Back Against the Ropes

By Christian Giudice on September 11, 2018
Back Against the Ropes
Some fighters feel comfortable on the ropes. Others search for them out of desperation.

As the rematch gets closer, one question overshadows the others: What ring identity will each fighter adopt this time around?

When Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin face each other again this Saturday night at the T-Mobile Arena, they will be forced to address the questions that need to be asked when great fighters meet in a rematch such as will they have to change or revise their offensive strategies? Can either fighter make necessary adjustments? Is it possible that the fans will see a replica of the first matchup? As the rematch gets closer, one question overshadows the others: What ring identity will each fighter adopt this time around? In order to discuss these identities, let us first reference previous historic rematches:

When Alexis Arguello and Aaron Pryor faced off in their rematch in 1983, few people, including Arguello, had forgotten the tragic image of him slumping to the ropes in the fourteenth round of the first fight as Pryor mercilessly rained down more than twenty punches on the legend. For Arguello, that feeling of helplessness haunted him. Thus, there was nothing to gain from the rematch: Arguello was older and Pryor was still an unstoppable force. So when Arguello stayed down in the tenth round of that fight there was no sense of shock or wonder. Just acceptance. Some rematches just don’t present anything new for the fight fan. “New” meaning that there is nothing that will make them see the fighters through a different lens the second time around.

In contrast to Arguello vs. Pryor II, the second Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran in November 1980 had a much different feel. Timing proved to be vital in how that rematch unfolded. Unlike the brutality that defined the final round of Arguello-Pryor I, Leonard came on strong in the late rounds of their first fight to warrant a rematch that would keep the fans invested in the rivalry. When Leonard strategized for the quick rematch with Duran, he knew of Duran’s predilection for blowing up between fights.

Yet, no one could have predicted the tenor of the rematch as the theme shifted considerably from the intensity and focus of their first meeting to the one-sided act of a showman in the return bout. When Duran came to Montreal months earlier (in 1980) to prepare for the first fight, he was embraced by the French fans as the antithesis to the Golden Boy in Leonard. That sentiment shocked Leonard. Leading into the fight, Duran thrived off that same momentum and hurt Leonard early. Leonard, overwhelmed by the spectacle and Duran’s aggression, never recovered. In essence, the rematch—and subsequent bolo punch—was his way of reminding Duran that he could not be outpsyched by Duran again.

On the topic of rematches, Duran was well schooled as he avenged his first loss to Esteban DeJesus in 1974 with an eleventh-round knockout. After being knocked down in the first rounds of each of those bouts, a new Duran emerged, not the listless one from the first meeting. But what adjustments did Duran make? Well, he trained much better than he did for the first fight, and dictated the pace of the bout, which was something he was not physically prepared to do in their first matchup. So how do these references to rematches reflect Saturday’s bout? First, Duran proved against DeJesus that a fighter can change who he is in the rematch, which, in his case, resulted in one of his finest victories. Second, every rematch has so many moving variables that it is hard to label them.

To be clear, Canelo-GGG II can unfold in many ways, but here are two scenarios. First, Alvarez and Golovkin may allow a personal animosity to reflect a more aggressive fight this time around, but that is an unlikely scenario. As easy as it is for fighters to thrive off resentment (either real of fabricated), it is easier to shed those misgivings come fight time. Second, Golovkin may recognize that he actually needs to be more aggressive and less hesitant when Alvarez baits him to come inside or follow him to the ropes. Only Golovkin knows if that aggression means committing to working the body earlier in the fight.

Still, this fight begs the question: Which Alvarez will we see this time around? Will we see the confident fighter staving off Golovkin attacks at every juncture with his own counterattack? Will we be privy to Alvarez, as a lead, working behind a consistent jab, getting inside early and often and doing considerable damage? Or will we have to settle for Alvarez, the stylist, who believes his success is directly linked to turning into a stylist and relying on head movement and feints?

In the early rounds of the first fight, Alvarez made a sanguine decision to quickly move to the ropes. At first, Alvarez wanted to utilize his boxing skills and frustrate Golovkin by making him miss, but then he returned to the ropes round after round as if he needed to be there. During one confrontation, Alvarez escaped the ropes, moved to the middle of the ring, landed a nice combination and then went right back to them. What appeared to be a stroke of genius the first time clearly became problematic—a ploy to buy time, get rest, and, in the process, allow a salivating Golovkin to load up.

Prior to using the ropes for false security, Alvarez actually beat Golovkin to the punch and attacked at the precise times during the second round, and he showed that he knew how to fight the bigger, stronger man. As the fight progressed, Alvarez was just unable to sustain that approach.

If Alvarez’s identity is inextricably linked to his style, Golovkin is an open book. He’s a puncher, who wades in, employs a powerful jab, and attacks. There is no gray area. He stalks and stalks. Consequently, it does not matter whom he’s fighting, it is nearly impossible to factor in how he deflates his opponent over the course of a fight.

Some fighters feel comfortable on the ropes. Other fighters search for them out of desperation, believing, often in crucial moments that either they can buy time or rely on their defensive strengths to bail them out. Often, Floyd Mayweather Jr. made himself invisible as he doused the most dangerous punchers of our time with a feint here a flick of the glove there.

However, few fighters go there in the fourth round of a superfight, especially not a boxer-puncher like Canelo. Whatever the gameplan was the first time around, one thing is for sure: Alvarez, no matter what identity he adopts, cannot go back to it, or the ropes, if he wants to silence Golovkin this time around.

Christian Giudice
Author: A Fire Burns Within: The Miraculous Journey of Wilfredo Gomez
Author: The Rise and Fall of Alexis Argüello
Author: Hands of Stone: The Life and Legend of Roberto Duran


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  1. David 03:40pm, 09/17/2018

    Besides knowing Roberto Duran’s predilections for blowing up his weight, the ring was half the size of a tennis court and Ray Leonard still ran. He and his handlers wanted no part of Duran on the inside even though they knew Roberto Duran was not 100% ready.

  2. Robert 07:55am, 09/14/2018

    I think the crux of the fight will be for us to discover how much help Canelo got from his use of Peds—he looks smaller now and the loss of that extra muscle and strength may be the difference—He is the naturally smaller man and may now be vulnerable to the power of Golovkin.

  3. didier 09:50am, 09/12/2018

    Since when is Canelo vs Golovkin a classic?
    More of a fluke to me

  4. Kid Blast 07:18pm, 09/11/2018

    I see strong similarities to the first fight except that GGG will press earlier this time doing a better job of cutting off the ring and using his jab. Canelo will do better in the mid-rounds landing the more quality shots. The fight will be decided in the last three rounds as they engage more directly with a possible firefight ensuing. I predict another draw. Two judges split and the other calls it even.

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