Opening Bell: Be careful what you wish for
LAS VEGAS -- Throughout the lead-up to the rematch between Gennady Golovkin and Canelo Alvarez for GGG's unified middleweight world title in the year's biggest fight, Golovkin trainer Abel Sanchez criticized the way Alvarez fought in their first fight, a massively controversial draw last September.
Alvarez ran, Sanchez said. He didn't fight in a style becoming of a real Mexican. Sanchez encouraged Alvarez to fight like a man this time. He called the first fight a "track meet" and told Alvarez, "Don't run."
Sanchez claimed Alvarez was "stuck in reverse" for the first fight and said he hoped Alvarez would "bring his courage" to the ring inside T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas for the rematch on Saturday night.
All of that talk from Sanchez just added to the bad blood that already existed between the camps over Alvarez's two failed drug tests in February, when the performance-enhancing drug clenbuterol was found in his system. That caused the initial rematch date of May 5 to be canceled, with Alvarez getting suspended for six months. His explanation for the bad tests was that they were due to his eating contaminated meat in his native Mexico.
It was clear to me and anyone else paying attention that what Sanchez wanted to do was appeal to Alvarez's machismo and goad him into standing and trading punches with the powerful Golovkin, who was seeking a division-record-breaking 21st consecutive title defense.
Alvarez did not run in the first fight. He counterpunched, which is his natural instinct, and he boxed and wanted GGG to come to him. That is how he's always fought. Now, he didn't box well enough in the eyes of most to warrant a win or even the draw, but he stuck to a specific game plan he has often employed. It just fell short. Besides, why would anyone just go stand and slug with an all-time great puncher such as Golovkin?
As it turned out, Sanchez and Team GGG should have been careful what they wished for, because in the rematch Alvarez did exactly what they wanted, and they paid the price. Alvarez was the aggressor on Saturday night. He stood in the pocket and banged it out with Golovkin throughout their exciting fight, and he won it by the narrowest of margins, 115-113 on two judges' cards and the other card reading 114-114.
The prevailing score at ringside was a draw, and there were also many covering the fight who had it 115-113 for Golovkin. I couldn't find any media members who scored the fight for Canelo. However, it was a very close fight that with the change of one round would have been another draw. This was not a controversial decision like in the first fight.
But however you scored it, Canelo proved his point. He didn't back up, he didn't run. And he went against his natural instinct to counterpunch. Instead, he stuck his nose in and threw down. In fact, he forced GGG to back up like nobody has ever done before. When Sanchez challenged his toughness, Alvarez responded not with words but with his actions inside the ring.
It is a rare site to see Golovkin (38-1-1, 34 KOs) in retreat, sucking wind and looking shaky on his legs at times, perhaps a sign that his 36 years have caught up to him. He took many clean shots and was all marked up at the end of the fight.
Alvarez (50-1-2, 34 KOs), 28, did something extremely difficult for a fighter to do, one of the reasons he should get credit for being an elite pound-for-pound-caliber boxer. He radically altered his style in his biggest moment. It reminded me a bit of a fighter who did the opposite of what Alvarez did but still made a huge change.
It reminded me of the great Marco Antonio Barrera, who for many years was a straight brawler, the epitome of a Mexican warrior. He brawled, he slugged and he bludgeoned his way to victory. Then, when he faced Prince Naseem Hamed, an all-time great puncher, for featherweight supremacy in 2001, Barrera became the boxer and clearly outpointed Hamed in a fantastic performance for a huge upset.
After Saturday's fight, Sanchez behaved the way you are supposed to behave in such moments. He's a good guy, and he showed his class after the fight. He didn't complain or make excuses.
"We have to congratulate Canelo," Sanchez said. "They fought a great fight. Canelo is a champion today. He deserves it. He fought a great fight. Hopefully, we can do it again. We have to give credit to Canelo instead of saying what we didn't do. He fought a great fight. We can't be hypocritical and complain about every damn decision we lose. They were excellent judges. Maybe next time we'll win it. You can't take it away from Canelo."
Golovkin was also classy in defeat, even though he didn't agree with the result and had every right to think he won.
"I want to congratulate Canelo," he said. "We can talk about a lot of things, but I want to congratulate Canelo."
Alvarez said his plan all along was to stand in front of Alvarez and try to knock him out, which he sure did try to do.
"I did everything I did to complete my objective. Unfortunately, we didn't get the knockout, but all my hard work paid off in the ring," he said. "It was my plan from the beginning [to come forward]. I was aiming for the knockout, but I am happy for the victory. But it was my plan [to fight this way]. It's a very important victory for me and a very important victory for my country, so I am very happy. It's one of the happiest days of my life."
Eddy Reynoso, Alvarez's trainer, who is like part of his family, played a big role in fine-tuning the game plan and showed that he is one of boxing's best young trainers, deserving of being mentioned among the top cornermen in the game today.
"We were studying the first fight a lot, and when you have a fighter [such as Alvarez] who can do a lot of things, you can change strategy for a fight," Reynoso said. "We saw that the best way to defeat [Golovkin] was making him go backwards. We started in the center of the ring and slowly moved him backwards. That's when we saw how we could get the victory. We didn't work on our legs that much, we worked on everything else, and that was the key to victory."
Fight of the weekend: Ramirez-Orozco
With all due respect to the Canelo-GGG rematch, the best fight of the weekend was on Friday night in the Top Rank Boxing on ESPN headliner at the Save Mart Center in Fresno, California. In front of a home region crowd, junior welterweight world titlist Jose Ramirez made his first defense in an absolute barn burner against top contender Antonio Orozco.
Although Ramirez (23-0, 16 KOs), in his first fight under the guidance of trainer Robert Garcia, won handily on the scorecards -- 119-107 on all three -- this was a tremendous fight filled with action and drama thanks to the enormous heart showed by Orozco (27-1, 17 KOs).
The first round was pure action -- a Round of the Year candidate -- and the fight never let up. Ramirez, 26, of Avenal, California, dropped Orozco, 30, of San Diego, in the fourth round with a perfect right hand on the chin and in the eighth round with a digging left hook to the body. Ramirez nearly had him out several times, but Orozco fought like a warrior. He survived numerous difficult moments and cuts over both eyes. He never stopped trying to win, landing some big bombs of his own in an extremely fast-paced fight. Ramirez landed 381 of 1,036 punches (37 percent), and Orozco connected with 263 of 782 (34 percent), according to CompuBox.
The defense was a long time coming, after Ramirez won a vacant belt against Amir Imam in March. Ramirez was supposed to make his first defense July 7 against Danny O'Connor, but the fight was canceled the day before when a severely dehydrated O'Connor collapsed and was hospitalized.
The next step: Ramirez is getting better and better with each fight and likely will return in early 2019 with an eye toward an eventual unification fight with Alex Saucedo should Saucedo wrest the belt from Maurice Hooker when they meet in November. If you thought Ramirez-Orozco was good, Ramirez-Saucedo is even better on paper.