LAS VEGAS — NFL coaches are renowned for being workaholics, for sleeping on the couches in their offices during the season, going over video to try to find the slightest edge.
Johnathon Banks, the trainer of Gennadiy Golovkin, doesn’t find that approach useful in the case of his fighter, even though there are 24 rounds on tape of Golovkin fighting Canelo Alvarez for him to peruse. It will be the same fighters in the same arena, but after that, so much is changed that Banks said the video of the first two fights isn’t all that helpful.
Alvarez and Golovkin will resume their rivalry on Saturday at T-Mobile Arena, four years after Alvarez defeated Golovkin in their second fight on Sept. 15, 2018.
The first two bouts between them, for supremacy at middleweight in 2017 and 2018, were so agonizingly close, they would have been called photo finishes had they been horse races.
Affirmed won the 1978 Triple Crown by narrowly besting Alydar in the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont States by a total of roughly two lengths. The 1978 Belmont is considered by many the greatest race of all time, with the horses running even for the last half-mile before Affirmed got under the wire by a neck.
That’s the kind of fights that Alvarez and Golovkin had in 2017 and 2018. Both fighters, their trainers and members of their teams agree the first two fights were razor-thin. Banks, who replaced Abel Sanchez as Golovkin’s trainer after the second Alvarez fight, said it would be a mistake to believe the third fight won’t be close, as well.
They are, however, different men as they head to the post on Saturday. This time, the bout is for the undisputed super middleweight championship. Golovkin is 40 years old but moving up in weight for the first time. Alvarez is coming off his first loss since 2013, and dropping down in weight.
“It’s the same guys, but it’s not the same fight,” Banks said.
The intensity of the fighters is unquestionably the same and most people who work in boxing expect a compelling fight. But there are still several thousand tickets remaining and there is clearly a lack of buzz about the fight.
Mark Taffet was the HBO Sports executive in charge of pay-per-view for their first two fights. The 2017 fight sold 22,358 tickets, had a gate of $27.1 million and sold 1.3 million pay-per-views. The 2018 rematch had an attendance of 21,965 with a $23.5 million gate and 1.1 million pay-per-views sold.
Saturday’s rematch isn’t going to approach any of those numbers. Alvarez wasn’t made available to a large majority of reporters until fight week, cutting down on the advanced publicity.
Taffet said the four-year delay hurts, but said the way to maximize sales on this fight is through Golovkin’s eyes. The fighters vehemently dislike each other and they remain among the elite fighters in the world.
A potentially great fight is required to stir the passions and get interest, but it’s not all that is required to make an event massive.
“As a fan, I’m very interested to see the fight because the first two fights were controversial,” Taffet told Yahoo Sports. “The more recognizable star in the sport right now is Canelo, so I think there is a great story that Golovkin may have won one or both of those first two fights in the eyes of many fans. Therefore, he’s going out to try to finally settle the score, in effect, or finally achieve what he felt was his due in the first two fights.”
And that’s where selling the fight comes in. Both fighters admit the first two bouts were close, though both believe they won. The largest customer base for the fight are Mexican and Mexican American fans who support Alvarez.
But it’s Golovkin trying to flip the script.
“The Mexican fans are perhaps the best and most viable fan base to activate in the sport,” Taffet said. “[Selling this fight] is a little more of a challenge because this story is not about Canelo seeking to avenge decisions that fans felt had gone the wrong way. But it’s Golovkin who has this on his shoulders.
“It’s a little bit more of a challenge to communicate to the fan base to activate on behalf of Golovkin than it would be if the story were reversed. In the [Manny] Pacquiao-[Juan Manuel] Marquez fights, they were great, amazing fights, but Pacquiao got the wins and the Mexican fans behind Marquez felt they had something to avenge. It’s an easier story to sell and an easier emotion to ignite.”
The passions of both fighters were ignited when speaking with the media the past few days. It’s easy to grasp that Alvarez doesn’t like Golovkin and vice versa.
But both trainers agree the fight will be different despite so many similarities.
“[Canelo] is so much better in so many ways than he was then,” Alvarez trainer Eddy Reynoso said. “He’s evolved a lot and if they’re expecting the same guy they saw, they may be surprised.”
Given their history and their skill levels, the fight will be close and the action intense. Whether it sells enough tickets and pay-per-views to justify the huge purses, though, is another matter entirely.