By Tyson Bruce
It may take awhile for the casual sports fan to warm back to boxing after the gutting disappointment of the Mayweather-Pacquiao non-fight. Fortunately for boxing fans the transition back to a positive light has been paved with a series of delightfully violent fights. The fight community is searching for the next great fighter to carry boxing into a new era and several fighters have boldly stated their claim with some devastating performances.
Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, 45-1-1-(32 KO’s), proved that he is an economic force to be reckoned with when he drew the largest boxing crowd of the year (approximately 31, 000 fans) in Houston. The big question with Alvarez has never been his crossover appeal, but rather whether he possesses the kind of fighting talent necessary to be the face of boxing in the years to come. While his rousing battle against the dangerous but technically flawed Kirkland doesn’t really change Canelo’s evaluation as a prize-fighter the destructive finality and poise he displayed has to be respected.
Despite already having forty-seven professional fights, he’s still just twenty-four years old and has always shown the bravery and ambition of a great champion. If he is to become the kind of great champion many hope he will be these character traits will be at the center of his metamorphosis.
It really all depends on what Alvarez’s true ceiling as a fighter is. If he has the ability of a Fernando Vargas or a Kelly Pavlik—very good but not great fighters—then the current status he occupies may in fact already be at its apex. His popularity and entertaining style will sustain him as a significant draw for years to come but he will never transition into the realm of legend, as so many of his country men like Barrera, Morales and Marquez have managed to accomplish. If his ceiling is something on par with a Felix Trinidad or an Oscar De La Hoya, however, then Alvarez is capable of leading boxing even while sustaining a loss or two along the way.
In a post-Mayweather era it may be just as important to be an entertaining fighter as it is a purely talented one. It’s rare in boxing that a technically gifted defensive genius like Mayweather becomes the dominant economic force in the sport. Pernell Whitaker was every bit the dominant fighter in the 1990’s that Mayweather is now but he never crossed over into the mainstream. Mayweather, much like Leonard and Tyson, befitted by embodying the personal qualities that defined the era in which they fought.
Floyd’s rise to prominence occurred during the dawn of the social media era and his ostentatious and gratuitously materialistic persona allowed him to gain a level of celebrity that arguably no fighter with his style has ever managed to reach. Despite his overwhelming ability and accomplishments, Mayweather is as famous for his beefs with 50-Cent and TI as he is for most of the fighters he defeated in the ring. It was Mayweather’s ability to manage the media storm around him and retain perfection that has allowed him to have no equal in the ring.
The next fighter or fighters to carry boxing might be wise to take a more substantive or at least conventional approach. One fighter that seems to be heading this approach is middleweight Gennady “GGG” Golovkin, who is quickly becoming a boxing star in Southern California. Golovkin continued his reign of terror over the 160-pound weight class by deboning the brave Willie Monroe Jr. in six rounds in front a raucous and nearly sold out LA Forum.
Golovkin, 33-0-0-(30 KO’s), has achieved remarkable branding success in a short period of time based on a balance of organic hype (he’s starched his last twenty opponents) and a carefully crafted strategy of ingratiating himself into the lucrative Mexican and Mexican-American market place. Golovkin phrases like “big drama show” and “Mexican style” has become legendary on twitter and the contradiction between his boyish almost meek personality and vicious fighting style is intoxicating for fans in the same way it was for Manny Pacquiao.
The biggest things standing in Golovkin’s way are time and ability to get the elite fighters in and around his weight class to fight him. At thirty-three he probably only has about 3-5 years of his prime remaining, which doesn’t exactly leave him a great deal of time to cash in on his ample talents. It’s one of the major reasons why he fights four times a year—an almost unheard of pace for top ranked fighters today. His aura of invincibility has easily made him the most avoided fighter in boxing.
It not only fear that may keep Golovkin from reaching his maximum potential but also the political turmoil that currently embroils boxing. More than ever boxing is a fractured sport. The sport is essentially divided into two major camps, with HBO on one end of the spectrum and Al Haymon and his PBC project on the other. Boxing is a sport with virtually no oversight and therefore has no recourse for mandating certain fights to happen. If Cotto beats Daniel Geale—no guarantee with the miles on his odometer—in two weeks time he will almost certainly get the first crack at Canelo, meaning that Golovkin will be unable to fight either for at least another year if not longer.
Is there anything else he can do in the mean time to convince the sceptics that the eye-test with which so many of us have judged him on is in fact correct? The one fighter that may achieve this is perhaps the second most avoided fighter in the sport: Erislandy Lara. While Lara campaigns at 154-pounds he would almost certainly meet Golovkin and 160 if the money was right. In fact, Lara and his camp openly challenged “GGG” on twitter preceding his fight with Monroe.
Lara proved if not superior Canelo’s virtual equal when they boxed last year and it would provide an excellent scale for assessing Golovkin’s ability on the highest level of the game. Lara might not have the star status of Canelo or a Cotto but he does have their ability. If GGG were able to dominate or stop Lara nobody could front the excuse that he’s never proven himself against a worthy fighter. It’s a massive risk—Lara’s style is atrocious to watch and he’s exceptionally gifted—but at this point it may be one worth taking.
The last two weeks of boxing have been fun. Despite the public if not financial failure of “The Fight” boxing continues to thrive within its own realm. In fact, it almost as if a cloud has been lifted off the sport now that the big fight has finally happened. It provided the kind of closure necessary for the sport to move forward in a meaningful way. Articles will continue to be written about “shoulder gate” and petty lawsuits will continue to mount but at least we can now focus on the future. Not everything will hinge on the fact the most meaningful fight was never made. We can only hope now that the fighters of tomorrow learn from errors of the yesterday.