Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin don’t have particularly colorful personalities, making the buildup to their fight Saturday night unusually civil, if not downright boring. No clever or vulgar one-liners, no racial tensions, none of the sideshows that are typically the part of promotions these days.
What the fight lacks in rhetoric is more than made up for by the promise of violence. In a sport that sells but often fails to draw blood, this fight guarantees it and that alone ensures that well over a million households will purchase the pay-per-view broadcast.
Except to view the fight as simply a contest of punching power and uncompromising determination is to undervalue the skill that will be involved. Any expectation that Alvarez and Golovkin will start trading bombs in the opening seconds is an insult to their tactical acumen.
Anyone listening carefully this week heard that much.
“Maybe the first couple of rounds will be very close,” Golovkin told reporters. “I look at his strategy, he looks at my strategy.”
One of the first priorities for both fighters will be to manage the distance between them.
Golovkin is most dangerous when he has full extension on punches, as it allows him to unleash his devastating power. Alvarez has quicker hands and is a superior combination puncher. He throws shorter blows and can generate power from closer quarters.
Alvarez’s optimal range is about a half-step closer than Golovkin’s. It’s this half-step that will determine the early tempo. The key will be their jabs.
Golovkin has a long and straight jab that packs the force of a power punch. He uses it to set up his overhand right and right uppercut, potential knockout blows.
A natural counterpuncher, Alvarez traditionally has not jabbed with the same frequency as Golovkin, but he used it to great effect in his lopsided victory over Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. earlier this year. Alvarez showed the ability not only to double and triple up on his jab, but to also advance behind it. Doing that against a human piñata like Chavez is one thing. Doing that against a fighter of Golovkin’s caliber is another.
This process of negotiating the space between them could take several rounds. But the fight is bound to erupt with an unusual degree of violence.
“I have to be thinking,” Alvarez said. “There are going to moments when I have to take risks to attack his body, to attack his head.”
While Alvarez likes to slip punches, Golovkin often prefers to cover up, which should present Alvarez with opportunities to deliver occasional combinations.
“Canelo has very fast hands and throws punches in combinations,” said Golovkin’s trainer, Abel Sanchez. “He throws four or five shots in a row. That’s one thing we cannot allow him to do, to get into a rhythm like that. We do it by being first. GGG is very adept at cutting off the ring, feinting, being in position to take your mind off what you were thinking.”
And it’s not as if the fighters have any choice but to stand and deliver. These are not the most fleet-footed of fighters. Look at the fighters who troubled them — Floyd Mayweather Jr., Erislandy Lara and Austin Trout for Alvarez; Daniel Jacobs for Golovkin — and a common theme emerges. Their greatest adversaries were movers.
Alvarez’s promoter, Oscar De La Hoya, fought the most important fight of his career against Felix Trinidad in this city 18 years ago. The fight was advertised as the era’s version of Ray Leonard versus Tommy Hearns, only to fall considerably short of expectations. The reason: The versatile De La Hoya boxed and eliminated any possibility of either fighting getting hurt.
Alvarez and Golovkin don’t have De La Hoya’s evasiveness. But in this particular case, their shortcomings could allow them to reach heights De La Hoya never did.
Follow Dylan Hernandez on Twitter @dylanohernandez