and Austin Trout early in a young career. In one night, Alvarez proved Golovkin was not to be feared, hammering the unified champ with right hands while walking through more than a few. In one night, Alvarez showed he should be recognized not just as boxing’s most popular fighter, but arguably its best.
For weeks, Team Golovkin — trainer Abel Sanchez, specifically — dog whistled about Alvarez’s toughness, seemingly daring him to engage Golovkin in a toe-to-toe war. Never could they have believed he actually would. Yet there was Alvarez, in the first round, stalking Golovkin, forcing him to fight backing up more than ever before. Golovkin outlanded Canelo (234-202), per CompuBox, but Alvarez was the more accurate puncher (32.5 percent, to 26.6 percent for Golovkin) and held a big edge in power shots (143-116). From the arena floor, an ashen-faced Tom Loeffler, Golovkin’s promoter, admitted “We didn’t think he would fight like that.”
“We thought he would move a lot,” Loeffler told Yahoo Sports. “He didn’t. He came to fight. You have to give him credit for that.”
Said Sanchez, “He was goaded into it. In interviews I said that he had a chance to erase the issues he had [last fight]. I believe he erased those issues.”
What a strategy, and here is where you have to give a tip of the cap to Alvarez’s trainers, “Chepo” and Eddie Reynoso, for daring to devise it. Five years ago the Reynosos, in the biggest fight of Alvarez’s career, a high stakes showdown with Floyd Mayweather, were the architects of one of the worst game plans in recent memory, tossing aside a size advantage to try to box on the outside with the pound-for-pound king. In the aftermath of that fight, some wondered if Alvarez needed to shake his team up. He didn’t, and the decision to brawl with Golovkin proved brilliant.
“We saw that the best way to defeat [Golovkin] was making him go backwards,” Eddie Reynoso said. “Start in the center of the ring, making him go back. That’s when we saw how we get the victory. We didn’t work on our legs that much, we worked on everything else, and that was the key to victory. When you have a fighter [like Canelo] who knows how to do a lot of things, there is a lot you can change in the fight.”
Eight years ago Alvarez was rocked in a stepping stone fight against journeyman Jose Miguel Cotto, and since then some have wondered if his chin would get exposed again. Golovkin has stopped 34 opponents, many savagely, and his most recent opponent, Vanes Martirosyan, who Golovkin stopped last May, described Golovkin’s power as “like a train.”
“Run, buddy,” was Martirosyan’s advice to Alvarez.
Instead, Alvarez stood and traded.
“That was my plan,” Alvarez said. “I wanted the knockout.”
There are already calls for a third fight — Golovkin says he wants it, Alvarez said that he is happy to give it to him and a sold-out crowd and pay-per-view buys expected to zoom well past one million should motivate the promoters to make it — but the middleweight torch may have been passed on Saturday. Golovkin is 36 and isn’t getting any better while Alvarez, 28, looks like he is. After 24 rounds with Golovkin, he brims with confidence. When the decision was announced, Alvarez raised his index finger to his mouth, a simple gesture to quiet his vocal critics.
In the pandemonium of a career-defining win, those critics were silenced. Only cheers remained.