For A First-Timer, Canelo-Golovkin Was Just Short Of Perfect

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LAS VEGAS – Everyone is trapped. Not metaphorically, but legitimately in danger (okay, maybe not that much danger) of being crushed to death by hoards of people with the last sound heard a resounding CA-NE-LO chant in the serpentine halls of the MGM Grand Casino mocked by a smiling image of Iron Chef Morimoto. The problem, it seems, is stemming from a jam caused by a group of fans who have unfurled an enormous Mexican flag and won’t move, instead taking picture after picture as a yellow-clad security guard tries the best he can (the best he can isn’t good enough, contrary to anything Thom Yorke would tell you) to shuffle them along.

There are even more traffic jams up ahead due to a storm cloud of folks surrounding Shawn Porter, and another following Adrien Broner, a regular anthill making it impossible to get past a kiosk that is either offering an Oxygen Bar or frozen drinks that will require the use of an Oxygen Bar just a few hours later. Vegas is nothing if not a study in contrast.

It’s at this point that it sets in just how big this fight really is. Thousands of people spent their hard-earned time – and let’s face it, time is a lot more valuable than money as currency in 2017 – to watch some people step onto a scale, stare at each other for a few seconds, and listen to one of the most distinctly recognizable voices since the Moviefone Guy read off a list of sponsors and gloriously butcher the words “Thor: Ragnarok.”

While the bout between Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin won’t save boxing, it’s an example of why so many people talk about “saving” boxing in the first place. The fight mattered. The fighters mattered. The weekend mattered.

“I am all for talking to those fans who were able to witness a boxing event for the very first time,” Golden Boy promotions head and boxing legend Oscar de la Hoya says the day before the fight. “We must talk to them. We must engage with them and embrace them. And this fight couldn’t have come at a better time. Perfect timing. Because people have an idea of what two boxers at the highest level can do. We’re witnessing it. Vegas is full of energy. Everybody traveling from all over the world to watch a fight is just amazing for boxing. I’m not worried that Canelo and GGG aren’t going to deliver because this fight is a can’t miss. This fight is made to be a classic. It’s made to be, I’m hoping, a trilogy. These are the types of fighters that can deliver a special fight.”

T Mobile arena is basically empty. It won’t be a few hours from now, but it’s off-putting how sad an arena feels when no one is there and nothing is happening. Any noise gets fizzy lifted to the ceiling and dissipates, as if blasted by a Martian ray gun in 1950s b-movie. The primary subject is the ring itself, tattooed with logos as brands like Tecate try to align themselves not just with a boxer – in this case a no-brainer is Canelo – but the sport itself, intertwining and building and feeding in the dance that is a snake eating its own tail.

A good boxer needs promotion, but to get promoted a boxer needs first to be, well, good at boxing. Luckily both men involved in this fight have plenty of both, and they’re able to toe that line in a way that gets them the attention they need with the time needed to earn the attention in the first place.

“Both guys are super marketable,” K2 Promoter Tom Loeffler says. “Gennady works with Tecate, works with Chivas, he’s a brand ambassador for Jordan, for Hublot, for Bijan. And Canelo is also sponsored by Tecate, and Hennessy, and Under Armour. So the global brands will only really associate their brands, or trust their brands with a boxing superstar, if they feel like they’re a good ambassador, not only for the sport, but for the brands. I think both Canelo and Triple G, just going back to the press tour, they have respect for each other, they don’t have to say derogatory things about each other. And because their personalities, inside the ring and outside the ring, it really comes through on the marketability of this fight, as well.”

Along with the marketability comes the phone interviews, and the videos, and the in-person interviews, and the appearances. Boxing is a true 1-on-1 sport, so you need to know the two people in the ring. You need to feel like you have a dog in the fight, even if that dog is just pulling for a good fight.

Style is important, but personality is equally as important. Nobody’s going to want a trilogy if the characters aren’t compelling. Tecate will wrap the arena, steps included, and every piece of real estate in the MGM leading up to the fight, but the two most prominent focal points in the hierarchy are the names – CANELO and GOLOVKIN – and the faces that go with those names.

While boxing got its spectacle in Mayweather and McGregor (two faces and names that didn’t need any help letting people know they’re important, boxing purists like de la Hoya banked on this being the “real” fight, and hoped to ride the wave of all that attention and all the social media and all those PPV buys just a few weeks prior to capture and retain some of that audience.

“I wasn’t against Mayweather-McGregor,” de la Hoya says. “Yes, to me, it was a disrespect to the sport because I’m a Purist. Boxing is my life. But I am all for talking to those fans who were able to witness a boxing event for the very first time. We must talk to them. We must engage with them and embrace them. And this fight couldn’t have come at a better time.”

If the timing was perfect, and the fight inevitably was 12 rounds of as close to that as possible, the result was the only thing left to be desired.

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It’s a weird thing to want a rematch before a fight has even happened, but that’s what everyone involved in Canelo-GGG was hoping for before the bell even rang. That match had to live up to the hype, it just would, these fighters were too good and had too much respect not to. The nerves were there; even the day before the event de la Hoya showed the telltale signs (leg shaking included) of wanting everything to be perfect. The worry wasn’t.

But nobody wanted a draw. It wasn’t even something that came to anyone’s mind. After that 118-110 card was announced, and later when you heard “DRAW” over the PA, it couldn’t sink in. Most people with betting tickets on Canelo or Golovkin as a straight result had to be told their ticket would pay as a push. It didn’t even register on the if:then spectrum. (Although you were paid out a nice 12:1 if you did happen to bet on the draw.)

This is a funny thing about boxing. For 12 rounds, two dudes – one just coming off the height of his career, and the other almost at his peak – pummeled each other and took everything the other gave him, and the result gets put in the hands of an arbitrary scorecard as if this was a round of golf. There’s no objectivity here, no real culpability for the judges, and both fighters and their corners are forced to wait nervously as the pair think they won. It’s more Shark Tank than fighting, but it’s so fundamentally BOXING that it’s never going to change. The draw wasn’t offensive; how the draw was rationalized was.

“That’s boxing, man,” a man in the row behind me in Section 101 says. “Somebody’s always going to get screwed.”

Fans left angry. They left confused. And all the pent up energy of watching two elite competitors match each other punch for punch spilled out onto the Vegas strip.

Two Irish boxing fans with more than a few drinks in them felt keen on starting a fight that wouldn’t be scored a draw one way or the other on the elevated bridge between New York, New York and Excalibur.

“GGG f*cking won,” one says to a much larger man in a Canelo hat. “You know it, and I know it.”

The two skipped away, almost tripping on the moving walkway into Excalibur, and odds are they got their fight at some point even if it was just between the two of them.

We’re all left to wait for the rematch that felt like the worst kept secret in the world even before the first bout had taken place.

“I think a rematch Cinco De Mayo next year makes all the sense in the world,” Loeffler says.

Cinco it is. Chances are they won’t have to go to the card next time.