LAS VEGAS -- Although the third fight between Gennady Golovkin and Canelo Álvarez took four years to happen, their showdown on Saturday night always seemed both inevitable and necessary.
That's because the first two meetings between these transcendently talented boxers didn’t truly resolve anything about one of the best rivalries in this era.
Their first two bouts ended in a draw and a narrow decision victory for Álvarez, yet many observers without an official scorecard believe Golovkin deserved the win in one or both of the fights. That's the nature of this imprecise sport, but almost everyone can agree neither fighter was clearly superior over their 24 entertaining rounds together.
“We had two great fights, and we shook hands,” Golovkin said through an interpreter. “But we still have business.”
That business will be conducted at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, where a rowdy Mexican Independence Day weekend crowd hopes to see a fitting conclusion to a trilogy that clearly brings out the best in two well-matched champions.
Golovkin (42-1-1, 37 KOs) has been the world's top middleweight for most of the past decade, while Álvarez (57-2-2, 39 KOs) is a four-division world champion with a massive fan base and a daredevil reputation for taking on any contender in multiple weight classes.
Álvarez is the betting favorite and the popular pick for the third bout even though he's coming off only the second defeat of his career, a fairly one-sided loss to light heavyweight Dmitry Bivol.
Álvarez and Golovkin are meeting as super middleweights this time, with Golovkin moving up from 160 to 168 pounds for the first time in his career. Álvarez collected all four major 168-pound world titles in a one-year span ending late last year, and his comfort at the higher weight is a factor in his favor.
Álvarez is also hungry to regain his career momentum with his first decisive victory over Golovkin, who might turn out to be his greatest rival when his career is over.
“I have a lot of motivation for this fight, but I'm hungry in every fight," Álvarez said. “I don't like this guy and what he says about me, so that's good for my motivation. I'm ready to finish this (rivalry) and prove that I'm the best.”
Golovkin's loss in the first bout in 2017 was infuriating to him after he peppered his vaunted opponent with fast hands and combinations for 12 rounds, and even Álvarez has acknowledged the judges' scores were generous. Álvarez felt better about his second performance, while Golovkin still thought he had shown enough tactical skill and done enough damage to win again.
Four years later, it's tough to tell whether either fighter is still at the peak of the powers they demonstrated in 2018.
The 40-year-old Golovkin has fought only four times since the only loss of his career, while Álvarez's light heavyweight loss in May invited whispers about whether the 32-year-old superstar had reached the top of the downslope on a busy career.
Álvarez clearly doesn't like Golovkin, who was understandably infuriated when their second bout was delayed by Canelo's positive test for a performance-enhancing substance. By most accounts, Álvarez was less interested in a third bout than Golovkin, leading to the lengthy delay between fights.
“My dream would be to win this fight and to send him to retirement,” Álvarez said last month. “That would be the ultimate result for me, so I'll try to do that."
Golovkin said he has no plans to retire, and his focus is on avenging the only loss in the professional career of a gifted puncher who first turned heads in the Athens Olympics for Kazakhstan and then finally became a global star after he moved to California a decade ago.
Outside the fighters’ camps, there are indications that perhaps four years were too long to wait: The arena off the Las Vegas Strip wasn't yet sold out earlier this week, and the overall buzz that accompanied the first two fights is at a lower volume this time.
But once these fighters are in the ring again, the boxing world will have one more chance at closure in a rivalry that's still too close to call.
Given the high stakes and the finality of this third bout, both fighters acknowledge the possibility of two gifted technicians giving in to the primal urge to brawl. If Golovkin or Álvarez decides his legacy is on the line, both say they won't hesitate to do anything to win.
“It’s just how I feel in the fight,” Golovkin said. “If I see that I can dominate using my power, I do that. If I see that I need to rely on my speed, I do that. I will do whatever it takes. I think he will, too.”
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