LAS VEGAS — After the final bell and 36 rounds together, Canelo Alvarez and Gennadiy Golovkin shared a long hug, seemingly ending a feud that had become personal in the five years since they first met in the ring.
In yet another close fight, Alvarez retained his undisputed super middleweight championship on Saturday at T-Mobile Arena with a unanimous decision victory over his longtime rival in a trilogy bout in front of a raucous pro-Alvarez crowd on Mexican Independence Day Weekend.
Two judges scored it 115-113 for Alvarez while a third judge had it 116-112.
Alvarez (58-2-2, 39 KOs) started strong as Golovkin worked his jab and barely threw his powerful right hand, the punch that launched him to stardom and a legendary middleweight championship run. Ultimately, down the stretch, Golovkin found his footing and won four of the final five rounds on two scorecards, but it was too little, too late.
As they hugged, Alvarez told Golovkin, “Thank you so much, my friend. Thank you for everything. We’re giving the fans three good fights.”
The pleasantries were in stark contrast to the pre-fight buildup, when Alvarez vowed to end Golovkin’s career with a knockout victory. He even called Golovkin (42-2-1, 37 KOs) a fake who pretends to be a nice person.
Now, with the dust settled and the rivalry over, the fighters are going in separate directions.
Alvarez, who holds all four 168-pound belts, could pursue a rematch with Dmitry Bivol next year to even the score from May, when Bivol defeated him by decision. But first, Alvarez said his left hand requires surgery, though he didn’t offer specifics about the injury.
“I can’t hold a glass,” Alvarez, 32, said. “It’s really bad. But I’m a warrior.”
Alvarez, boxing’s top star, told ESPN at ringside that his hand is “f—ed up from the Caleb Plant fight,” a November TKO win by the Mexican boxer that preceded his loss to Bivol.
“I’ve been through very difficult things in my life, and the only thing you can do is try to keep going and move forward,” Alvarez said. “I went through tough times with my defeats, and I showed that defeats are great. It allows you to come back and show humility.”
That’s exactly what Alvarez showed after a second victory over Golovkin, a third meeting that Golovkin and boxing fans eagerly waited four years for to happen. The September 2018 rematch, which Alvarez won by majority decision, was far from convincing, a fight that begged for an encore. The first bout, in September 2017, was a contested draw that Golovkin was adamant he won.
Those two bouts were contested at 160 pounds, with Golovkin remaining unified champion.
“Remember, I have [two] belts at 160. I’m coming back, I’m still champion,” said Golovkin, who debuted at 168 pounds.
Since he captured Olympic silver in 2004, Golovkin has competed at 160 pounds in title fights.
“Everybody knows this is a top class. This is the best fighter in boxing. Everybody knows who Canelo is. It’s a huge fight. Look at his face; look at my face. We’ve trained well, and it shows that we did. a very good quality fight,” he said.
“This fight is more tactical. Today, Canelo is better. Congratulations to Canelo.”
Indeed, this fight was far from the memorable first two entries in their famous rivalry, except for the final four rounds, when the action picked up exponentially.
Golovkin, a 40-year-old native of Kazakhstan who fights out of Los Angeles, was down wide on all three cards entering the stretch and upped the ante. He started firing the right hand that made him a future Hall of Famer and connected on some striking shots in Round 9 after he pinned Alvarez in the corner.
Round 10 was more of the same, with a flurry of sharp right uppercuts inside set up by Golovkin’s excellent jab. In Round 11, he broke Alvarez open over the right eye and finished strong in the final round.
“Second half, I feel not bad,” Golovkin said. “This fight is so smart — more tactical, like chess.”
The fight wasn’t very good for the first seven rounds, though. Golovkin pumped his jab but never followed up with a right hand. Alvarez, meanwhile, controlled the action and pushed Golovkin back with plenty of pressure.
Alvarez attacked Golovkin’s body with blunt right hands to the liver, and a left hook to the face came behind it. By the end of Round 3, Golovkin’s face was already swollen, and a large withering appeared on his forehead.
Alvarez continued to pound Golovkin’s midsection with right hands as the fight wore on, and in Round 5, Alvarez connected on perhaps the biggest punch of the fight, an overhand right that snapped the challenger’s head back.
However, Golovkin was never in any danger. After all, he possesses one of the best chins in boxing, and time hasn’t seemed to erode it.
But the passage of time finally ended what was once a bitter rivalry. Alvarez, ESPN’s No. 5 pound-for-pound boxer, will look to regain the top spot he held before the upset loss to Bivol after some well-deserved rest.
Golovkin is nearing the end but insists he will continue with his career. After his late fight against Álvarez on Saturday, there will be plenty of interest in his future bouts, whether they are contested at 160 pounds or 168.
Whatever happens for each man, their time together in the ring is over, and with it, one of the greatest — and most bankable — rivalries in boxing history.
“I’m just happy to share the ring with him,” Alvarez said. “We gave the fans three really good fights. I’m happy to be involved in these kinds of fights.”