Saturday 16 September. T-Mobile Arena. Las Vegas, Nevada. Middleweight kingpin Gennady Golovkin and Saul “Canelo” Alvarez stand stunned in the ring after a shocking scorecard makes their instant classic a split draw, sending the boxing community and Twitter into meltdown.
Nowadays, Twitter going into meltdown is nothing new, but Adalaide Byrd’s 118-110 scorecard in favour of Canelo was heinous and it really felt like boxing had managed to stab itself in the foot once again.
The card seemed even more galling given its proximity to the sham of a fight between Conor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather in the same arena just three weeks prior.
With guaranteed purses of $100m for Mayweather and $30m for UFC Lightweight champion McGregor, their “bout” was certainly the richest fight in the sport’s long and illustrious history. However, for most hardcore boxing fans it was a farce too far and a bitter pill to swallow.
Mayweather, who had been out of the ring for two years, had a perfect record of 49-0, having held world titles in five different weight classes. His Irish opponent had the incredibly intimidating record of 0-0. He had never boxed in his life, not even in an amateur contest.
If that wasn’t enough of a joke, the Nevada State Athletic Commission seemed to bend over backwards to make the fight even more ridiculous. They sanctioned 8oz gloves for the fight, as per Mayweather’s request, despite them previously having been illegal because their lack of protection regularly led to fighter injuries and even death in the ring throughout the 20th century. Granted, Mayweather isn’t much of a puncher, but the danger was still there and as a hardcore fan it sickened me.
Another appalling aspect of the self-acknowledged freak show was the sheer money involved – US viewers were charged almost $100 for standard definition PPV and if you considered attending the event yourself (it was historic if nothing else), you were looking at prices into the thousands. That undoubtedly led to the arena, which opened last year, being 5,000 under capacity on the night and the Las Vegas strip being unusually quiet during fight week. McGregor drew the Irish fans, as he always does, but these were of the more sober variety and unfortunately, the atmosphere just wasn’t there.
For all the negativity I’ve just offered, I will offer some qualification. I supported McGregor in this fight, albeit with a lot of reservation. A win for him would have been the death knell for boxing. The sport continues to haemorrhage supporters to the UFC and if a man with no experience could beat a man considered by many to be the greatest of all time, why should they keep watching?
However, what McGregor had done from a business point of view cannot be understated. He has not only done amazingly well for himself and his family, but he’s made UFC fighters and boxers realise how much they’re worth and drive higher prices. As much as I would usually be the first to bemoan the greed of sportspeople, the men and women who compete in combat sports take tremendous risks and suffer long-term damage and the least they deserve is fair pay. McGregor has empowered them.
When the bell rang, I watched the fight intently. McGregor came out swinging and won the first three rounds on my card, landing some thudding shots and suggesting that he might have a chance. Mayweather soon remedied that though and came on strong through the middle rounds before turning it up in the ninth. McGregor was visibly tired and it didn’t take long in the 10th for Robert Byrd (husband of the aforementioned awful judge) to step in and award Mayweather the 50th victory of his career.
The final punch stats will say that McGregor landed more clean shots than either Canelo or Manny Pacquiao but they are misleading. Mayweather didn’t respect the Irishman in the same way he did with the consummate boxers he’d faced before and if he had, “The Notorious One” would have had nowhere near as much success. However, McGregor did himself proud and the fight wasn’t as much of a farce as many were expecting. It drew a lot of casual fans in and is sure to have broken the PPV record, all of which are good things for a sport supposedly in decline.
Lost in all that though was the true superfight, Gennady Gennadyovich Golovkin vs Saul Alvarez. Golovkin. known as GGG, had knocked back all comers since debuting in 2006, racking up a startling 33 knockouts in 37 fights and defending the middleweight title 18 times. Alvarez was the golden goose of former pound-for-pound star Oscar De La Hoya and is the biggest draw in boxing aside from Anthony Joshua.
A bout between the two men had been mooted for some time but Canelo had danced round it, fighting Liam Smith and Amir Khan at 154 lbs and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr in a glorified exhibition at 168 lbs. However, Golovkin’s less than stellar efforts against Daniel Jacobs in March seemed to inspire De La Hoya’s Golden Boy team and they set up the match for 16 September.
2017 has been a good year for boxing. For years the best fighters in the world have circled around each other without crossing paths but this year has been incredible. From Thurman/Garcia to Joshua/Klitschko and Ward/Kovalev II, the year has had it all. A superfight between two men with two Olympic gold medals, Guillermo Rigondeaux and my pound-for-pound number one Vasyl Lomachenko, was announced days before Canelo/Golovkin and the World Boxing Super Series has just begun. This fight was the icing on the 2017 cake, or so we thought.
When the lights dipped and the two men engaged, they went to war in an instant classic. Canelo took the first three and looked in control but slowly and surely the wily Kazakh established his jab and began to take control in round four. GGG marched forward and began to pick the Mexican apart, landing crushing shot after crushing shot. In the moments Canelo got on the front foot he had success but those were incredibly rare and he got chewed up in the middle rounds. He roared back in the final three rounds but it wasn’t enough. GGG had definitely proved that Canelo wasn’t a middleweight and that he was the best in that category of his generation. My card read Golovkin 116 Canelo 112.
The moment was there. Michael Buffer’s dulcet tones rang out, “Judge Adalaide Byrd scores the contest 118-110 for… CANELO.” The fact she thought Canelo won alarmed me, but she had form for shocking calls – remember when she thought Bernard Hopkins beat Calzaghe? It was the sheer margin, ten rounds to two, though, that disgusted me. I was so appalled I missed the next two cards and before I knew it, Buffer was saying that it was a three-way draw.
I couldn’t believe it. Despite everything, boxing had done it again. A great fight between the best of the best marred by ridiculous scoring. It’s a tale as old as time. But that’s the problem. Boxing for so long has reeked of bungs, bribes, corruption, and home-cooking that fans have turned off. The well-worn phrase “Don’t leave it to the judges” isn’t just some clichéd rubbish, it’s a sad fact of the sport.
Even despite the NSAC’s best efforts to tarnish the sport’s reputation with the whole McGregor/Mayweather fiasco it had somehow exacerbated, boxing seemed to be enjoying a resurgence and casual fans who tuned in for that were perhaps intrigued by another big fight. People were talking about boxing again and not just in sporting circles. And now, when we should be celebrating the fact that the sanctioning bodies actually got their heads together and nailed some great matchmaking, celebrating GGG’s marvellous performance, and the fact that he’s one fight away from tying Bernard Hopkins’ record for title defences. But we’re not.
Instead it’s the same discussions we’ve had for years. The judging sucks. The athletic commissions, for all their bureaucracy, fail to see past repeated instances of ineptitude and they flat out rob fighters and fans from the big moments they rightfully deserve. From almost having it all, the sport contrived to prove every stereotype true.
So in truth, was Canelo/Golovkin more damaging for boxing than Mayweather/McGregor? Somehow, some way, it was.