t the beginning of this year, middleweight boxing superstar Canelo Álvarez was widely considered the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. But to the surprise of pugilism pundits worldwide, Álvarez slipped. In May, Dmitry Bivol of Russia upset Álvarez in a light-heavyweight matchup, handing Álvarez, just the second loss of his professional career.
All which makes tonight’s fight, between Álvarez and Gennadiy Golovkin in Las Vegas, all the more crucial for Álvarez. Already a highly influential boxer, the Mexican fighter is Alvarez. Alvarez signed an incredible 11-fight $365m deal with DAZN (a newly launched sports media organization). Álvarez, who hails from Mexico, trains in Southern California and has homes in both San Diego and Guadalajara, is popular throughout North America. Although his original DAZN deal fell through, Álvarez, 32, re-upped with DAZN for a lucrative two-fight deal in February.
“This fight is very important for my career,” Álvarez told TIME in a pre-fight interview. “Golovkin is a great fighter with a lot of accomplishments. This fight is important for my legacy, to be remembered as one of the greatest fighters in boxing history.”
They share a common history. In 2017, they met for the first time in the ring, and the bout ended in a controversial draw; although Golovkin connected on 50 more punches than his opponent, one judge called it a draw, another gave Golovkin the fight, and one judge turned in a baffling card for Álvarez, scoring the fight 118-110 in his favor. The fight was one of most successful in sport history. It sold over $27 million worth of tickets and attracted more that 1.3 million viewers via pay-per-view. A rematch was announced in January of 2018, but about two months before the early May fight date, Álvarez tested positive for a banned substance, clenbuterol. The result was attributed to Mexican beef, which is a common excuse. Duane Brown of the NFL was successful in reversing a possible suspension for clenbuterol. He argued that the positive result came from having eaten contaminated Mexican beef. The Nevada State Athletic Commission still suspended Álvarez for six months, and the rematch was rescheduled for Sept. 15, 2018.
Alvarez’s claim that he accidentally used a banned substance is still controversial. Golovkin has never believed Álvarez’s contention that he unintentionally used a banned substance “I’m more concerned about the situation from the standpoint of my opponent claiming to be one of the best fighters, one of the best representatives of the sport, and at the time behaving as if violating this once is still ok,” says Golovkin, who’s from Kazakhstan, through an interpreter. “This is disappointing.”
“I did everything to prove that I didn’t do anything wrong,” responds Álvarez. “That’s fine. That kind of thing, it’s excuses and excuses and excuses. I hate that motherf—er.”
Álvarez won that rematch, in another close bout. Boxing should have completed the trilogy soon after this 2018 fight, but as it the sport’s wont, all kinds of sniping got in the way. The third fight was delayed for four years. Golovkin’s now 40.
But don’t let age belie intensity. Tonight’s slugfest will be a result of this rivalry.
“I’m motivated,” says Golovkin. “I don’t really care about what he says, what he does, how he dresses. This opponent is someone I am familiar with. Canelo is my friend. His level of athletic ability is something I am familiar with. But I’m sort of disappointed with his behavior. As a person, he failed to develop himself to be a better man.”
Ding ding. In the eastern U.S., it starts at 11 p.m.
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