ohn Thursday afternoon Saúl ‘Canelo’ Álvarez sighed and rose to his feet as he prepared for his latest fight with Gennady Golovkin at their final press conference in Las Vegas. Two more long days and nights would have to pass before their fierce competition reached the third fight. Many of the same old questions were asked by Álvarez, who said earlier in the week that he was sick of the down situations that accompany professional boxing.
He crossed the stage with studied disdain and reached where Golovkin was waiting for him. These are two of the greatest fighters of the age and this trilogy has festered for years. Golovkin, and most boxers and fans, believed that he won their first round in September 2017 – it can only be considered, controversially, a lottery. The rematch, exactly one year later, ended in a narrow points victory for Canelo. Both were significant contests but Golovkin turned 40 this year and Álvarez is eight years younger than him.
But, all week, Golovkin has cut an impressively composed figure and looks like he’s capable of carving out one last special performance full of his lasting excellence. Álvarez showed much more emotion and raw hostility towards Golovkin. Suddenly, with their eyes locked together in a way that suggested they could see deep into each other’s eyes, Canelo’s right hand closed into a fist. It was almost an involuntary gesture but it was also striking.
There was no change in his expression but, as the confrontation increased, it was hard to ignore the tension in that tight fist. In contrast, Golovkin’s left hand was hanging loose and free. I thought again of the words Álvarez had said the evening before: “I really just want to punish him. That’s the only thing going on in my mind. I’m very close to doing it now.”
The Mexican, who defends all of his belts as the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world, stopped him before rejoining Golovkin. “He thinks he’s a nice person and he’s not. He talks a lot of shit about me, which is why I don’t like him. He is a good fighter, he is a amazing a fighter, that’s for sure. But, as a person, I don’t think so.”
Such animosity is intertwined with Álvarez’s respect for Golovkin’s superb technical ability and incredible will. Canelo has grown accustomed to his opponents dealing with his intimidating aura. And against those who were brave or skilled enough to push him hard, he remained patient in the certainty that he would eventually overwhelm them.
Golovkin, however, is no ordinary fighter. The current IBF world middleweight believes he has beaten Álvarez twice and that conviction has rubbed off on him as he steps up in weight to face his rival again.
Álvarez is moving back from lightweight after his clear loss four months ago to Dmitry Bivol, naturally a much bigger world champion from Kyrgyzstan. Bivol’s mother is from Kazakhstan, Golovkin’s native country, and both men are similar in the impassive and methodical threat they present.
But what Canelo knows is that a second defeat in a row will be a personal disaster. Bivol’s size was a crucial factor in the second loss of Álvarez’s career that spans 17 years and 61 fights. Losing to a middle-aged Golovkin would be devastating.
Álvarez nodded when I asked if it took him weeks to get over the pain of the Bivol fight – his only previous win, against Floyd Mayweather Jr in 2013 when he was inexperienced . “Yes of course. Nobody wants to lose, nobody likes to lose. So I felt a lot of pain after Bivol, because I love what I do and I don’t want to lose. But you have to keep going and keep fighting.”
If it made it tougher? “Yes,” Canelo said softly, giving me the stare, before echoing himself. “Yes. I feel hungrier and more dangerous now. I don’t have to show people anything, but I have to show myself. I’m really excited to get back in the ring.”
His first choice was to fight Bivol again. “I really wanted that rematch, but Eddie Hearn [his promoter] says we have that contract to fight Golovkin in September. So that’s why we’re here. And I am happy. It’s a rare moment to own this trilogy.
“It’s one of the biggest fights of my life, because of our rivalry. Of our three fights this one will be the most important. The fact that he’s going into the fight thinking it might be his last makes him even more dangerous. But it’s the same for me. I will leave everything in the ring.”
Golovkin scoffed at the suggestion that he was retiring. Meanwhile, Álvarez is intent on getting Golovkin out. “I go into every fight with that goal but this one has definitely become personal. From the first round I will be looking for that stop.”
Golovkin, who rarely loses control of his emotions, smiled at the suggestion that Álvarez has allowed the third fight to be so personal. He may struggle to withstand the ruck coming his way at the T-Mobile Arena – the same arena for their first two fights – but Golovkin believes Álvarez’s attack will give him the opportunities he needs.
But for Álvarez, who is so aware of his place in boxing history, victory is essential. “This third fight is very important for me, for my country, for my heritage. I must win decisively.”
Until his loss to Bivol, Álvarez was widely considered the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world. He has since slipped down that list in the opinion of many – which also puts him under pressure. “I still think I’m the best fighter in the world because nobody does what I do in boxing. No one takes the risk like me. I don’t need to take risks [because he makes so much money]. But I love to take on a challenge and that’s why I feel I’m still the best.”
I got to know Álvarez better during many interviews over the past 18 months. The more he opens up, the easier it is to like. He has a real intelligence and, away from the ring, a nobility that is evident in his bright and tender interactions with his daughters. But he’s deadly serious between those knotted ropes and, as a way to build the animosity he needs after boxing professionally since he was 15, Álvarez destroys his own fire.
In May 2021, against Billy Joe Saunders, he watched the foul-mouthed Englishman ramble on about fight week and quietly listened to his trash talk. He didn’t want to take Saunders out of the arena in an ambulance with a shattered orbital bone. But he didn’t show much sympathy afterwards for Saunders – who hasn’t boxed again since that fierce night.
A year ago, when Álvarez was the first undisputed world champion in the heavyweight division, Álvarez enjoyed a clinical but brutal victory over Caleb Plant – the previously unbeaten American who also tried to get under his skin. Plant performed creditably but the referee gave him up in the 11th round. He will only return to the ring next month. A beating from Canelo is not easy to overcome.
Bivol was different. He remained polite and aloof and refused to engage in any pre-fight exercise. His fists were trading in much more dangerous language and he told his own hurtful story. Golovkin is cut from the same stoical cloth but can’t resist the odd spike barb. Álvarez’s suggestion to “avoid this fight for four years” prompted a less measured response from the fiery, white-skinned and red-headed Canelo: “He’s an asshole.”
When asked if he needed such trash talk to reawaken him in this dirty old business, Canelo shrugged. “I like it. I train harder and go into a fight feeling more dangerous.”
My own informal opinion is that Álvarez will fight his way to victory in a tough battle. Both are great fighters, going down the wrong side of the hill, but eight years is a significant difference. Golovkin could turn back time and get the sweetest revenge in the final scene of this acrid trilogy, but Álvarez is waiting for him. If he can control the emotion through it he will surely have too much force and enthusiasm for the older champion.
Could Álvarez and Golovkin strike up a friendship when their careers are over – the way Érik Morales and Marco Antonio Barerra, those two little Mexican fighters, did after their disastrous trilogy of fights? “Maybe,” Canelo said with a shrug, as if it were about Golovkin. “I’m fine with that.”
Those innocent and peaceful days are still far away. Álvarez slipped back into a dark and foul mood soon after. He canceled his remaining engagements with the media for the day and went in search of what was left of peace. There was a lot of prattling and posting. His fists were full and ready for a very personal conversation with Golovkin. It was time for some much needed silence before they finally settle their many differences in the ring.