Alvarez can’t be lured into brawl with a taunting Golovkin

LAS VEGAS — Boxing is a physical sport. But so much of it is psychological. The mental warfare exchanged during the buildup of a bout can ultimately have an impact on the outcome. The much-anticipated rematch between Gennady “GGG” Golovkin and Saul “Canelo” Alvarez on Saturday night at T-Mobile Arena could be a prime example of that.

Golovkin (38-0-1, 34 KOs) will put his WBA, IBO and WBC middleweight championships on the line against Alvarez (49-1-2, 34 KOs), looking for a more definitive outcome than the split draw the two fighters settled for a year ago in the same arena.

Since that day, Golovkin’s trainer, Abel Sanchez, has mounted a campaign to make the rematch a more physical battle. He has repeatedly accused Alvarez of “running” from Golovkin in the first fight, denying fans of the kind of combat they had paid to see and disgracing the warrior reputation of Mexican fighters. He wants Alvarez to stand his ground during Saturday’s HBO pay-per-view ($74.95) bout.

“The fans are expecting the Canelo that they have seen in the past, not the Canelo they saw last year,” Sanchez said. “I think that if he’s true to his word, that we’ll get the classic fight we were expecting the first time, two guys that want to win, not one guy that wants to win and the other guy is looking to survive.”

The fighters faced off for the first time during the heated promotion at Friday’s weigh-in, at which both were fractions over 159 pounds. Alvarez did most of the pushing, as if he were ready to rumble right then.

He has had to hear for 12 months how he ran; how he disgraced his Mexican fan base by testing positive for a banned substance; and how Golovkin, of Kazakhstan, fights more of a Mexican style than Alvarez, of Guadalajara. Saturday we’ll see if Alvarez takes the bait. Will he deviate from his game plan in the first fight, in which he used his movement and boxing skills to win the opening and late rounds, while Golovkin chased after him? It was a sound strategy.

Golovkin, a natural middleweight, knocked out 23 straight opponents during one stretch and has power in both hands. Alvarez is a natural junior middleweight, who was wise not to be a stationary target.

“I worked off the ropes,” Alvarez said. “I worked the center of the ring and I did my boxing to neutralize him. I was even on the ropes where he is supposed to finish his fighters, but he wasn’t able to do that with me.”

Still, Alvarez has been lulled into defending how he fought the first time, which could impact his performance in the rematch. After hearing all that he has heard, he could be looking to restore his bravado and brawl with Golovkin. That’s what Sanchez wants.

Alvarez insisted, however, he won’t be lured into anything detrimental.

“It can be dangerous to go in there with a hot head and make a mistake,” he said. “But I have the experience to go in the ring and use it intelligently in the fight.”

Golovkin was at his best during the middle rounds of the first fight, when Alvarez began to tire and the relentless pressure applied by the champion was started to take a toll. Alvarez found himself fighting off the ropes, sometimes effectively, sometimes to survive.

“In the first fight he really didn’t land hard shots,” Alvarez said, “maybe two or three, and most of those were jabs. When I won a round, it was me landing hard shots. When I lost rounds, it was because I was defending myself. I personally felt I won seven rounds clean.”

Alvarez needs to fight the same fight, minus the lull in the middle rounds. His conditioning has to be better. Golovkin, angered by the cancellation of their first bout and Alvarez’s lack of remorse, wants revenge.

“I want to punish him,” Golovkin said. “I want to punish him for all the bad things that he and his team have done.”

The first one or two rounds should be more explosive than a year ago. Alvarez needs to be poised and patient enough to weather that. If so, he has the boxing skills and can make the adjustments necessary to win a decision. If he tries to prove his bravado, he’ll get knocked out. I think it’s the former.

Prediction: Canelo by close decision.

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