Saúl ‘Canelo’ Álvarez swept aside the troubles of his difficult year, and a festering rivalry, when he defeated a faded Gennady Golovkin in a unanimous victory on points in their third fight in Las Vegas on Saturday night. Álvarez, the undisputed world super-middleweight champion, was a comprehensive winner and the only surprise was that, for once, the judges were sympathetic to Golovkin. Two scorecards of 115-113 were strange, with the third official’s verdict of 116-112 in favour of Álvarez a marginally more accurate reflection.
Álvarez was too young, too strong and too driven for Golovkin – a once great world champion who is now a 40-year-old man in the unforgiving ring. Beneath the glaring lights and the percussive impact of Álvarez’s power punching, Golovkin cut a subdued figure from the outset of a one-sided contest. He was unable to impose himself and, especially in the first seven rounds, he looked a disconsolate version of the previously formidable middleweight champion who dominated his division for so many years.
In contrast, Álvarez set about his work with fire and force. He was aggressive, if occasionally wild, and he pushed back Golovkin repeatedly. By the end of Round Five, the older man looked lonely on his stool in the corner, his face reddened and a swelling forming beneath his right eye.
Álvarez continued to land the meaningful punches and it looked as if Golovkin would need to rely on all his considerable bravery to survive a slow and methodical beating. But, to his credit, Golovkin dug deep within himself and there were fleeting bursts of effective work from him. Álvarez was dragged into a real fight in the ninth and tenth rounds when, finally, Golovkin let his hands fly. He fought with real purpose and resolve for these six minutes because, unlike the hapless judges, he realised he was so far behind that he required something special to try and change the pattern of the bout.
Golovkin landed some stinging blows, even backing Álvarez up against the ropes. But in those tightly-contested exchanges, Álvarez still fired volleys of punches in return. Both rounds could be awarded justifiably to Golovkin – but they were his only real success of the night.
He tried to build on that momentum but, in the last stretch of the fight, Álvarez cruised comfortably home. Despite the caveats of Golovkin’s age and disappointing performance, he can claim this victory as one of his most satisfying in a professional career which began when he was just 15 in 2005.
Álvarez has a troubled history at the T-Mobile Arena which was, again, electrified by his raucous Mexican fans. It was here, in May, that he lost for only the second time in 17 years, when he was outboxed by Dmitry Bivol. Álvarez had moved up in weight to challenge Bivol for his light-heavyweight world title and, while the clear context remained that he was much the smaller man, the aura of the great Mexican was badly dented. Bivol exposed and frustrated him.
Of course Golovkin had already undermined the Canelo hype-machine which was just beginning to roll when he fought Álvarez at the T-Mobile for the first time five years ago this week. Golovkin won that bout in the eyes of most sensible observers but the Las Vegas judges scored it as a damagingly controversial draw. Exactly a year later, in September 2018, they returned to the very same ring and Álvarez shaded a very close decision in less contentious fashion. It was plain that, then, he and Golovkin were two champions of almost equal merit.
In the ensuing four years Álvarez rose seamlessly to the status of a feted boxing master who also became the cash cow of this greedy old business. He proved himself to be an outstanding technician, who became as interesting outside the ring as he was between the ropes. But the shadow of Golovkin still hung over him. It seemed typical of boxing that a third fight between them should be delayed for years while Golovkin, who comes from Kazakhstan and is nowhere near as marketable as Canelo, laboured in comparative obscurity.
Golovkin and his supporters believed that Álvarez, who is a smart businessman as well as a ruthless boxer, was simply waiting for his greatest rival to reach middle age before they met again. Álvarez, at 32, is eight years younger than Golovkin, and the difference in age was obvious on a painful night for the older man.
The only real hurt Álvarez suffered was to his left hand which, he revealed after the fight, could require surgery. But, next May, he will presumably turn to the far more dangerous ordeal of trying to overcome Bivol – who is neither old nor worn out by the ring. Golovkin’s own future in the ring is far less certain. Yet it should not be forgotten that, for most of his career, he was an implacable and ferocious world champion. He was as good, and probably better, than Álvarez over the course of their first two fights. But, on a stark night in Las Vegas, Golovkin resembled a ghost of his former self.
At the end of their trilogy a triumphant Álvarez hugged and consoled his defeated old rival – as if telling him that there is no shame in succumbing to time and the harsh reality of boxing.