LAS VEGAS — A nervous energy filled T-Mobile Arena as the judges’ scorecards were being tabulated. A sellout crowd had just witnessed an incredibly intense 12 rounds of boxing and didn’t want it to be ruined like it was a year ago in this same setting.
This time there would be no complaints, especially not from Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, who captured the WBC, WBA and IBO middleweight titles with a majority decision over Gennady “GGG” Golovkin.
Their fight a year ago had ended in a draw, but was marred by judge Adalaide Byrd scoring the bout 118-110 for Alvarez in a fight that was every bit as close as this one Saturday night before a crowd of 21,965. It was a more reasonable decision this time. Glenn Feldman saw a 114-114 draw, while Dave Moretti and Steve Weisfeld had it 115-113 for Alvarez. The Post scored it a 114-114 draw.
“I’m not going to say who won tonight because the victory belongs to Canelo, according to the judges,” Golovkin said. “I thought it was a very good fight for the fans and very exciting. I thought that I fought better than he did.”
Golovkin’s trainer Abel Sanchez didn’t complain.
“We had a great fight, the one we expected the first time around,” he said. “I had it close going into the 12th round. We had good judges who saw it from different angles. I can’t complain about the decision. But it’s close enough to warrant a third fight. Canelo fought a great fight. Congratulations.”
Golovkin (38-1-1, 34 KOs), a champion for eight years, lost for the first time in 40 fights and was denied a chance to break the record with his 21st consecutive middleweight title defense. It could have gone either way. Neither fighter was seriously hurt though contrary to the first bout, Alvarez was the stalker this time forcing Golovkin to spend much of the night backing up.
Alvarez (50-1-2, 34 KOs) salvaged his legacy with the victory. He took criticism for running too much in the first fight and his reputation was damaged when he tested positive for a performance enhancing drug forcing the cancelation of a proposed May rematch. In victory, the Mexican restores his standing as one of the best fighters of his era.
“I showed my victory with facts,” Alvarez said. “He was the one who was backing up. I feel satisfied because I gave a great fight. It was a clear victory.”
It was more sweet science than all out brutality until the 10th when it got serious. A right by Alvarez sent Golovkin’s sweat flying. Then Golovkin answered with a hard rally that brought the sellout crowd to its feet. Alvarez didn’t buckle and began his own assault to get back in the round.
It was anyone’s fight entering the 11th, but Alvarez was busier as Golovkin couldn’t get off the first punch. Still the 12th could have decided the fight. The two Warriors touched gloves. Golovkin landed an uppercut. Then another that rocked Alvarez’s head back.
Alvarez answered with a four-punch combination that didn’t do much. And then the punches came in bunches. It was an electric finish with both warriors going toe-to-toe until the final bell. Bad blood turned into a great fight. When it was over, the two rivals embraced as the crowd roared its approval, hoping the judges wouldn’t screw it up this time. Alvarez won the final round on his two winning scorecards.
“That was a great fight, but in the end it was a victory for Mexico,” Alvarez said. “I want to shout out to my opponent, the best in the sport of boxing. I am a great fighter and I showed it tonight. If the people want another round, I’ll do it again.”
The opening round began much like their first encounter with both fighters being cautious. It was surprising. A more aggressive beginning might have been anticipated after all the bad blood the two sides exchanged in the build up to the fight. But once the opening bell rang, it was clear the rematch was going to be fought more on strategy than emotion.
Golovkin used a persistent jab to claim the first round, but Alvarez was more active in the second landing a hard left hook to the body. Referee Benjy Esteves from New Jersey didn’t have to do much as there were few clinches throughout the match.
A well-timed uppercut by Golovkin was the best punch of the fourth round, but Alvarez wasn’t backing down. He wasn’t running and began backing up Golovkin, especially after landing a hard right hand to the head early in the fifth round.
With a sellout crowd chanting his name, the Mexican kept pressing forward, forcing Golovkin to fight backing up. A powerful overhand right by Alvarez landed clean in the fifth round. Golovkin didn’t attack the body in the first fight and he wasn’t in the rematch either. It kept Alvarez fresher than he might have been.
Through seven rounds, Alvarez was comfortable exchanging in the center of the ring and being more of a bully than Golovkin, who tried to pick up his pace in the eighth.
It was a terrific fight with constant flurries where Golovkin would connect with quick short jabs and hooks and Alvarez would counter with uppercuts and his own combinations.