Gennady Golovkin’s rematch with Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez has been called the “fight of the century”, one that will be “remembered for the ages” and “the biggest in the sport of boxing”.
Big billing, even by boxing standards.
The T-Mobile Arena bout in Las Vegas in the early hours of Sunday morning in the UK – 364 days after their controversial draw at the same venue – gives Alvarez a first chance to perform following a drugs ban. Golovkin, meanwhile, can set a record 21 world-title defences in the middleweight division if he retains his WBC and WBA belts.
The venue is sold out – Mexican support will descend on the Nevada desert venue to cheer on Alvarez on what is the nation’s independence celebrations weekend.
And the fighters – who boast 68 knockouts between them – have a dislike for one another, with Golovkin irked by his rival’s two positive tests for clenbuterol.
“If you are a real guy, a real fan, you want clean sport,” WBA and WBC world middleweight champion Golovkin told BBC Sport.
‘Swindlers, legends and Billy Joe Saunders’
In the weeks leading up to the rematch, Kazakhstan’s Golovkin has said he has “no respect” for Alvarez or his team after they blamed February’s positive drugs tests on the fighter ingesting clenbuterol by eating contaminated meat in his homeland.
“The people who support him and stand by him are swindlers, just like him,” he told film crews who were following his build-up to the bout.
Relations between the two camps strained to the point where earlier this year a one-hour deadline was imposed on negotiations before – in the words of promoter Eric Gomez – the rematch was “dead”.
But to beat Bernard Hopkins’ record of 20 straight middleweight world title defences, Golovkin now gets a second shot at Alvarez, a man who turned professional aged 15 and who has held world titles at two weights in a 52-fight career.
“I know so many great fighters, legends, heroes in this sport that if I beat Hopkins’ record I stand maybe one step closer to being a legend and that is huge for me,” added Golovkin.
And Golovkin, who many observers believed won the first bout before controversial scorecards were read, is setting his eyes on other goals, notably Britain’s Billy Joe Saunders, who holds the WBO world middleweight title.
“If I beat Canelo I want that fight, as my goal is all the belts,” he told BBC Sport. “I am old school, not four or five champions, just one champion.”
‘Same muscles, same speed, same everything’ – Canelo
WBC president Mauricio Sulaiman feels Saturday’s contest is the “fight of the century” and one that “will be remembered for the ages”. Golovkin’s promoter Tom Loeffler labels it the “biggest in the sport of boxing”.
While boxing is no stranger to the odd inflated comment in the spirit of selling a fight, it could be said the controversial scoring of a year ago and the subsequent doping issue overshadowed what had been a captivating contest between two of the finest practitioners across the weight divisions.
Canelo, who has only ever lost to Floyd Mayweather, showed the patience and strength of nerve to box on the back foot, bravely welcoming and absorbing attacks from a stunningly ferocious puncher sporting 34 knockouts from 39 bouts.
Golovkin’s power has been measured by broadcaster ESPN in tests to be equivalent to that of a fighter two weight divisions higher.
And yet late in the bout, a man many felt invincible came under pressure as his dogged rival upped his output. Some observers say Golovkin’s age now, at 36, will lead to him fading again. Meanwhile 28-year-old Canelo says he will attack more from the off this time.
There are also those who believe a ‘clean’ Canelo will offer far less, with images circulating on social media of his muscular physique now appearing leaner than last time out.
He told BBC Sport: “People suggest in their own heads but I am preparing like always. You will see the same Canelo, same muscles, same size, same speed, same everything.”
Talking point – ‘Boxing and drugs under scrutiny’
Former unified world super-lightweight champion Amir Khan: “When a fighter has been caught taking a form of steroid and is being tested and has a little ban, then he will come back and always be thinking ‘I used to take that’.
“Confidence wise it will knock him. I don’t know if he was taking it or wasn’t or if it was an accident, but it will affect you mentally. If Canelo is off it now but was on clenbuterol last time, I see Golovkin stopping him in the later rounds.”
BBC Radio 5 live boxing commentator Mike Costello: “I am looking forward to this as a fan as I just do not know who is going to win this fight. Some fights do keep you swaying.
“There won’t be the same sort of outcry in boxing or in the US as there is in athletics as the attitude to drugs is different. It may be hardening but it is not anywhere near what it is in athletics.
“The key thing is that the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association (VADA) tests now are unannounced and they just turn up during camp. The next big thing is for fighters to be tested outside of competition training time. Once the fight has been signed they can sign up to testing and tests can happen. But all of the time outside of that window they can take what they like, when they like, and those substances can have long-term beneficial impacts.”
BBC Radio 5 live boxing analyst Steve Bunce: “Might we be seeing boxing going through what athletics and cycling went through? People say those sports have tidied themselves up.
“Someone in the Golovkin camp sent me some information and since February Golovkin – who is signed up to VADA – has had 12 urine and six blood random tests, that is going some. That is the way forward when you have big names tested like that.”