LAS VEGAS -- In 1981, all-time greats Sugar Ray Leonard and Thomas Hearns, two of the most accomplished, popular and exciting fighters of their time, battled for welterweight supremacy in a classic fight that is still talked about to this day.
The highly anticipated confrontation at Caesars Palace is a major part of the Hall of Fame legacy of both men. It was a very competitive fight that ended with Leonard stopping a spent Hearns as he sagged against the ropes in the 14th round to unify 147-pound titles back when a boxer needed only two belts to become the undisputed world champion in his weight class.
Thirty-six years later to the day, Sept. 16, 2017, Gennady Golovkin and Canelo Alvarez met for similar stakes in the middleweight division -- Golovkin's three title belts and Alvarez's claim to the lineal championship -- just down the street before a venue-record 22,358 at the T-Mobile Arena.
And like Leonard and Hearns, Golovkin and Alvarez are two of the most accomplished, popular and exciting fighters of their time and both are on a trajectory that figures to land them in the International Boxing Hall Fame someday.
Their fight did not have the conclusive ending of Leonard-Hearns -- after which boxing fans were wrapped up discussing the greatness of the bout and the greatness of the men involved.
There should be a similar conversation taking place today about GGG and Canelo, who throughout the promotion of their event talked endlessly about giving the fans a "a real fight" (a legitimate dig at the circus/money grab between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor three weeks earlier at the same arena) and giving the fans the fight they have wanted so badly for the past 18 months.
Indeed, Canelo-GGG delivered on the promise of extreme combat. It was a hellacious battle that won't soon be forgotten. They both covered themselves in glory in a very competitive, action-packed fight. They both threw and landed heavy blows. They gave us thrills. They gave us the fight we hoped for.
It won't wind up as the fight of the year, but it's going to be up there, even if it didn't have the drama or momentum swings of the Anthony Joshua-Wladimir Klitschko heavyweight championship fight that took place in April or the bloody, unmitigated violence of the epic first junior bantamweight world title fight between Srisaket Sor Rungvisai and Roman "Chocolatito" Gonzalez on a Golovkin undercard in March.
But whether it's the fight of the year or not is not the point. The point is we should all be talking about the greatness of the Canelo-GGG war.
We should be celebrating a wonderful night for the great sport of boxing. We should be discussing in great detail about how Golovkin (37-0-1, 33 KOs) looked like he might have Alvarez in real trouble in the middle rounds when Alvarez (49-1-2, 34 KOs) was backing up for long stretches after absorbing many punishing shots. We should be breaking down how Alvarez came roaring back to take it to GGG in the late rounds. We should be bantering about how Golovkin has moved to within one title defense of tying the great Bernard Hopkins' middleweight division record of 20 in a row. And we should be lauding both men for their chins, for their exceptional conditioning, for their willingness to shine in the crucible of such an intense and grueling fight.
Sadly, most are not.
Instead, the postfight discourse and social media outcry has primarily been about one absolutely wretched scorecard turned in by judge Adalaide Byrd, whose 118-110 tally in favor of Alvarez will go down as one of the worst, most nauseating in boxing history.
Over the years I have met Byrd several times. She is a nice woman. She loves boxing. Her husband, Robert Byrd, is one of the best referees in the sport and did a fine job working the Diego De La Hoya-Randy Caballero undercard bout just as he did last month when he was handed the extremely high-profile assignment of Mayweather-McGregor. Unfortunately, however, Adalaide Byrd was not watching what the rest of the world was on Saturday night.
Her ringside judging colleagues Dave Moretti (115-113 for GGG) and Don Trella (114-114) were at least on the same page. I had it 116-112 for Golovkin, as did HBO's unofficial judge Harold Lederman, but there were some close rounds, so I can live with the 115-113 scorecard. And I can deal with 114-114 even though I strongly felt Golovkin won. But Byrd's card? Indefensible. Not acceptable. At all.
Even Nevada State Athletic Commission executive director Bob Bennett, who generally bends over backward to protect his officials, couldn't sugarcoat it. After complimenting Byrd's general work, he admitted she had a bad night.
"In any business sometimes you have a bad day. She saw the fight differently (than the other judges). It happens," Bennett said.
The problem, though, is she has had several bad nights in recent years, just not on fights the magnitude of Canelo-GGG, where the whole world is watching.
Top Rank vigorously protested to Bennett about her appointment to work the Vasyl Lomachenko-Nicholas Walters junior lightweight title fight 10 months ago. Main Events formally objected to her as a possible judge for the light heavyweight title rematch between Sergey Kovalev and Andre Ward in June. Promoters don't arbitrarily protest judges. They clearly see a problem with the way Byrd has performed, and indeed she has had many questionable calls. It doesn't make her a bad person, it just makes her the wrong choice for such major assignments. This scorecard, more than any other stinker, is her nadir.
So instead of talking about how great Saturday's long-anticipated fight was -- it lived up all the hype -- we're stuck with another round of people moaning about a horrendous scorecard instead of reveling in a great fight. Had Byrd scored the fight for Alvarez but had it 115-113, it probably wouldn't be an issue even if most at ringside saw Golovkin winning with a smattering of draws mixed in.
When it came time to discuss it all at the postfight news conference, it was mostly about the one putrid scorecard instead of the fight.
"She's so up and down with the scoring. I think she needs to be removed and go back to school," Abel Sanchez, GGG's trainer, said. "I don't know how the judge had that."
Tom Loeffler, Golovkin's promoter, at least saw the silver lining because GGG did keep his title belts, after all. "It could have been a lot worse," he said.
Golovkin, a man of few words to begin with, had a look of disappointment on his bruised face and said when asked about the scoring, "This is terrible. It's not correct. It's terrible for boxing."
Even Alvarez said he thought he won only seven or eight rounds, but certainly not the 10 that Byrd awarded him.
Golden Boy's Oscar De La Hoya, Alvarez's promoter, said he thought Alvarez won 115-113 (shocking, right?) but ripped the Byrd scorecard.
"A lot of people don't understand 118-110 like myself," he said. "I can understand 115-113 and 114-114. Personally, I had it 7-5 for Canelo. It could have gone either way. It was such a great fight. These guys fought their hearts out. Golovkin is a tremendous champion. Canelo is tremendous champion. Everyone has their opinion. I do feel bad for Byrd for taking a lot of heat now -- 118-110, that's a pretty wide spread."
But then De La Hoya looked past the botched scoring. "I think this is what the sport needed, a fight like this," he said.
De La Hoya is right about that. Boxing did need its most important fight of the year to deliver ... and it did. Unfortunately, Byrd did not.