Saturday at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez defends the IBF, WBA, WBO and WBC super middleweight titles against arch-rival Gennady Golovkin in the third fight of their trilogy.
After a controversial draw and win, and while Golovkin turned 40, Alvarez, 32, is the strong favorite to win. Ryan Rhodes, who was stopped in 12 rounds in 2011, Liam Smith, who was stopped in nine in 2016, and Joe Gallagher, who groomed Smith and his brother Callum for their fights with Alvarez, return to face a fighter widely regarded as a great modern.
Is he the best you’ve faced?
Liam Smith: Yeah, by far. He has experience; all about him. He has a head start.
Ryan Rhodes: Whatever I tried in the ring that night, he had an answer. He could move; he knew how to box; he could hit. His reflexes were second to none. He had a big shake of his head. What an exceptional fighter should have, he had, and he had it in abundance. I could also adapt my style so I tried everything possible, and he had the answer.
Joe Gallagher: No, I would say [Vasyl] Lomachenko. There’s not many that I’ve come out of a fight and I thought, ‘Wow’. He blew me away. He’s a once-in-a-generation fighter. I’m a huge Canelo fan – he’s a great fighter and will be remembered next door [Floyd] Mayweather and [Manny] Pacquiao. Liam Smith did very well against him. But losing to Mayweather taught him.
What are its greatest strengths?
LS: Probably his brain; its variety. His ability, more than him being a beast, a puncher, or a solid. His IQ and his boxing ability – his defense – are second to none. I think he forgot [Dmitry] bivol [when he lost on points in May]but his boxing IQ and his adjustments, he’s up there with them all.
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RR: He has good reflexes and he wastes nothing. When he throws, he definitely lands – he puts his combinations together so well. It works the body so well; his combinations to the head. With his reflexes and movement, he’s not your typical Mexican fighter. He has everything, plus what the Mexicans have – he can stand in front of you and fight.
JG: His presence – the little feints, the movements. It sits on that boundary, making you wonder if it’s coming in or not, and has you working and burning nervous energy, and it’s always within reach. Also, when you step into the ring, you have [retired greats] Bernard Hopkins, Oscar De La Hoya, and they stand two-thirds of the ring in the middle, so you and your team are locked in. Then Canelo intervenes. Psychological things like that – you’re comfortable moving around and all of a sudden you’re stuck, so you have to be plugged into a lot of things. [But] Triple G doesn’t mind.
When did you realize how difficult a challenge you were facing was?
LS: First round. His feint; switching. He was rocking me with every move he made. It was his variety that showed how good he is. Nothing surprising in his power – I thought he would hit harder than him, especially to the head – and I agreed with his power. It was rather his ability that surprised me. Regardless [Dmitry] Bivol fights, he is one of the best, pound for pound, in the world; top two, three.
RR: The fights before that, he was really aggressive – a typical, advanced Mexican fighter. A big aggressive puncher. But the first round, he counter-hit me, causing me to miss. I tried to change my style and put pressure on him but he had good reflexes and good movements. When he counter-hit, it was not a single counter-hit, it was combinations of two or three punches. I believe he walked away from Mexico for this fight, to Big Bear, living the life. Before that, I had heard that he used to cut training and was not 100% disciplined.
He knocked me down on round five, with a look on the top of my head. From the sixth round, I said to myself: “I don’t know what to do with this kid”. It’s very difficult knowing that whatever you try has an answer.
How bigger and stronger is he on fight night?
LS: I was his last fight at 154lbs. It doesn’t play a big part now that he’s 168lbs, 175lbs, but when he was at 154lbs, 160lbs it obviously played a big part. My experience with him was that he was fucking huge the next day. Huge. He had just completed. He gained a lot of weight. Everything about him was solid. Trying to break through his guard – it was solid. I really couldn’t.
RR: We had the weigh-in on Friday, just under 154 pounds. We both looked a similar size. The night I first saw him was when he was heading to the ring. Me and Dave [Coldwell, my trainer] looked at him and thought, ‘Wow, look at his size’. Dave said, “He’s got shoulder pads in that dress.” He took his dress off and I said, “Those weren’t shoulder pads, those were his real shoulders.” We still laugh about it. He looked two weights above me – it was crazy. I normally take eight, nine pounds. He must have put in at least a stone and a half. He was absolutely huge – his arms, his shoulders, his chest, his legs. All filled. He was like a super middleweight; light heavy.
JG: When Liam came in, we were looking at Alvarez and going, “Oh my God, how small is he? “. We were getting excited. The next day he gets in the ring and the ring shakes and he bounces around the ring, and we all go, “Damn, he wasn’t that big yesterday.” It was a real solid unit of blocks of ice. It was amazing. You must be aware of this.
How suspicious of the judges is one of his opponents?
LS: I probably thought I was never going to beat him on points because he’s very good, and I knew he would win the first rounds because of his quality, and I knew I wouldn’t get any favors from judges. The build up, I thought he would be fucked at 154 pounds because he was middleweight champion and came back to fight me, so I figured the weight would hurt him just as much. He wouldn’t get me out of there, because I have a good chin, but after six rounds I can put pressure on him, he’ll be dead to the weight he bends. A little like [in 2008, Miguel] Cotto-[Antonio] Daisy. You couldn’t convince me that I wasn’t going to win. Looking back, I did well, but I was never going to win.
RR: I was in Mexico, in Guadalajara. Oscar De La Hoya said he was the next superstar. Fighting in his hometown, I knew I couldn’t stick to the judges. Since then, we’ve seen big scorecards and questionable decisions; it didn’t cross my mind at the time, but now it’s much more prominent.
JG: Sometimes it has been in the past, but it’s the judges at night; the eyes of the world are watching. Canelo’s has called Vegas home since Mayweather’s retirement; Triple G has to win well, and he knows it. He knows he needs a career-best performance.
LS: Canelo wins, and he probably breaks Golovkin down and stops him. It hollows out the body. The [Ryota] Murata fight [in April]; Murata made Golovkin react to the body. Canelo will slowly but surely break it down, and the referee could step in, around the seventh and eighth rounds. Golovkin was a special fighter, but he’s 40 and you’re starting to see it. He had always looked invincible, but against Murata he looked vulnerable in the body, in particular.
RR: I prefer Canelo, but I really think Triple G is really going to put it on Canelo. They just have this animosity — they both desperately want to put on a show against each other. Canelo had a night off against Bivol. I know the size difference was huge, but I still don’t think he was the right Canelo in the ring that night. I don’t think it’s going to be an easy night; I don’t think Triple G should be disbarred at all. A fighter may even have to get off the ground, even if he has an amazing chin.
JG: Canello. It will be a fight of punches. Triple G can’t be like he was against Murata. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s a late stoppage but I don’t want to disrespect Triple G by saying he’s going to get busted. [But] you find good punches get done at the end, and we’ve seen Triple G with people like [Matthew] Macklin – Ricky Hatton got finished with a body shot – and I think Canelo Álvarez can do the Triple G with a body shot.