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Boxing Is Blowing Its Marquee Matchup Because the Sport Can't Get Out of Its Own Way

Here are two of the best boxers of their era, Gennady Golovkin and Canelo Alvarez, two middleweight knockout artists whose first matchup was a highly skilled, compulsively watchable affair. And yet, the boxing is what’s being lost here in the midst of all the scandals surrounding the fight.

BIG BEAR LAKE, Calif. — Gennady “GGG” Golovkin will fight Saul “Canelo” Alvarez for the second time on May 5, a rematch of their controversial split draw from last September. Golovkin will do so, he told a handful of reporters at The Summit Gym on Tuesday, despite what he believes to be true—that Alvarez is not a clean fighter, that he wasn’t clean the first time the two met and that he is coddled and protected by the Nevada Athletic Commission.

Usually so-called media days like the one Golovkin held on Tuesday are mundane affairs, filled with dozens of the same types of questions about the fighter’s next opponent and his preparation and … zzzzzz. What happened here was not that. What happened here was the opposite of that.

The backdrop: The fact that GGG and Canelo’s first bout happened at all was a borderline miracle. It took years of acrimonious negotiations. It was the biggest fight last year and the biggest fight in boxing since Floyd Mayweather Jr. met Manny Pacquiao in 2015. It also ended in the most boxing way possible, a split draw, rife with controversy, with one card that was laughably bad—118-110 in favor of Alvarez.

Then, as the rematch approached, Alvarez’s camp announced earlier this month that he had tested positive for clenbuterol a month before. They were trying to get in front of it. They blamed the positive test on his consumption of tainted meat and trotted out a doping expert who said the test was “within the range of what is expected from meat contamination.” Setting aside the fact that “contaminated meat” is an underused PED explanation, more creative than the usual it was the supplements! or I have no idea, it’s also crazy to think that this fight will actually take place given the accusations Golovkin lobbed on Tuesday. 

It was an only-in-boxing interview session. Golovkin not only accused Alvarez of doping—a charge that Alvarez has consistently and vehemently denied—but Golovkin said he knew Alvarez was not clean the first time they fought. He even said he could see trace marks of needle injections on Alvarez’s body. He added that Alvarez’s promoter, Oscar De La Hoya, was also not a clean fighter—“dirty,” Golovkin said—although to my knowledge, De La Hoya never failed a performance-enhancing drug test.

Gennady Golovkin Sounds Off On Canelo Alvarez, Corruption In Boxing

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Golovkin chalked all of this up to the cost of doing business, basically. He laid out allegation after allegation, about hand wraps with extra cushion and preferred handling—“benefits”—from the commission. Yet when pressed repeatedly for why he’d still elect to fight Alvarez again, he shrugged, saying “it’s boxing” one minute and comparing the sport’s corruption to terrorism the next. “People like that have to be in prison,” he said. 

While salacious, the allegations ignore the most important point. Before any rematch should take place, the fighters, their camps and the public need answers— and sooner than Golovkin’s camp expects to get them, which is shortly before the fight, like 10 days out. There needs to be a full investigation, more testing, a full hearing and the results must be made public. And if all that doesn’t happen, the fight should not take place.

At this point, there is no hearing scheduled. The investigation is underway. Alvarez, given the gravity of what’s involved here, should have to attend the hearing in person to explain both himself and his positive test, to look the commission in the eye and make a convincing case. If that doesn’t happen, the fight should not take place.

This isn’t baseball, or soccer, or most of any other sports outside of football, where performance-enhancing drugs cut against the ethos of fair competition. This is a sport where GGG’s trainer noted that he has been in three different arenas when three different boxers died or suffered brain damage. It would be foolish, extremely so, to think that the sport is clean. But the idea that it’s OK to pit a fighter against an opponent he believes is not clean because of the absurd amount of money involved or because the fighter is not against it—that’s flat-out wrong. That’s why commissions exist in the first place. 

Here’s what this also is: Boxing punching itself in the face again. Here are two of the best boxers of their era, two middleweight knockout artists whose first fight was, if not the bloodbath many expected, a highly skilled, compulsively watchable affair. And yet, the boxing is what’s being lost here, in the mire of the failed drug test and the terrible scorecard and the fact that Alvarez has closed his training camp and is said to not be entertaining interviews until fight week. It’s all drama, “big drama” as Golovkin would say, except it’s out of the ring drama and another round of #itsboxing that the sport doesn’t need. 

Of all sports, boxing needs a universal testing program, and in this case, a very public, quick and thorough investigation to assure fans are seeing a fair fight. Until then, Golovkin can lob his accusations and Alvarez can deny them, while a bigger question lingers: 

Why should anybody pay to watch?