Canelo’s Lightning vs. Golovkin’s Rolling Thunder

By Caryn A. Tate on September 13, 2017
Canelo’s Lightning vs. Golovkin’s Rolling Thunder
We’ll examine each fighter’s in-ring attributes and evaluate what each man does well.

The essence of boxing is to hit without getting hit. For me, the way this fight plays out boils down to who can avoid the most punishment…

As with all big fights, many who have a pick in the September 16 mega fight between middleweights Saul “Canelo” Alvarez (49-1-1, 34 KOs) and Gennady “GGG” Golovkin (37-0, 33 KOs) are basing it on who they’re more of a fan of. Or, sometimes, who gets more positive press about certain aspects of their fighting style.

By contrast, here we’ll examine each fighter’s in-ring attributes and evaluate what each man does well, and areas where each could use some improvement.

Saul “Canelo” Alvarez

Alvarez has stunningly fast hands for his size, a fact that is consistently called out by trainers and other fighters, particularly after they’ve seen him live. In fact, if one watches only his hand speed compared to most other fighters, you’ll find yourself looking at fighters in weight classes a good bit lower than Canelo’s before you find anyone comparable. In general I’d say you have to look at a few fighters at welterweight (147 lbs.) or junior welterweight (140 lbs.) before you find similar hand speed.

Saul consistently throws punches in combination, a trait that was once common in fighters but in recent years has largely fallen by the wayside. This means he puts his hand speed to good use by making the most of it. His combinations are often comprised of unusual punch pairings reminiscent of expert combination punchers like Mike Tyson. Part of the reason combinations are so effective is because the defending fighter often doesn’t see what’s coming next—he/she is busy bracing for the current punch or punches they’re expecting. So, particularly if the throwing fighter lets loose with something atypical, it often lands with better effect because the opponent hasn’t prepared for it—and, in the case of Alvarez’s blinding hand speed, hasn’t even seen it. In boxing, lack of preparation and lack of sight equals devastation.

Alvarez also has underrated defense. Many chalk him up as a purely offensive fighter, but he’s shown better than average head movement for years. In recent bouts, though, he’s really learned how to more seamlessly put his offense and defense together, rather than having to be in one mode vs. the other. In his fight versus Miguel Cotto in November 2015, which may be his most impressive win, his upper body movement was stellar, and he displayed his overall ring IQ and boxing skills to good effect against a legendary boxer. Perhaps most important is the fact that he overcomes his somewhat limited footwork with that of his upper body movement, using it as both a defensive measure but also as a way to throw off his opponent’s estimation of Canelo’s range when he is approaching with punches of his own.

Saul’s temperament also plays a big part in his success in the ring. He’s extremely self-possessed and focused, particularly for his age of 27 years old, and this contributes to his ability to calmly analyze his opponent during the bout and not to panic if he gets in trouble. The latter hasn’t happened often, but in his fight with James Kirkland in May 2015, Kirkland hurt Alvarez in the first round. Canelo covered up on the ropes and expertly blocked the majority of the rest of Kirkland’s shots for the rest of the round, and never appeared even close to panicking or not thinking.

Along similar lines after knocking out Kirkland, and in May 2016, Amir Khan, Alvarez surprised audiences when he approached his unconscious opponents and knelt down next to them out of concern. While this behavior shouldn’t be expected of any fighter, there’s no mistaking it was a moving display of kindness by Alvarez; but most importantly, it shows how much self-control he possesses. Rather than immediately celebrating like the majority of fighters, overtaken with emotion, he put his victorious feelings to the side until he was assured of his opponents’ well-being. It’s a pretty remarkable and unusual trait.

Areas for Improvement
Alvarez has decent but limited footwork, and he has trouble cutting off the ring. His limitations in this area can be seen in his fights with pure boxers, like his fight with Floyd Mayweather Jr., Erislandy Lara, and Amir Khan. Mobile boxers with good feet give him fits until he can figure out a way to cover the distance between them. But so far, Canelo has figured a way around it with the exception of his single loss to expert boxer Mayweather.

Canelo’s temperament, mentioned above as a strength, can also sometimes be a negative depending on his opponent. He is so patient and has so much self-control that at times he can wait a bit too long to pull the trigger, and it can cost him rounds he didn’t need to lose. Contributing to this is the fact that he’s a natural counterpuncher, so he tends to wait until his opponent comes to him (hence part of his trouble with pure boxers).

Gennady “GGG” Golovkin

Gennady “GGG” Golovkin has some of the best footwork in the sport at the moment. His feet are almost always in perfect position to punch, which contributes to his noticeable balance and the fact that he has never been dropped. He often appears to almost glide or float across the ring, and most impressively he uses his feet as a boxer should: as his primary tool used to control his opponent. He cuts off the ring extremely well against most opponents, and controls the range so that he can land his most effective shots. Most of his opponents just haven’t had an answer for him, and that is primarily due to his feet (not his power, as is often stated).

Still, Golovkin’s power is absolutely one of his most impressive assets. There’s no mistaking he has more natural power than most in or around his weight class, but it’s really his accuracy and ability to obtain his preferred range—using his feet and pressure—that enable him to effectively deliver said power. And when he lands flush, his opponents feel it.

GGG loves mid-range and delivers his fearsome punches best at that distance. Some have suggested he’s an inside fighter, but that is not accurate—he gets the most leverage on his shots at medium distance, where he has the benefit of momentum on his punches from a bit of distance yet still has his opponent close enough that he doesn’t have to reach. Not only that, but having his foe at mid-range ensures he can continue the onslaught after he hurts them, which typically seals the deal and gets him the knockout.

Gennady’s ring IQ and timing are superb. In his fight versus Matthew Macklin, Golovkin was consistently a step ahead of the former top contender and used his excellent punch timing to throw off Macklin’s defense, followed by a vicious combination that ended with a left hook to the body that dropped Macklin for the count. With his stellar amateur career, which includes over 300 wins and a silver medal at the 2004 Olympics, it’s no surprise since he has no doubt faced just about every style or school of boxing throughout his career. That much experience has contributed to his ability to time his opponents, which plays no small part in his success in the boxing ring. Like all smart and experienced fighters, he often correctly anticipates what his opponent is going to do and reacts based on the anticipation rather than the action itself, which has helped him win fights and typically win in impressive fashion.

Areas for Improvement
Golovkin has limited defensive skills. Despite some pundits suggesting the 35-year-old is showing signs of his age, GGG has always displayed not so great defense; it’s just that in the past year or two, his level of opposition has improved, so we’ve now been able to see him fighting opponents who can make him pay for his defensive lapses. In his fights with Willie Monroe Jr. and Osumanu Adama, he got hit with flush shots upstairs. When he was asked about this after the fights, he alluded to “letting” the fighters hit him to make the fights more exciting. That was good marketing, but no one in his right mind would take punches on purpose. In March of this year, when Golovkin faced top-level middleweight Daniel Jacobs, many felt Jacobs deserved the decision, and that was in no small part due to the number of clean shots Golovkin took.

In Summary
The essence of boxing is to hit without getting hit. For me, the way this fight plays out boils down to who can avoid the most punishment for the length of the bout. Who is better equipped to block, slip, and dodge the onslaught of power shots from the other man? This bout truly could play out in a number of ways due to the accuracy, power, and speed of the combatants. Don’t miss it!

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  1. Old Yank 10:25am, 09/17/2017

    One crazy 118-110 score card! This crap needs to tarred and feathered and rode out of Vegas on a rail!
    All 3 official judges and the majority of unofficial ones, gave Canelo the 10th, 11th and 12th rounds (I gave him the 11th and 12th). So much for gassing out at the end of a bout.
    I had the bout 116-112 for GGG—fairly close to the consensus. Going against the grain, I thought Canelo was going to pull off the upset and come out on top.
    By most pre-fight analysis, the draw can now be comfortably classified an upset. Not the upset I predicted, but an upset nonetheless.

  2. Old Yank 08:56am, 09/16/2017

    In some cases, examining KO numbers as numbers can be deceiving. If fighter “X” fails to KO fighter “Y”, does is speak to some inability in fighter “X”, or does it speak to the use of survival mode of fighter “Y”?

    I’d argue that in spite of Chavez, Jr looking like a punching bag against Canelo, Chavez, jr was made into a punching bag in spite of the punching bag’s use of survival mode.

    We’ve all seen B fighters manage to escape getting KO’ed by a strong A fighter simply via the use of survival mode.

    No one knows the exact boundaries of when a brain stem of cortex has reached the limits of what they can take [see: Roy Jones, Jr.]. Any fighter, at any time can turn that corner at any time in their career.

    We’ve all see the unstoppable stopped [see: Tyson v Douglass].

    GGG has a reported amateur record 345-5 and 175 pro rounds. There are some miles on that 37 year-old body. On the other hand, Canelo has a reported amateur record of 44-2, with 353 pro rounds. He’s only 27.

    Canelo turned pro at such a young age that he was fighting pros while others were still stuck at the amateur level.

    My boxing IQ easily picks GGG for this bout. My gut sees an upset. GGG looked suspect and a bit exposed in his last two bouts. Canello looked great. Since I’m not as bright as I once was, I’m going with my gut on this one.

  3. Timothy Agoglia Carey 05:16pm, 09/14/2017

    In the lead up to this one each guy fought a “big guy”. Canelo’s big guy was a “dead man walking” that Saul got to torture for twelve long rounds. GGG’s biggun’ was a 6’ plus 185 pounder who fought GGG like it was a life and death situation with the loser to be taken out back and shot. Based on this the experts over at ESPN by a 2 to 1 margin are calling Canelo! My question is a simple one…..where the hell does this deep discount of Jacobs come from?!

  4. Steven Stahler 05:12pm, 09/14/2017

    I disagree. Canelo’s speed is nothing special. And he has no power. His footwork is poor as well. Cotto beat him to the punch quite a bit and Cotto is worn out.

  5. Timothy Agoglia Carey 02:24pm, 09/14/2017

    @Red Plains-Great analysis! As good as any that has been put up on this site, especially regarding each fighters strengths! But to get right down to the nitty gritty of what this fight is all about…..though Canelo is a middleweight and has been for years his strengths have come into play against smaller men to wit: welterweights like Amir Kahn who another welterweight Danny Garcia almost killed before Canelo did the deed…or junior middleweight James Kirkland who Ishida clobbered before Saul got his turn…..or pity poor welterweight Josesito who could have just as easily have made 140! I know you don’t engage with the commenters here and probably for good reason, but I wish you could tell us why Saul couldn’t get weight drained and weak as a kitten Chavez Jr out of there when there was nothing but nothing coming back at him.

  6. Koolz 05:38am, 09/14/2017

    arrg you’re article is flawed are you even watching the fights.
    During the Monroe fight GGG put his hands down told Monroe to him and even put his face forward!
    That wasn’t because of his lack of defense.  You are seeing flaws where there are no flaws.

  7. Koolz 05:35am, 09/14/2017

    I will be amazed if Canelo makes it to eight rounds.

  8. Jan Swart 05:22am, 09/14/2017

    @Seymour, I’m not sure that Tony Zale was “a slugger”; he was an excellent boxer who could punch. Ditto Carmen Basilio.

  9. Seymour 04:35am, 09/14/2017

    Thanks for a good well written article. I am confused by the comments about GGG being hit. Look at the great middleweight champions in history. Tony Zale, a slugger not a boxer, Jake LaMotta a slugger not a boxer, Rocky Graziano a slugger not a boxer, Mickey Walker more of a slugger than a boxer. Gene Fuller, a slugger not a boxer, Carmen Basilio a slugger not a boxer. The list goes on. GGG is more of a puncher than a boxer and commits to punches so of course he is going to be hit. Thats his strength and style. Read the archives about Graziano and Zale and Fullmer. They were not criticized because they took punches. In this Mayweather era it seems boxing writers and even serious fans think a fighter that takes a shot to give shot or two is deficient. Even Ray Robinson as a middle weight, not welterweight, although few films exist of his as a WW, engaged, dug his toes into the canvas and took shots to give vicious punches. And lets not forget about Marciano who never saw a punch he did not like.
    And GGG fought a cruiserweight when he fought Jacobs, so there is in my opinion no comparison to Canelo.
    I hope the fight has a definitive ending but with Oscar and Hopkins involved nothing is for certain.

  10. Pete The Sneak 03:59am, 09/14/2017

    I too believe that Canelo has stamina issues as Don from Prov indicated. GGG went 12 tough rounds with a light heavyweight (that night) with Danny Jacobs and although the fight was not easy, GGG showed he was in very good shape towards the end and didn’t look like it was life or death. If Canelo doesn’t get to GGG early and this drags out, I see GGG hurting the Red Head in the 10th round with a series of big right hands and a vicious upper cut, which may prompt the Ranelo’s to not let a very tired Alvarez out for the 11th Round. That’s just me, but either way this will be a good one. By the by, another excellent, well written article by Caryn A. Tate. continues to ramp it up man, keep it coming…Peace.

  11. Gajjers 03:01am, 09/14/2017

    Lovely article…
    Thanks for the mature discussion, senior players. Don took the words out of my mouth - punch resistance. No one in the know who’s seen them at their best would say Hagler hit harder than Hearns, but when the dust (and a pretty dust storm it was) settled, the senior chin won that one… Being a passionate fan of the Noble Art (fight game 1st, particular fighters prominent in my sense of loyalty nonetheless), I can’t help but be a biased bum for this one - thanks, Angelo Dundee (RIP). I’ve developed a healthy respect for Canelo’s game, but GGG won me over earlier, so I’m unashamedly rooting for the senior team. Again, well done - keep these beautiful articles coming…

  12. Kid Blast 07:47pm, 09/13/2017

    Fonfara KOd Chavez Jr, Fonfara was destroyed by Joe Smith and Adonis Stevenson.

    Canelo could not stop Junior.

    Case for GGG and Jacobs was probably a light heavyweight for that fight,

    Starting to see my way clear now.

  13. Kid Blast 07:35pm, 09/13/2017

    Arggh. You have bought me so many meals, I had to stop betting because I was getting fat. However, re the fight, I can’t seem to get comfortable with either guy. Jacobs exposed GGG to a degree and Chavez Jr managed to survive even though he was a human punching bag. Yet, Canelo’s flush shots can be devastating as Khan and Kirkland found out. The last time I saw Canelo hurt was way back when he first hit the scene and fought Cotto’s cousin. He was staggered in that one but recovered. I have never seen GGG hurt.

    Bottom line, I just don’t know at this point. As for dinner, I’ll buy you one if I am in the Providence area lifting next year. Johnson City—a fine place !!

  14. Don from Prov 05:03pm, 09/13/2017

    Good article by the way.  Sorry I forgot to say that—
    I always enjoy your writing.

  15. Don from Prov 05:02pm, 09/13/2017

    The ability to take a punch will play a part as well.
    I don’t think that in this fight Canelo’s upper body movement will make up for his footwork.  I do think that he will nail GGG with very flush shots, especially early—but he has not proven to have great power (heavy hands, yes)—and he will get hit flush as well.  I didn’t like how Jacobs made Golovkin nearly abandon his body attack and turtle up so much, but his length, fast (if not extremely educated) feet, and size probably contributed to that.  I keep coming back to Canelo and stamina, which I think he lacks and feel that the most likely outcome is GGG taking over in the late middle rounds.  On the other hand, I’d feel better if I had a meal bet on this with Kid Blast as history has shown that I am incapable of losing a dinner to him.

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