Role reversal: The tale of Alvarez vs. Golovkin II

Nearly one month ago, Saturday, September 15, 2018, saw the much-anticipated rematch of two of boxing’s biggest names, Gennady ‘Triple G’ Golovkin and Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez, who fought to a controversial draw last year.

By all metrics, the rematch was a success, selling out the T-mobile Arena and reported to have grossed in access of 1 million Pay-Per-View buys. Like their first meet up, audiences were greeted with a thrilling back-and-forth contest with both boxers having their moments of success – boxing at its best. What most clearly differentiated last Saturday’s rematch from the boxers’ inaugural contest, though, is that, this time, it ended with a (declared) winner. Judges scored the bout 115-113, 115-113, and 114-114, a majority decision victory for Alvarez, who captured Golovkin’s WBC and WBA titles, becoming the lineal middleweight champion of the world.

The “draw” decision announced following the boxers’ first clash in September 2017, which was the result of judge Adalaide Byrd’s dubious scorecard of 118-110 for Alvarez, was vociferously protested by most boxing pundits and much of the viewing public who felt that Golovkin was the rightful victor. That decision left Alvarez with a draw that many felt he didn’t deserve, detracting from his tremendous, however overmatched, performance in the ring.

To make matters worse, Alvarez tested positive for the banned substance Clenbuterol earlier this year, postponing the rematch with Golovkin from May to September. This revelation allowed fans and boxing commentators to question Alvarez’s legitimacy as a marquee boxing attraction. The burden was on Alvarez to prove himself against Golovkin this time around.

It can be misleading to read too deeply into sentiments of bravado delivered by boxers during promotional venues in the run up to a bout1. After all, both Golovkin and Alvarez prophesized knockout wins for themselves during the promotional tours of their first fight as well as the recent rematch. Conclusions about a boxer’s readiness and gameplan are better inferred from careful observations made outside the promotional context, and can only truly be known after the opening bell sounds. As esteemed boxing coach and pundit Teddy Atlas recently remarked, “the ring is the chamber of truth.”

That said, a moment on the day before September 15th’s rematch, at the boxers’ televised weigh-in, could be seen to have foreshadowed a change in strategy for Alvarez this time around. When it came time for boxers to pose face-to-face for cameras after weighing in, which is customary, Alvarez charged truculently toward Golovkin and accosted him, visibly hostile. While this episode could be dismissed as mere theatre, it signaled a switch in Alvarez’s overall approach to Golovkin – from respectful competitor to determined aggressor.

Conventional wisdom in boxing goes that the challenger must decisively defeat the champion in order to dethrone him – the champion ought to get the benefit of the doubt. It seems Alvarez and his team took this maxim to heart. In their first meeting, it was Golovkin who pressed the action, with Alvarez as the counterpuncher launching combinations off the ropes. This time though, Alvarez was able to initiate a role reversal, asserting himself in the centre of the ring and pushing Golovkin onto the back foot, focusing on “effective aggression” – one of the four criteria by which judges are meant to score each round. And though landing fewer total punches than Golovkin (202 for Alvarez to Golovkin’s 234), Alvarez focused on more eye-catching “power” punches (i.e. non jabs) and mixing his attacks to both the head and body; throwing fewer jabs, which tend to be less dramatic, and landing his punches at a greater rate of accuracy. With this performance, Alvarez demonstrated himself capable of adapting to narrowly sway the judges in his favour.

There will inevitably be a third match between the two, and depending on the result, perhaps a fourth. What will be interesting is to see how Golovkin and Alvarez, being so evenly matched, make adjustments moving forward.

References

1. Schinke, R.J., Bonhomme, J., McGannon, K.R., & Cummings, J. (2012). The internal adaptation processes of professional boxers during Showtime’s Super Six Boxing Classic: A qualitative thematic analysis. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 13, 830-839.

Images

By Presidencia de la República Mexicana – https://www.flickr.com/photos/presidenciamx/8693903209/ – Visita del boxeador Saúl “Canelo” Álvarez a la Residencia Oficial de Los Pinos, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=45926888

By R.J. Cohen – http://www.rjcohenphoto.com/ – Golovkin/Lemiuex Press Conference, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=53206421

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