Canelo, GGG Can't Afford to Dance Around Each Other Much Longer If They Want to Cash In

Saul "Canelo" Alvarez and Gennadiy Golovkin are running out of time to fully cash in on their long, complicated rivalry.
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SAN ANTONIO – It’s Canelo-Golovkin fight week.

No, not Canelo vs. Golovkin fight week.

Gennadiy Golovkin, the longtime middleweight kingpin, and Saul “Canelo” Alvarez will both be in the ring this weekend. Golovkin will defend his version of the middleweight title on Friday in south Florida against Kamil Szeremeta. Canelo will fight a day later, in Texas, in a super middleweight showdown against Callum Smith. Both fighters will be heavily favored. If both win, there will be renewed interest in a third fight between two of boxing’s biggest stars.

Or will there?

Canelo Alvarez (black trunks) and Gennady Golovkin (white trunks) hug after their middleweight world championship boxing match at T-Mobile Arena.

Canelo Alvarez (black trunks) and Gennady Golovkin (white trunks) hug after their middleweight world championship boxing match in Sept. 2018. Alvarez won via majority decision.

The history between Canelo and Golovkin is long and complicated. Golovkin began chasing Canelo around 2015, when Canelo moved to middleweight and took a 160-pound belt off of Miguel Cotto. For two years, Canelo, on the advice of his then-promoter, Golden Boy, put off the fight, bouncing between weight classes—and lesser opponents.

In 2017, Golovkin finally lured Canelo into the ring and appeared to pick up a long-sought win. Nevada judges, however, scored it otherwise, controversially declaring the fight a draw. A rematch scheduled for May 2018 was called off after Alvarez tested positive for a banned substance. After a nasty war of words, the two met again that September, with Alvarez claiming a close decision win.

A third fight never materialized. DAZN has tried. The streaming service signed Canelo to a landmark 11-fight, $365 million deal in 2018. They followed it up by locking in Golovkin to a nine-figure deal of his own months later. Yet despite strong public interest, a rubber match—or at least a perceived one—never happened. And with public interest waning, it’s fair to wonder if it ever will.

Once peers, Canelo and Golovkin are now in very different places. Canelo is arguably boxing’s biggest star, a three-division world champion who on Saturday will attempt to claim his fourth. Pictures of Canelo and Smith together are almost cartoonish; Smith, a full seven inches taller than Alvarez, appears several weight classes bigger. Yet Canelo is the betting favorite to savage Smith’s long midsection en route to a stoppage. And while Canelo severed his long-term agreement with DAZN, he is still boxing’s most bankable star, with top fighters from 154 to 175 pounds lining up to face him.

Golovkin is still popular, but his days as boxing’s most avoided fighter are long over. He’s won two straight since his loss to Canelo, a knockout win over Steve Rolls and a decision victory over Sergiy Derevyanchenko. The Derevyanchenko fight, however, was a war, one that saw Golovkin visibly hurt for the first time in his career.

Golovkin has made something of a heel turn recently. Shortly after agreeing to his deal with DAZN, Golovkin fired longtime trainer Abel Sanchez in a financial dispute. Always accessible, Golovkin has become more prickly with reporters, refusing to answer any Canelo questions, even limiting which media members he will speak to. When asked about Oscar De La Hoya’s comments about facing him in a comeback fight, Golovkin told Agence France-Presse, “If I got an opportunity to legally kill a person in the ring, I might seize it.”

Before De La Hoya, there’s Szeremeta, an overmatched mandatory challenger. Szeremeta’s status as Golovkin’s mandatory notwithstanding—Szeremeta’s resumé lacks anything that resembles a quality win—he is an important opponent. A spectacular knockout would go a long way towards regaining some of the momentum lost over the last two years. If Golovkin struggles, it will confirm to many that he is in the midst of a decline.

There are the usual optimistic tones coming from Golovkin’s camp. Golovkin insists he was ill for the Derevyanchenko fight. That a year off has him feeling refreshed. That more time spent with trainer Johnathon Banks has improved their relationship. Banks described the six-month training camp as a “silver lining” to the global pandemic that shuttered boxing for several months. He said the extra time allowed the two to exchange ideas, even talk about life. “There were days in Big Bear,” said Banks, “where we would take a hike or go for ice cream.” That’s significant—but only if it yields results. 

Canelo Alvarez (black trunks) and Gennady Golovkin (white trunks) box in the middleweight world championship boxing match at T-Mobile Arena in September 2018. Alvarez won via majority decision.

Canelo Alvarez (black trunks) and Gennady Golovkin (white trunks) box in the middleweight world championship boxing match at T-Mobile Arena in Sept. 2018. Alvarez won via majority decision.

And what happens if both Canelo and Golovkin win? Could a third fight finally happen? Golovkin won’t discuss it. Canelo will, and he’s open to it. “At the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020 we were talking very loudly about that fight,” Canelo told SI. 

Indeed, before the pandemic, there were tentative plans for the two to meet in September. “We almost reached a settlement,” said Canelo. “So it could be.”

Is there still a public appetite for it? Familiarity is boxing’s friend. Mike Tyson and Roy Jones generated more than 1.5 million pay-per-view buys last month, largely because casual fans wanted to see Tyson and Jones. Alvarez and Golovkin don’t have the same brand recognition, but to millions of fans “Canelo-GGG” is a recognizable phrase. Boxing purists know a 30-year old Canelo will be a sizeable favorite if he faces a 39-year Golovkin next May. The average boxing fan, however, is not deep enough in the weeds to know it.

Will it happen? Eddie Hearn, who has a working relationship with both Canelo and Golovkin, as well as an investment with DAZN, is hoping to deliver it. It could get pushed to the fall, when the pandemic is (hopefully) behind us and tens of thousands of fans can pack a venue in Texas, Nevada or New York, generating a live gate in excess of $15 million for the fighters.

Or it might not happen at all. Alvarez has made it clear he would like to unify the 168-pound division, which puts fights with Billy Joe Saunders and Caleb Plant in play. Golovkin, meanwhile, is charting his own path. He’s become enamored at the idea of high-profile exhibitions, like one with De La Hoya, and has interest in facing Jaime Munguia, the ex-154-pound champion with the growing fan base.

There is unfinished business between Canelo and Golovkin, but the window to settle it is rapidly closing. What was once an evenly matched fight now faces a growing gap. What was once the biggest fight in boxing is now prefaced by one of. Canelo-GGG III is still a big event. It may not be one for much longer.