With the boxing megafight to end all fights fully fizzled and fading from our unsatisfied palates, Floyd Mayweather calling Oscar De La Hoya out from retirement for a September showdown, and Manny Pacquiao quietly on the mend and unable to rotate his cuff, boxing loyalists are left to ponder who will assume the throne once the twilight years of Pacquaio and Mayweather play out.
There are two prominent contenders currently building momentum. One is a Kazahk transplant with dynamic power-punching who’s been barnstorming the middleweight division’s middling contenders and also-rans as he waits for a shot at a big name.
The other is a Mexican youngster who has faced criticism for his choice of opponents, lost in his biggest fight and has distinctive mop top.
As luck would have it, both men fought in the two weeks immediately following the aforementioned boxing event of a generation and each bolstered his case.
The preferred foil for both men is Miguel Cotto, the lineal middleweight champion — an aging, perhaps vulnerable, big money bonanza. Even in lieu of his impressive demolition of Daniel Geale on June 6, Cotto is seen by many as a middleweight usurper who scooped up the divisions crown mainly because of his stardom and good fortune. In other words, easy pickings for our two potential torch bearers.
One man from this triumvirate of boxing titans will be on top of the world when the dust settles. But before we can get there, we must kick through the dirt and examine the steps that the two upstarts have traversed so far to get here.
No one likes a redhead. I should know. I am one.
But there is a ginger in the sport of boxing who has started to overcome the ignominy of his scarlet coiffure, as well as the stigma of stepping on to the big stage without first earning it.
With a pulverizing punch that spun plucky plugger James Kirkland pinwheeling to the deck, a gout of blood spattering from his lips across one shoulder while his body collapsed to the ground, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez emphatically staked his claim as the sport’s anointed future king.
While he was facing retired ex-champs like Carlos Baldomir and mediocre brothers-of-great-fighters like Matthew Hatton and Jose Cotto, Canelo (Spanish for cinnamon) endured as much animosity as any recent protected “star” of the sport. Like the promoter-sheltered Andre Berto, Gary Russell, Jr. or his closest parallel in stardom Julio Ceasar Chavez, Jr., in recent years Alvarez faced warranted scrutiny for feasting on fair to middling fodder under bright lights for big money.
That criticism, it must be said, has been largely answered.
In a sport where a fighter’s prime age has been pushed back thanks to infrequent fights and a decreased importance on amateur pedigree, 30 is the new 25.
Alvarez, only 24, has had just one less fight than 20-year veteran Floyd Mayweather.
Eschewing the soft touches who characterised his early exposure to mass audiences, Alvarez has now spent two years facing the most stylistically challenging fighters at his weight, including much-avoided spoiler Erislandy Lara, then undefeated southpaw technician Austin Trout and the seemingly unsolvable riddle of Floyd Mayweather. On top of that cadre of difficult styles, Canelo had signed on to fight previous “most avoided” titleholder Paul Williams before the lanky octopus was felled by a tragic motorcycle accident.
While none of those match-ups could be considered aesthetically pleasing, all posed serious challenges and a definitive threat of losing inside the ring. To balance the mental and technical trial those foes presented, Alvarez has separated them in his schedule by taking on hard charging bruisers who have tested him in other ways.
Before getting detached from his senses, Kirkland came ready to make war. Alvarez met fire with fire and snuffed out the threat with a violence that may net him a knock out of the year award. Last year Alfredo Angulo, noted tough guy and dog-like demolisher, portended a similar all-action encounter before he was stopped in 10 rounds in his scrap with Alvarez.
By balancing cerebral tests with swarming opponents, Alvarez has already carved out a much-needed position in the sport as a superstar who is willing to take risks and wants to challenge himself.
Pound-for-pound maestro Mayweather has often been criticized throughout his career for being unwilling to face the best rather and risk his glossy record. Alvarez seems more in line with superstars Pacquiao and Cotto, who care less about a pristine record and more about testing themselves with the best around them.
If any fighter is looking for a way to attract fans, the recipe is very simple. Fight the best. Fight hard.
Alvarez has taken this recipe into the ring and that’s why it seems he’ll be headlining the biggest PPV’s once the current crop of draws begin counting down the days until their placards go up in Canastota’s Hall of Fame.
If Alvarez has a rival in his quest to become a PPV force, it appears the Kazahkstani Killer, the God of War, the man of many “G”’s – Gennady Gennadyevich Golovkin, is the man. Referred to most often as “GGG” (triple G), he boasts an undefeated 33-0 record with 30 KOs.
His gaudy record is a great indicator of several things: He fights with glaring power and glorious aplomb, and he also hasn’t gone up against great gladiators. [I just used 17 “G’s” in the last few stanzas. Let’s call it good (18).]
GGG has shown himself to be a notch above all of the B-level fighters around his weight class, but through little fault of his own, he cannot yet say he has bested a marquee name or a truly top flight fighter.
Former middleweight division kingpin Sergio Martinez chose not to fight Golovkin during his much-praised reign. He instead struggled through defenses against mid-level competition, getting knocked to the canvas in each of his last three defenses before Cotto matched that tally in the first round of their bout last summer, snatching away the title in decisive fashion.
With evidence of a shaky chin in those last few years, Martinez was probably wise to steer clear of the deconstructive ferocity that Golovkin brings into the ring. For GGG, however, it was helpful to have the decks cleared of Martinez, though Cotto seems only mildly more interested in giving him an opportunity now.
Golovkin has simply looked too fearsome against his hapless foes. He dispatches them with ruthlessness and a dogged-but-patient determination that few superstars would want to face without a major payoff .
The problem is, he is not the champion, so no one has to fight him for glory, and while Golovkin has built himself into an attraction the hard way, he is still isn’t at the level where he could hold down a PPV card with only his personal drawing power.
His last outing against Willie Monroe, another solid but unremarkable challenger, added the 30th knockout victory to his record and kept the train rolling, but also illustrated that there are vulnerabilities to be exploited.
Golovkin’s defense was poked and prodded enough by Monroe that GGG felt he needed to float the idea that he was getting hit on purpose in the post-fight interview. It’s a nice spin to put on things, but his defensive lapses were not because he was sticking his chin out to be decked. Monroe found spots to land with some effect and deserves credit for doing so.
One simple truth of boxing is that an air of invincibility draws fans. Mike Tyson built his legend on the soiled undies of men whose knees were wobbling as they walked to the ring. GGG has not yet reached that level, but he has found himself shackled with a Catch-22; his style entices fans while deterring dance partners.
The good news for Golovkin is that the two men who are the most likely to be in position to catapult him to the next level of boxing superstardom, Alvarez and Cotto, have each recently said they would be willing to fight him.
Those two are hatching a meeting of their own this fall — it would be a tremendous action fight, featuring a future Hall of Famer from Puerto Rico and the biggest Mexican star of a generation.
Golovkin is in line as the mandatory challenger to Cotto’s belt but he will step aside for Alvarez, provided he gets the winner.
If Alvarez and Cotto stay true to their word and face Golovkin after their scrap, then the fight for to become boxing’s box office king be actually fought in the ring, rather than by the warring pencils of bean counters as they tally up warring PPV totals. Patience pays off, and Golvkin may have maneuvered himself into prime time.
We will likely have another production or two from our current crop of superstars, Mayweather and Pacquiao, before boxing needs a definitive hero to step into their shoes.
In the race to the top, Alvarez and Golovkin are battling for that position now. The redhead from Mexico is out front. He’s already been involved in massive PPV bouts and can safely be called a superstar of the sport.
Golovkin is building his reputation among hardcore fans and has only been waiting for the opportunity to prove himself against best.
Cotto is that other boxing trope — the aging star who can light the torch for the next bearer. His fight with Alvarez will garner a lot of eyes and a lot of action. Both men may come out of it elevated, win or lose. Golovkin will wait in the wings.
Whoever emerges from Cotto-Alvarez will allow the Kazahk to finally prove just how great he is. If Cotto were to run the table, he would mark himself as the greatest Puerto Rican fighter in history and go from being among the very best of his generation to being among the best of all time.
Should Alvarez outgun Cotto and then defang Golovkin, he would stamp himself as the unequivocal figurehead of boxing — prizefighting’s tentpole attraction — and ascend to the Mount Rushmore of redheads along with Conan O’Brien, Lucille Ball and Annie.
However the wins and losses columns tally up, this triumvirate of boxers has a chance to prove once again that boxing is the reigning champion among all sports when it follows that simple recipe.
Fight the best. Fight hard.