‘Boxing is entertainment, so to be successful a fighter must not only win but he must win in an exciting manner. He must throw punches with bad intentions’.
A CENTURY OF MIDDLEWEIGHT WAR
For over a century, every decade or so, boxing has been graced with a perfect showdown. Fights with aggressive and action packed boxing styles clashing in the ring to please all audiences – from the blood-thirsty ‘fair-weather’ fan to the prudent hardcore purist.
Back in 1925, during the Golden Age of the sport and while arguably at its absolute apex, boxing spectators witnessed an historical bout in the 160-pound division that had all the hallmarks of a classic between legends Harry ‘The Pittsburgh Windmill’ Greb( 107-8-3 ) and Mickey ‘The Toy Bulldog’ Walker( 94-19-4 ); while there’s no visual footage of this rousing affair for the modern fan to peruse and compare, trusty ‘old-school’ boxers and writers, who were present at the bout, leave us anecdotes and commentary that suggest both men lived up to their high-repute of ring ferocity and aggression; with both producing an atomic like explosion of action in their encounter which culminated with Greb, after a vacillating and competitive first-half, eventually gaining mastery over a defiant Walker to take the decision at the end of 15th round.
There’s also a colorful, but unconfirmed rumor, that the shock-waves and nuclear fallout from the explosion of violence witnessed in the ring ended up reverberating beyond the radius of the square-circle in the aftermath to a nightclub where an argument between the pair led to an unlicensed brawl just hours after their first ring encounter, and where legend has it that the ‘The Toy Bulldog’ came out on top.
You can almost taste the subsequent radioactive ashen dust on your lips from the thought of seeing the styles of these two legends clash in the ring.
(Legends of the sport: Mickey Walker(left) and Harry Greb(right) shake hands before their ring war)
From 1946 to 1948 – boxing fans were spoiled with not only one conspicuous and historically defining match-up, but four epic middleweight bouts with three of them receiving The Ring Magazine Fight of the Year award for the quality of action they produced, and which all included the firm, resolute and hard-hitting Tony “Man of Steel” Zale( 67-18-2 ) who courageously faced-off against the rough-and-tumble knockout artist Rocky Grazaino( 67-10-6 ) on three occasions: in 1946(awarded Ring Magazine Fight of the year), where he won by KO in round 6; 1947(awarded Ring Magazine Fight of the year), where he was stopped in round 6; and then again in 1948 where in addition to winning and completing his trilogy with the Italian American slugger(3rd round KO win), he also fought the hard-hitting pressure-fighter Marcel Cerdan( 111-4-0 )in a bout that also picked up The Ring Magazine Fight of the Year award for its efforts.
The Rocky vs Zale trilogy of fights were all action-packed affairs, with each man ‘throwing caution to the wind’ and dispensing sickening fight-ending rights and hooks from the first bell.
They were so brutal that in the aftermath of the first encounter, The Associated Press wrote at the time that Zale ‘looked like a man who had been in hand-to-hand combat with a buzz-saw’.
The self-styled ‘Man of Steel’, however, couldn’t find a similar level of triumph against the compact ‘threshing machine’ of the French Cerdan and was defeated when he failed to come out for the 12th round. Although Zale did have his moments in that fight, he ultimately could never find an answer to the constant pressure, ‘bobbing and weaving’, and tight punching employed from the French great, who, unexpectedly, for all his unceasing tenacity prior to the end of the 11th, showed a bit of class when he ‘seemed’ to afford Zale clemency and a possible chance of respite by conscientiously stopping short on a surely terminal onslaught of not only fight-ending punches but career ending ones, when it was clear that his opponent was in bad-shape and instead opted to return back to his corner to allow the referee to interject and his corner help hump an exanimate Zale – who was at that point barely held up by the ropes with all the life of a Leopard’s kill straddling the branch of a tree in the Savannah heat – back to the corner.
It’s incredible to think that Tony Zale had three epic wars with these two warriors across a 21-month period.
Tony Zale in an intense and grueling battle with Marcel Cerdan
1950, 1960 AND 1970
By the post-war 1950s, and onward, a decline in the quality of fighters was starting to become more apparent in the sport, due to the advent of television which had a fatal impact on the number of boxing shows being staged in local arenas, in addition to a rise in living standards that also helped to deplete a previously large talent-pool of trainers and boxers, who, in years past, would have made a decent-living from fights but could now make more, and easier money, elsewhere.
This revolutionary change started a contraction in the skill-level of the sport that would shape the landscape of boxing for the next half a century and from which it has never fully recovered, but ironically this demise in standard that impacted the more scientific side of the sport so much, due to a decline in trainers, gyms and boxers with their various styles, also provided fans with more brawlers and sluggers that brought a whole series of sanguinary battles in the ring including notable and ferocious slam-and-bang tussles from Gene ‘cyclone’ Fullmer( 55-6-3 ) vs Carmen ‘The Upstate Onion Farmer’ Basilio( 56-16-7 ), Carl Bobo Olson( 97-16-2 ) vs Kid ‘The Cuban Hawk’ Gavilan( 108-30-5 ), and Carlos ‘Escopeta’ Monzon( 87-3-9 ) vs Giovanni “Nino” Benvenuti ( 82-7-1 ) to name a few.
I urge anyone looking for a boxing bout that merits the word ‘war’ being associated with it, to check out the below video of Gene Fullmer vs Carmen Basilio 1.
You won’t be disappointed.
Gene Fullmer and Carmen Basilio go to war
This decade hosted arguably the absolute pinnacle of savagery ever seen in a boxing round, when in 1985 Marvin ‘Marvellous’ Hagler ( 62-3-2 ) and Thomas ‘The Hitmans’ Hearns( 61-5-1 ) battled to provide fans a frenetic and intense ding-dong affair which ended with the Hitman being KO’ed badly in the 3rd and needing help from the referee to prop him-up up like a passerby aiding a semi-conscious drunk who had lost all sense of balance.
Although the fight was an ephemeral affair, it had all the ingredients of excitement, action, intensity, hostility, skill, experience, determination and power to guarantee it being be forever etched in the minds of boxing fans for a century to come.
Another middleweight dogfight that occurred at the tail end of the 80s as the ‘icing on the cake’, and well worth mentioning in the same bracket as the aforementioned fight 4 years earlier, is the 1989 Ring Magazine Fight of the Year winning bout between Iran ‘The Blade’ Barkley( 43-19-1 ) vs Roberto ‘Hands of Stone’ Duran ( 103-16-0 )
In that shoot-out the legendary Duran, who first won the lightweight title 17 years prior, was attempting to revive his career at age 37 after having suffered a succession of defeats years previously by challenging a younger 28-year old champion in Barkley, who had just come off a KO win over Tommy Hearns; a man who had 4-years earlier shocked the boxing world by flattening Duran with ease in 2-rounds.
In the run-up to the bout – everything ‘on paper’ had suggested that a washed-up Duran would pose absolutely no threat to the much younger, physically larger and hard-hitting Barkley. How wrong the doubters were . . . as Duran seemingly ‘turned back the clock’ and systematically broke down ‘The Blade’ with perfectly timed counter shots using all the skill-fullness and guile that fans were accustomed to seeing when the Panamanian was at the apogee of his career.
After a fast-paced and grueling 12 rounds between both men, Duran’s artillery and heart proved too much for the younger champion and ‘Manos De Piedra’ walked away with a decision win, proving the naysayers wrong again like he once had done with his shock defeat of Davey Moore years prior.
Roberto Duran defying the odds to defeat Iran Barkley
It’s now just over 20 years since that last middleweight war between Hagler and Hearns, and in a few days fans will have chance to find out if the upcoming Gennady ‘GGG’ Golovkin vs Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez super showdown for the WBC, WBA and IBF titles and undisputed mantle, at the T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas, will prove to be an atavism to the past glory-days boxing enjoyed in the aforementioned list of ring-wars.
On paper it ticks all boxes, when considering the propensity for action and clash of styles, as it’s inconceivable to think that this fight will provide us with a dull affair, exhibit any negativity or spoiling tactics that could sour due to the attitude, demeanor and qualities that each possess when going about their business in the ring.
TALE OF THE TAPE: A GOLIATH VS GOLIATH AFFAIR?
Both men have been immured in boxing since their early childhood. Canelo, encouraged by an older brother who was turning professional, first laced-up boxing gloves at the tender age of 13, compiled a 44-2 record and won the Junior Mexican National Boxing Champion in the process. In the same year he won that title, at only age 15, he turned professional.
Golovkin, like Canelo, was also encouraged by an older brother and put on his first pair of boxing gloves as an 8-year old; going on to compile a reputed 345-8 record in the amateurs where he captured a middleweight Gold Medal at the 2003 World Championships and Silver at the 2004 Olympics in Athens.
It’s sometimes easy to forget that GGG, with his open and pugnacious demeanor in the ring as a pro, reached those Olympian heights which would have required top boxing IQ and skills.
Professionally, Golovkin( 37-0-0 ) holds the IBF,WBC and WBA titles, is unbeaten, and 3 fights short(including his bout on Saturday) of beating the all-time record for title defenses at middleweight which is currently held by Bernard Hopkins.
Canelo( 49-1-1 ) in the pro-ranks, has a draw and a loss on his record, and will be fighting for the third time on Saturday at Middleweight.
On paper it would appear Canelo has fought the better competition due to facing fighters such as Mayweather, Mosley, Kahn and Cotto; compared to GGG, who, in comparison, has fought Murray, Macklin, Lemieux, Brook and Jacobs.
If you were to take into account their amateur and pro backgrounds, and the styles of the opposition both men have faced, then GGG has the advantage when considering this particular fight, as practically none of the top-tier opposition that the Mexican superstar has faced have had styles that resemble the manner that GGG displays in the ring.
Most of the top-rung talent that have been in the opposing corner from him have been slick-movers with good boxing IQs and fast-feet.
James Kirkland is perhaps the only fighter worth mentioning that has a similar come-forward and aggressive style, but he didn’t possess any similarities physically or mimic the methodical and educated pressure that GGG does.
In addition, I would have mentioned Chavez Jnr but he practically did or could do nothing of note in his bout with Canelo for it to be useful to the Mexican or as a gauge for boxing spectators to juxtapose with.
In contrast – Golovkin’s opposition of Murray, Macklin and Lemieux bear some resemblance to Alvarez in their strength and come-forward styles(however slight), which may give the Kazakh the edge here due to the experience and learning that would have been gained from tackling those types of fighters in the past, and, most importantly of all, all have been naturally big and strong at the weight.
GGG’s 350-odd fights in amateur ranks would have also ensured he had seen pretty all there is to see, when it comes to styles in a ring.
PHYSICALITY AND STRENGTH
When it comes to height and reach there’s not a lot of difference between both men; Golovkin at 5ft 10 inches pips Canelo in height by one inch, while the reach of Canelo at 70 1/2 inches just edges his opponents 70 inch reach.
Both of these attributes will no-doubt be recalculated in the ring when you consider the Kazakh’s hunched stance which takes away some height, but helps with his reach due to his forward tilting stance.
Although there isn’t a lot of disparity between the pair when it comes to height and reach, there is a glaring difference in this department in that GGG has been campaigning at middleweight since his Olympic days and is considered a natural at the weight.
For the vast-majority of Alvarez’s career he has been the bigger and stronger man at Light-Middleweight; his size and bulk have augmented his offensive counter-punching style well in the smaller divisions, but it’s unclear if he can utilize that ‘bullish’ strength at Middleweight and against such a formidable opponent who has proven he can ‘bully’ men outweighing him by 10-pounds or so in the 160-pound division.
For me this will be an important factor in this fight, due to the way the pair fight.
Both men have what can be considered aggressive styles, but differ in their approach. Golovkin fights in a marauding and truculent come-forward seek-and-destroy type of manner that’s bereft of any flashiness with the focus of a Terminator from a James Cameron blockbuster.
The main strategy of the Kazakh is to apply intense pressure while working behind a head-jolting jab, to cut-off-the-ring and force an opening for him to unleash powerful-shots capable of KO’ing an opponent from either hand.
It’s a dangerous style to employ, but it suits his physical qualities and punching power and has been a winning formula so far for the unbeaten GGG.
Canelo in contrast employs a more patient and counter-punching style while pressing the action. His strategy, while going forward behind a thudding jab of his own, is to cease an opportunity from an opponent’s mistake to capitalize on and reply with fast and powerful combinations to the body and head.
For me Alvarez has shown and proven, due to his performances against the caliber of opposition that he has faced in the pro ranks, that he is better technically. If this fight never hinged so much on GGG’s power, weight and the all important requisite of the Mexican’s own punching power needing to be respected, then I’d overwhelmingly favor him in this department to win on the basis of style alone, but for this particular bout the balance appears to sway in favor of these three aforementioned conditions having a significant bearing in the outcome of this fight.
ACCURACY & POWER
GGG possesses a near 90% KO ratio and has only went the distance a handful of times, whereas Canelo has a KO ratio approaching 70% from the lower weight categories( bar his fight with Cotto who moved up a weight to challenge him. )
Unlike Golovkin, Alvarez isn’t what you would call a real one-punch knockout artist(although he has scored single KOs) he’s more of a hurtful puncher who gets the knockout usually after breaking an opponent down or during a combination rather than by a single shot.
The Mexican superstar throws almost all his punches with ‘bad intentions’, but will he have enough ‘pop’ in his punch to not only gain GGG’s respect but push him back and hurt him as well, is the question?
Only GGG’s recent fight with Jacobs proved that it’s a possibility if you can punch, switch-hit to disrupt his rhythm and weigh 10-pounds or more on fight-night, when standing your ground against the Californian based KO artist.
The Kazack, apart from being heavy-handed, also has good punch placement and an unorthodox style of throwing winging and looping shots on top of an excellent base of balance that provides a good deal of torque for him to put into his blows, which he also turns over at just the right time before impact to maximize the power in his strike.
He also very savvy when setting up punches and likes to set traps by varying the power in his shots to dupe opponents into opening-up to expose vulnerabilities.
With-that-said: Golovkin’s winging and looping shots also leave him susceptible to punches through the middle, and it will be interesting to see how the Mexican deals with not only the power, but the unusual angles that will be presented to him on Saturday.
SPEED AND TIMING
Golovkin isn’t considered the fastest of punchers, but nor is he the slowest and he off-sets his lack of speed by positioning himself adequately to time his shots.
Canelo, on the other hand, possess not only good timing and positioning, but speed too and can fire off impressive and rapid combinations when needed.
Where Alvarez might struggle here is not in his hand-speed, but in the speed of his footwork and especially if he fails to impose himself or gain respect from his opponent and has to fight on the back-foot, as I believe upper-body movement alone without any adequate supplementing of power or movement will not be enough to keep the heavy-handed Undisputed Champion at bay, who can set a stifling pace, close-down an opponent or cut-the-ring off swiftly.
Any opponent who has fought Golovkin and found any measure of success has possessed a good level of speed in terms of punch, footwork and movement, which I believe will be a key factor in this fight for the Mexican.
STAMINA AND ENDURANCE
Both men are patient, methodical and economical with their approach in the ring and don’t waste energy throwing needless punches.
The pair have also went the distance on numerous occasions, with Canelo hearing the final bell multiplied by three and a bit the four times GGG has.
Although there hasn’t been any telling issues in the stamina department for Alvarez, it’s unknown how the Mexican’s body will handle the extra-weight or bulk that he has reputedly put on in his strength training regime for this fight, and especially if the bout manages to drag into the second-half?
Even though Alvarez has went been the distance far more times than Gennady, I am going to go with the Kazakh having the edge here as we don’t know how much this unusual extra muscle-mass(if the rumor is true) will have a bearing on the Mexican’s lungs down-the-stretch against a natural middleweight and such a tenacious pressure fighter as Golovkin, and especially if he can’t hurt him and has to revert to moving on the back-foot; something that he hasn’t been accustomed to much in the past, due to having enjoyed being in a position to impose his own strength on opponents in the lower weight divisions which afforded him the liberty to calibrate or set the pace and tempo on his own volition.
The ferocious and hard-hitting heavyweight great, Mike Tyson, once commented: ‘Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.’
GGG’s defence is in his offence; for the majority of his career most of his opponent’s knee-jerk reactions, when eating leather from his punches, were to back-off in safety-mode causing them in turn to become more reticent to commit or exchange their own blows for fear of being exposed, which would take the sting out of their own offense while encouraging the Kazack to throw more leather.
Golovkin however sometimes leaves himself vulnerable when throwing his powerful wide-looping shots, which Canelo may be able to take advantage of if he decides to emulate what Evander Holyfield did to defeat Mike Tyson, in their heavyweight encounter, and take the fight to him by punching straight down the middle or attack the body to expose or neutralize his winging blows?
It would be wholly inaccurate to suggest that Golovkin doesn’t possess any defense, as he is a lot more judicious in this department than given credit and uses his excellent sense of distance and range to help aid him when evading his opponents offence.
Canelo, in contrast, utilizes excellent upper-body movement and parrying skills to evade and counter the opposition’s incoming blows, and like his Kazakh counter-part,he also has a great sense of range and distance.
However, with-that-said, even though I rate the Mexican having the better defense, I feel that at times his proclivity to plant-his-feet and lack of footwork and movement in this department, coupled with his style of defense and countering from his upper-body movement, might not be enough to deal with the Jab, overall pressure, angles, accuracy and power from the powerful undisputed middleweight if GGG doesn’t respect his power early on.
Canelo has also been know to soak up punishment on his gloves or go to the ropes for a breather, and sometimes pulls his head-back exposing his chin when defending.
Flaws that he maybe could have got away with in lighter divisions against smaller men, but can’t afford to with a bigger man and puncher like Golovkin.
It’s also worth mentioning that any extra muscle packed on for this fight(depending on how it was achieved) could also bring with it a measure of ‘stiffness’ that may impact the Mexican’s fluidity in punching and defense?
IS ALL FAIR IN WAR?
When the fight was first announced I had the bout as a genuine 50/50 and found it hard to pick a clear-cut winner; as times went on I’ve slowly started to ‘edge it’ in GGG’s favor and predict a late stoppage somewhere around the 7th or 8th, as I feel the Mexican’s footwork and movement isn’t good enough to avoid Golovkin’s persistent and stalking offence, and that things will get dangerously compounded if he can’t get the Kazakh’s respect early on to off-set that lack of athleticism and movement needed to deal with the unbeaten middleweight’s pressure, and this will be especially true if the weight difference and power from the undisputed champion prove too much for him to handle.
With that said: Alvarez has never been down in a pro career that has included 51 professional fights, so the onus is also on GGG to make a statement here too, or it could be along night for him.
Until we see both men on fight-night, it’s going to be hard to tell if Canelo can emulate what the smaller man in Roberto Duran did against Iran Barkley or whether he’ll end up failing to make an impact on his opponent much like Mickey Walker when he jumped-up in weight to fight Max Schmeling. If he does manage to withstand the punching-power of his adversary, gain his respect or even hurt him, in the fight this coming Saturday, then he is more than capable of reversing the polarity in his favor for a win.
Regardless who is the victor on Saturday, boxing in general should come away a winner and hopefully if there’s an alignment in the universe, anytime there’s a discussion on the greatest-fights ever seen in a boxing ring, the names Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin will grace the lips of fans for another century to come.