LAS VEGAS – It’s not fair to compare Saturday’s middleweight title bout between Gennady Golovkin and Canelo Alvarez at T-Mobile Arena to the 1985 classic between Marvelous Marvin Hagler and Thomas Hearns because, well, nothing compares to Hagler-Hearns.
Hagler-Hearns just may have been the greatest fight ever contested, considering the stakes, the skill level of the athletes and the ferocity with which they tore into each other.
But no middleweight championship fight since Hagler-Hearns has had the same potential for raw violence and breathtaking moments as Golovkin-Alvarez.
Oh, the 1987 match between Sugar Ray Leonard and Hagler captured the world’s attention in a more significant way than Golovkin-Alvarez – boxing held a far stronger position in the sporting universe then than it does now – but the most overwhelming view going into Hagler-Leonard was a fear for poor old Sugar Ray’s safety.
Golovkin-Alvarez, though, is as close to a 50-50 fight as one can get. They have a combined 86-1-1 record, with 67 knockouts in those 88 fights. Alvarez had a draw in his fifth pro fight, a month after he turned 16 in 2006, and then was defeated by Floyd Mayweather in 2013 in a bout that sold more than two million pay-per-views.
This is the rare bout that has received support from the boxing community at large. Boxing is notorious for promoters knocking other promoters’ shows. It’s not at all uncommon for one promoter to try to sabotage another promoter’s major event.
Top Rank’s Bob Arum, who has done it all and had it all done to him in more than a half-century of promoting, took Golden Boy CEO Oscar De La Hoya’s side when De La Hoya was railing against the Aug. 26 bout between Mayweather and UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor.
“I can understand why Oscar is upset, of course,” said Arum, who has had many bitter battles with De La Hoya over the last quarter-century. “Oscar’s got a great fight – this match with GGG and Canelo is going to be some fight – and all of you guys [in the media] were talking about the other nonsense [the fight between Mayweather and McGregor].”
Media, though, has been so excited about the fight that it’s become cliché at this point to call GGG-Alvarez “the best fight in boxing.”
Here’s hoping it delivers, though.
There was first talk about Golovkin and Alvarez fighting in 2014, but it really picked up steam in late 2015 after Alvarez defeated Miguel Cotto to win the linear middleweight belt.
De La Hoya, though, chose not to make the bout, pitting Alvarez against lesser lights like Amir Khan, Liam Smith and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. rather than going into the big fight at the first clear opportunity.
He took the approach that Arum once erroneously advocated in early 2010. On a card at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 23, 2010, Juan Manuel Lopez knocked out Steven Luevano in seven rounds and Olympic gold medalist Yuriorkis Gamboa blew out Rogers Mtagwa in two.
There was great interest among boxing fans in seeing Lopez fight Gamboa next, given their styles and the promise of a Fight of the Year slugfest. Arum, in speaking to reporters after the card, introduced a word into the boxing lexicon that shouldn’t be there. He wouldn’t, he said, make the Lopez-Gamboa fight right away. Instead, he’d let it “marinate.”
Of course, both fighters lost soon thereafter and were never the same, and what had the potential to be a great bout never happened.
De La Hoya clearly chose to allow Golovkin-Alvarez to marinate. If they’d fought in 2016, they might be on the verge of a mega-millions rematch by now, but that’s not the road De La Hoya chose.
And it annoyed Golovkin to no end. Often, a fighter will without justification accuse a potential opponent of ducking him. Golovkin, though, exonerated Alvarez and accused De La Hoya of being the one to orchestrate the ducking.
“This wasn’t like Canelo not being ready,” Golovkin said. “It was Golden Boy not being ready. We have been talking about this fight for three years. Finally, Canelo and Golden Boy are ready for this fight. [It is the] first step to history. Everyone will remember this fight. It is the biggest fight of all.”
If it’s a great fight, even a poor man’s version of Hagler-Hearns, all will be forgiven and no one again will mention De La Hoya’s choice to let the bout marinate.
But if, as some suggest, Golovkin’s performance in his last fight against Daniel Jacobs is the beginning of some sort of decline at age 35, then the boxing world will forever rue what might have been.
Abel Sanchez, Golovkin’s outspoken trainer, flatly accused De La Hoya of avoiding Golovkin. Sanchez insists that Golovkin took his foot off the gas against Jacobs, so to speak, to entice De La Hoya to the negotiating table.
That seems highly unlikely, but the truth is, talks to make Golovkin-Alvarez picked up intensity in the timeframe between Golovkin’s March 18 victory over Jacobs and Alvarez’s May 6 win over Chavez.
“I have trained a lot of fighters – a lot,” said Sanchez, whose most notable boxer prior to training Golovkin was Hall of Famer Terry Norris. “But I have never worked with one who was avoided more than Gennady. The special fighters accept challenges or dare to step up and make the challenge. It’s the measure of the man. It is the difference between good and great. [Muhammad] Ali stepped up against [Sonny] Liston. Leonard stepped up against Hagler. [Evander] Holyfield stepped up against [Mike] Tyson. These are fights and fighters that will always be remembered because they dared to be tested at the highest level regardless of risk.
“Now, at last, we have Gennady against Canelo, a real Mexican-[style] fight. I give Canelo credit because he has always wanted this fight. I am relieved that his promoter finally had the confidence to make it.”
The bout won’t come close to the massive pay-per-view numbers that Mayweather and McGregor posted, but that has nothing to do with the quality of the fight.
This will be the one mega-bout that lives up to its promise and delivers the high-level of skill, momentum swings and Hagler-Hearns-type ferocity once that bell rings.
More GGG-Canelo coverage from Yahoo Sports:
• Canelo Alvarez faces make-or-break moment
• Golovkin-Alvarez bout to decide ‘new face of boxing’
• Gennady Golovkin is ready to seize the biggest moment of his life
• Predicting the Golovkin-Alvarez fight