If the build-up to one of boxing’s much-anticipated trilogies in recent memory has been fuelled by uncharacteristically intensified trash talk from Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, then it doesn’t seem to have landed too cleanly on its intended target.
If at all.
“To be honest, I do not think about anything Canelo says,” Gennady Golovkin tells The National from his US base, ahead of this weekend’s blockbuster third skirmish with Alvarez in Las Vegas.
“If this fight was so ‘personal’ to him, why did he wait four years for it? Maybe he is trying to be like a promoter and sell the fight. Maybe he is just trying to motivate himself. Maybe he is looking for attention."
For sure, Saturday night’s fight – Sunday morning UAE – need not scramble for additional interest. As Golovkin highlights, it is four years in the making, the closing chapter to two closely contested and controversially concluded bouts.
In 2017, the pair fought to a split draw – many thought Golovkin edged it, although one judge scored it wildly in Alvarez’s favour – while the rematch a year later went to the Mexican narrowly on points. It remains Golovkin’s sole loss in 44 professional bouts. Understandably, it is a defeat he still disputes.
Golovkin, now 40, has fought only four times in as many years since; in April, he stopped home hope Ryota Murata in Japan to add the WBA middleweight crown to his IBF belt.
Given the protracted period between Canelo 2 and Canelo 3 – the trilogy has been long talked about, and Golovkin will this time move up from 160 lbs to 168 – the Kazakhstan star would be right to feel extra flames in the fire.
Or maybe not.
“My motivation for this fight is the same for every fight I have: to perform at my highest level and to win,” Golovkin says. “I love boxing and I love the competition.
“It is so cool to still be in demand by the fans, who want to see me in the ring. This is a big fight for boxing fans and the sport, and I am very happy that, after four years, they are finally going to see the fight they have wanted for so long. I am ready to respond to the challenge.”
Clearly, that challenge is formidable. Alvarez is methodical but menacing, a destructive presence in the ring and the sport’s plumpest cash cow outside it. Remarkably, he is only 32 but has 61 pro fights. In the past year Alvarez has held all four belts at super-middleweight. He sits as boxing’s pound-for-pound king.
The points defeat to unbeaten WBA light-heavyweight champion Dmitry Bivol in May, after taking a sizeable risk to jump up another division, was only Alvarez’s second pro loss (the other coming via Floyd Mayweather in 2013).
He has been blunt and increasingly brash in the lead-up to this week, the enmity with Golovkin apparently real. He’s coming to "destroy" Golovkin, he says, intent on sending him into retirement. That it’s "personal".
Again, though, Golovkin seems unperturbed.
“I expect Canelo to take this fight very seriously,” he says. “I have no doubt he worked hard in training camp, and I know it will be a difficult fight."
Of course, Golovkin acknowledges he is both a different person and pugilist to the last time he faced Alvarez. A significant amount of time has passed, a considerable chunk of it rotted by forced inactivity.
“Like everyone, I was affected by the pandemic,” Golovkin says. “There was so much suffering on a global level. How can you not be changed by that?
“But if you mean on a boxing level, I think I am a little older and a little wiser. The four fights since the second fight with Canelo gave me opportunities to regain the IBF and WBA middleweight titles, becoming a unified champion again, while breaking the division record for title defences.
“I am a different fighter because, at age 40, I have acquired more training knowledge with Johnathon Banks and ring experience which I know has benefited me greatly."
The relationship with lead trainer Johnathon Banks is considered key. They teamed up in 2019 and together have masterminded the four victories since. Now they believe they have the game-plan to overcome Alvarez.
“I have to seize control of the fight on a round-by-round basis,” Golovkin says. “I have developed a lot of new weapons and tactics training with Johnathon.
“The fact that I am fully prepared for this fight at age 40 is a tribute to Johnathon. It has been one of my best training camps. We have the strategy and the arsenal to take the battle to Canelo."
And, the domination by Bivol – admittedly, the size difference was stark – may have shone light on chinks in the Alvarez armoury.
"I think Canelo's loss to Bivol brought him back to Earth,” Golovkin says. “It was a good dose of reality. If Canelo is capable of looking at that fight honestly, he should be able to learn from it and improve. I am sure he is training very hard for our fight."
Naturally, whoever emerges victorious at T-Mobile Arena will undoubtedly see their standing within the sport scale new heights. Although Golovkin, who claimed his first title in 2010 and has knocked out 37 of his 42 vanquished opponents, considers his legacy already secure.
Nevertheless, he targets revenge in the ring for two standout bouts he believes he won.
"I want to win it very badly,” Golovkin says. “But I do not think the result will have any influence on my legacy in boxing. My whole body of work in boxing is bigger than one fight.
“I have been world middleweight champion every year since 2010. To be a world champion that long and at the same weight takes a lot of discipline and hard work. I hold the middleweight division record for total title defences and consecutive title defences, and I am in the Guinness Book of Records for the highest knockout-percentage as a middleweight.
“I have done this by fighting around the world, in some of the most iconic arenas. I am very proud of what I have accomplished."
Yet surely another mighty display would amplify the acclaim already afforded to Golovkin across the past decade or more. Either way, he predicts one more “big drama show” in Vegas.
“We both have power, and we know how to use it,” Golovkin says. “It is rare to see a trilogy in boxing. If there is a trilogy, it is because the first two fights were so good and the fighters are in demand; the fans want to see them fight again.
“This is the biggest fight in boxing and certainly the biggest fight of our trilogy. I believe it will also be the best fight of the three. The first two fights were exciting - I am sure this one will be too.”