Their Sept. 16 fight in Las Vegas will determine a title that can’t be shared — the world’s best boxer in the post-Floyd Mayweather Jr. era — so inherent tension exists between Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin.
But as the pair operated shoulder to shoulder, or face to face, on a promotional tour with stops in London, New York, ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Conn., and Los Angeles last week, ambition was set aside in favor of a joint mission.
Alvarez and Golovkin united in attempting to fend off the financial impact of a Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor novelty bout on Aug. 26, three weeks before their own championship showdown.
Although the merits of Alvarez vs. Golovkin are obvious — both are skilled and aggressive fighters — they are up against a couple of veteran showmen who know how to stir up interest in Mayweather and UFC champion McGregor.
“If they want to see a sideshow, they can see a sideshow,” Alvarez said of fight fans as he visited with reporters along a Madison Square Garden red carpet. “If they want to see a fight — a real fight — they’ll go ahead and buy my fight with Golovkin.”
Golovkin called the rival card “a silly show.”
“Ours is real, professional,” he added as he rode in a luxury SUV after a flight in a private jet to Bristol. “This fight is our present to boxing fans.”
It’s a matchup that has and will generate plenty of buzz in the boxing world, and it no doubt will fill T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. But it’s also clear that the unconventional pairing of an undefeated boxer vs. a mixed martial arts champion has far more pay-per-view pop.
Industry experts project Mayweather (49-0) and McGregor, in his pro boxing debut, to double Alvarez-Golovkin in pay-per-view sales. Mayweather-McGregor is expected to generate around 3 million buys; Alvarez-Golovkin 1.5 million.
Golovkin (37-0, 33 knockouts), a 35-year-old from Kazakhstan, wears three middleweight world-title belts, has knocked out all but March foe Daniel Jacobs while winning 18 consecutive middleweight title bouts, and ranks alongside light-heavyweight champion Andre Ward as the world’s top pound-for-pound fighter.
The 26-year-old Alvarez (48-1-1, 34 KOs) is Mexico’s most popular fighter, a former two-division world champion whose only loss was to Mayweather nearly four years ago. That bout was one of the best-selling pay-per-views of all time, and Alvarez showed more pay-per-view punch in May when his fight against Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. resulted in the first million-buy pay-per-view since Mayweather met Manny Pacquiao in May 2015.
This fight here, you have two gentlemen who respect each other, who know when they step in the ring it’s going to be bombs away.
As he pursued both his biggest purse and toughest test, Golovkin spent a year chiding Alvarez and his promoter, Oscar De La Hoya, for delaying a fight. Alvarez, who enjoyed a superior revenue-producing position, deflected the remarks, essentially telling his challenger that he would get to him when he was ready.
Any resentment vanished when Alvarez agreed to the fight, Golovkin said. Last week’s press tour was almost entirely devoid of verbal sparring.
“This is not for me,” Golovkin said, referring to the type of trash talking that typically surrounds a Mayweather or McGregor bout.
Alvarez, who understands English but usually responds to questions by speaking Spanish, said he has long chosen to steer clear of heated or personal banter with opponents.
“It’s not my style. I’ve never done that … and this is not needed in this fight,” Alvarez said. “This is the fight the fans, and you [reporters] wanted. That’s good enough.”
Yet, much of what typically drives sales in a Mayweather or McGregor show is the ability those fighters possess to fan the flames of their fans while raising an opponent’s ire.
Mayweather’s master showmanship in the character of “Money Mayweather” first appeared a decade ago during a 10-city promotional tour before his 2007 split-decision triumph over De La Hoya.
Their rivalry was genuinely vitriolic, and remains so. After De La Hoya bashed the premise of a Mayweather-McGregor bout in a Facebook post that was published internationally, Mayweather stepped his bout in front of Alvarez-Golovkin in order to be first in line for the sport’s fight dollars.
De La Hoya and Mayweather may continue to square off, since they are both now promoters. However, there is also a slight possibility that Mayweather, even after facing McGregor, might not be finished as a boxer. Stephen Espinoza, executive vice president of Showtime, has expressed hope that getting in the ring against McGregor would ignite Mayweather’s interest in championship-level fighting again. And there would be no more suitable opponent than Alvarez — if he defeats Golovkin.
“First things first, but for sure it is in the back of my mind and I would love to erase that,” Alvarez said of his long-ago loss to Mayweather.
De La Hoya said he hasn’t urged Alvarez or Golovkin to vocalize their tensions to match any verbal theatrics that might come from Mayweather and McGregor.
“History has shown when you have two polite fighters you’re going to get all the action in the ring,” De La Hoya said. “All that spectacle — the pushing, the shoving — it’s just show. And for some strange reason, when guys doing that step into the ring, they do not deliver.
“This fight here, you have two gentlemen who respect each other, who know when they step in the ring it’s going to be bombs away.”
Near the end of last week’s tour, as he replaced Golovkin on a love seat that had been placed in front of reporters at the Avalon Hollywood, De La Hoya couldn’t resist getting in a verbal jab of his own.
Mimicking a line Golovkin often uses when referring to his fights, De La Hoya chirped “Big drama show” as he patted the middleweight champion on the stomach.
“It’s coming,” Golovkin answered sternly.
There were other little signs that the opposing groups might be tiring of each other, even though the fighters traveled to their stops on separate private jets.
Golovkin appeared on one ESPN show alone, and as he was escorted in one of his team members remarked that Alvarez and his entourage would not be missed. “Anything we can do without him is ideal,” the man said.
When the fighters entered another studio to film a SportsCenter segment with hosts Jemele Hill and Michael Smith, Alvarez’s team delayed filming until a graphic behind the fighters was changed from “Golovkin-Alvarez” to “Alvarez-Golovkin.”
A day earlier in New York, a reporter from the Wall Street Journal set up an old-school “Rock-em, Sock-em Robots” game for the boxers to play, also igniting a little tension.
Golovkin landed punches that caused the head of Alvarez’s fighter to pop up in defeat three out of four times. “One more,” someone ordered, and Golovkin knocked Alvarez’s head off again.
That prompted Alvarez to mutter something about Golovkin being more familiar with such activities because of his young son. Golovkin responded, clearly delighted, by saying he’d never played the game before.
Also in New York, Alvarez was asked about a comment Golovkin had made about Alvarez appearing “scared” in front of him.
“We’ll see,” Alvarez said, adding that he planned to defeat Golovkin convincingly and bypass the need to exercise the rematch clause that only he possesses in this fight contract.
The next afternoon, lounging on a couch at ESPN and watching Mexico play a soccer game while he awaited a joint interview on Stephen A. Smith’s radio show, Alvarez admitted, “I don’t like being so close to my opponent. [But] it’s part of the promotion and has to be done.”
Pugmire reported from New York; Bristol, Conn.; Los Angeles; and aboard flights between the cities.