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Split Decision Series: Canelo Alvarez vs Gennady Golovkin I

Updated: Aug 18, 2020

By Michael Walsh

It’s quite possibly the most controversial super-fight to divide fans in recent history, Canelo Alvarez v Gennady Golovkin for all the middleweight marbles in September 2017. There are some big fights where fans are quite happy to just see the better man win on the night and are able to stay emotionally neutral throughout. However, with this bout, most fans seemed to pick a side and have a preferred winner.

Canelo is arguably the face of boxing; he is the money-making machine representing the fanatical boxing fans of Mexico, bringing all the bells and whistles to the fight game. Golovkin, on the other hand, is a throwback, offering an old-fashioned representation of the sport. A no-nonsense, fan-friendly fighter.

This was more than a clash between the two best middleweights in the world, it was a clash of cultures. While writing a series looking at controversial decisions, there was no way this bout could be ignored.


With murmurs of this fight taking place beginning back in 2015, it was inevitable that the pair were going to meet in order to once and truly discover who the best middleweight of recent times was.

The bout was finally agreed and announced after Canelo’s victory over Julio Cesar Chavez Jr in May 2017 and as Golovkin joined him in the ring, Alvarez declared “You are next, my friend. I’ve never feared anyone.”

There was a reason why Canelo felt the need to say that, because Golovkin was possible the most feared fighter in the sport at that point, he had left a trail of destruction behind him heading into this fight. That included the likes of Martin Murray, Willie Munroe Jr, David Lemieux, Kell Brook and Daniel Jacobs. He responded to Canelo’s comments by promising another iconic “big drama show”.

Billed as ‘Supremacy’, Golovkin was defending his unified WBA, WBC, IBF and IBO middleweight titles against The Ring magazines and the former lineal middleweight champion.

In addition, after knocking out Amir Khan in devastating fashion, Canelo vacated the WBC middleweight title, which was immediately awarded to Golovkin, so there was obviously genuine middleweight credibility on either side of the ring.

Details of the deal would later emerge as the fight drew closer and it was revealed that negotiations went in Canelo’s favour with a re-match clause included in the event he lost but not one for Golovkin if he came up short. Many also felt that having no-hydration clauses meant an advantage for Canelo as he would be able to gain more weight than GGG in the time between the weigh-in and the fight itself.

The fight

A composed figure, Golovkin made his way to the ring first, looking very relaxed and at ease at the task which lies ahead. A visibly bigger Canelo looked equally focused and relaxed as he headed to the ring in ominous fashion.

Round one began as many expected it to, GGG marching forward and taking the centre of the ring while Canelo looked to box on the back foot. Not much of note went down in the first session, but Canelo landed a stern body counter shot after evading a Golovkin hook. The Mexican certainly looked sharper early on and landed the cleaner work.

More of the same followed in the second, more endeavour from GGG but the cleaner and more effective shots coming from a controlled Canelo. Golovkin was starting to look predictable in his approach.

I made it a clean sweep for Canelo after another shrewd display in the third round, Golovkin finding it hard to find his range with Canelo fighting so well on the back foot, his uppercut the pick of the punches in the round.

The fourth round saw Canelo finally slow down and GGG was able to close the gap and find his range to land effectively. Midway through the round, GGG had Alvarez pinned up against the ropes and he was afforded the luxury of picking his shots against Canelo but the Kazakh star was unusually reluctant to go hell for leather; perhaps aware Canelo had the superior speed advantage.

Canelo continued to look quite heavy in the fifth as the step on his backfoot was starting to lose its spring, as GGG once again landed a barrage of shots up against the ropes. Certainly the aggressor and the busier, it is hard not to award Golovkin the round and he put an exclamation on it by landing his best punch of the fight towards the end, an overhand right as the fight really ramped up in intensity.

Canelo seemed to be shaken at the start of the sixth and the momentum of the fight had certainly swung in GGG’s favour. There was no let-up with GGG’s pressure and his output was far superior to Canelo, but the Mexican did manage to land a few slick counter-punches but not enough to take the round for me.

As the fight entered the second half, Golovkin continued to maintain his pressure and actually upped the intent behind his work, sensing he had Canelo where he wanted him. GGG landed another stinging right hand and he was able to tee off on Alvarez on a couple of occasions when he pinned him against the ropes.

Round eight was a much-needed reprieve for Canelo, as he weathered a tough start to the round to land a huge uppercut and negotiate the rest of the round successfully on the back foot. Golovkin’s unrelenting pressure didn’t result in enough clean work for me to award him the spoils of the round.

The fight really caught fire in the ninth, both men exchanging at will, with Golovkin getting the better of the battle. GGG’s chin was proven to be made of granite again as he ate a huge right from Alvarez without much visible effect. The round ended with more Golovkin success as he threatened to really pull away from Alvarez in the closing stages of the fight.

The two fighters resembled polar opposing figures coming out for the tenth round, Golovkin marching forward to claim the centre of the ring yet again while Canelo emerged laboured after a full-body stretch. Canelo fought with more urgency early in the round, even wobbling GGG as he decided to slug it out in the middle of the ring. However, Alvarez exerted a lot of energy in the first minute, unsustainably, and for the rest of the round, GGG continued to walk him down, landing big combinations.

Canelo seemed to come back to life in the eleventh round, much sharper on the back foot and snappier with his counter punching. He seemed to get the better of most exchanges in this round and he pulled out some combinations when he needed it the most. GGG however, at thirty-five, was unbelievably relentless; a real credit to his fitness.

Canelo needed to claim the last round to have any hope of success on the cards and he came out fighting like a man who knew his predicament. He wobbled GGG in the centre of the ring with a furious exchange. Canelo’s infamous uppercut made another appearance and it was followed up with more great work but Golovkin continued to come forward undeterred, quite unbelievably.

As proceedings were brought to an end, both fighters predictably celebrated believing they had done enough to take the W.

My Scorecard – Canelo 114 – 114 Golovkin. A Draw

The Official Scorecard – A Split Decision Draw

The Reaction

While a draw was deemed justifiable, and the same result I arrived at, many observers felt that Golovkin had edged a narrow points decision. I genuinely thought before watching the fight back that I would be writing about a robbery against Golovkin, full sure he had done more than enough to win the fight.

However, after watching back in the cold light of day, with no emotion or adrenaline involved, I felt that while Golovkin was indeed the busier fighter and the aggressor, Canelo fought well on the backfoot and counterpunched excellently throughout. The biggest moments and more effective work came from Canelo Alvarez.

The stats indeed show that Golovkin was the busier fighter of the two by landing 218 of 703 punches thrown which is a success rate of 31%. Alvarez proved himself to be more accurate and efficient by landing 169 of the 505 he threw, a 33% success rate. It was also revealed that GGG out-landed Canelo in 10 of the 12 rounds of the fight.

One thing I think everyone can agree on is that Adalaide Byrd’s scorecard was an absolute travesty, a huge disrespect to Golovkin and a disservice to the sport itself. How someone, a high-profile judge at that, can watch that fight and say Canelo won ten of the twelve rounds is unfathomable to me. Much of the boxing community felt that way too with Terrance Crawford, Pauli Malignaggi and Michael Conlan all berating the assessment on social media.

Predictably both fighters thought they had done enough, with Golovkin saying: “It was a big drama show. The scoring is not my fault. I put pressure on him every round. Look, I still have all the belts. I am still the champion.”

Canelo responded: “I think I was superior in the ring. I won at least seven or eight rounds. I was able to counterpunch and made Gennady wobble at least three times. If we fight again, it's up to the people. I feel frustrated over my draw.”

The Aftermath

The fight was a unanimous commercial success, even surpassing Canelo’s fight with Floyd Mayweather to achieve the third-highest gate in boxing history. It is estimated the revenue exceeded $100 million.

Canelo’s reputation and popularity took somewhat of a hit amongst the hardcore boxing fan community, many believing the sport’s golden boy was receiving preferential treatment. Things would get worse for the Mexican superstar as in March 2018 he was suspended after testing positive for the banned substance clenbuterol and the inevitable rematch between the pair was thrown in jeopardy.

Alvarez was suspended for six months, a lenient punishment for a serious offence, which he claimed only came about by eating contaminated Mexican meat. Golovkin appeared undeterred by these developments and was keen to carry on in pursuit of the rematch which would indeed eventually go down in September 2018.

Canelo would go on and win that rematch in less controversial fashion, but a lot of the public still felt a great deal of sympathy towards Golovkin for how events had seemed to transpire against him.

There is still talk of a trilogy fight between the two, but with GGG now thirty-eight years of age, it looks ever unlikely he will ever hold a victory over Canelo Alvarez.

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