It's hard to bring a crowd back once you've lost them—and if the boos echoing around Las Vegas' T-Mobile Arena were any indication, Saul "Canelo" Alvarez no longer had the people in the palm of his hand.
After 12 dreadful rounds against a passive Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., a 120-108 shutout on all three judges' scorecards, 20,501 fans were in no mood for platitudes and excuses.
"I showed I could move, I could box, I could do everything," Canelo said after the fight to a mixture of cheers and boos, a tiny trickle of sweat all there was to indicate he had been in a prizefight. "Against a fighter who was bigger, who was stronger. I can do all of those things."
In some ways, it was a fair assessment. Alvarez (49-1-1, 34 KOs) had spent the preceding 47 minutes battering his opponent's face with a dispassionate professional excellence that marked him as one of the greats.
When his supposed rival refused to engage, he put himself in the ropes, hoping to generate some action for the fans who had spent hundreds or even thousands of dollars to make their way to a fight advertised as the next in a long line of classic battles between Mexican warriors.
Canelo showed up on the front lines. Chavez Jr. never emerged from the battle that seems to constantly rage in his own head. By the time the fight was over, Canelo had thrown twice as many punches as Chavez and had landed more than three times as many blows. Once again, boxing over-promised and under-delivered.
Only one thing could have possibly put the grudge fight that wasn't firmly in the rearview mirror. Remarkably, despite boxing's penchant for getting in its own way, it's exactly what promoters Oscar De La Hoya and Tom Loeffler delivered.
Chavez ambled out of the ring, millions of dollars richer but exposed as a fraud to the people who loved him most, ultimately merely an appetizer for the real main event. In the ring, in the midst of a typically careful post-fight interview, HBO's Max Kellerman got word that Canelo had a big announcement to make.
"Golovkin, you are next, my friend," Canelo said in English as the lights went down and a Gennady Golovkin highlight played on the big screen. And then, as if to assure everyone watching that they weren't imagining things, the middleweight champion, wearing a suit but no tie, made a ring walk of his own, all lovable, goofy smiles and bad dancing.
"I feel good inside. Guys, right now is different story," Golovkin said in his patented, delightful broken English. "I think, in September, is big Mexican-style big drama show. We're ready."
If immediate internet reaction is any indication, so are fans. After we waited five years for the seemingly can't-miss fight between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao, it felt good for a fight to be made while both fighters are still near their peak powers. On September 16, Mexican Independence Day, two men vying for a place in history will battle at an as-yet-unknown location.
In the ring, it's a fight that has the makings of an instant classic. Golovkin is like a panther, stalking his prey around the ring, working behind a thudding jab to deliver looping power shots. He can end a man's night, change his life, with a single punch from either poisoned hand.
As terrifying as that may sound, it actually plays directly into Canelo's hands. As the Chavez fight showed, Canelo wants his opponent to come at him throwing punches. He all but begged Chavez to do so—it's the only way he can respond with the excellent, accurate counter blows that have made him a star.
Unless Golovkin fails to come ever forward, doing his best impression of a Terminator robot programmed exclusively for punches and smiles, it's almost impossible for this fight not to deliver. And in his 18 defenses of the middleweight title, the 35-year-old Golovkin has yet to move any direction other than forward.
|Tale of the Tape: Canelo Vs. Golovkin|
|70.5 inches||Reach||70 inches|
|49-1-1 (34 KO)||Record||37-0 (33 KO)|
It is the biggest, best fight boxing can possibly offer—a real superfight, and not one manufactured by careful, immaculate promotion like Chavez versus Canelo, a point HBO's Kellerman drove home to end the broadcast.
"Two tremendous fighters," Kellerman said. "Both want to be great and leave a legacy. And both extremely confident, which is why they're going to fight each other in September. I think what tonight demonstrates is that you can't wish a big fight into existence. Not a really big fight. Not a great fight or great rivalry.
"You can't promote it into existence. You have to actually fight your way there. A superfight is when the dust settles, who's left standing in the winner's circle. That's what we have with GGG and Canelo."
Before sending fans out into the Las Vegas night, the two fighters gave them a taste of what to expect in the lead up to boxing's next big bout.
"Good luck in September," Golovkin said, enigmatic smile planted on his face.
"Luck is for the mediocre people," Canelo responded, as confetti in the red, green and white of Mexico fell from the ceiling. For a moment they were the only two people on screen, staring across a distance of no more than two feet, violence filling the air, stifling even Golovkin's ever-present smile.
There were no mediocre people to be found.
Jonathan Snowden covers combat sports for Bleacher Report.