On Saturday at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez defends the IBF, WBA, WBO and WBC super-middleweight titles against his great rival Gennady Golovkin in the third fight of their trilogy.
After a controversial draw and victory, and with Golovkin having turned 40, Alvarez, 32, is the significant favourite 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 prepared Smith and his brother Callum for their fights with Alvarez, revisit confronting a fighter widely considered a modern great.
Is he the best you’ve faced?
Liam Smith: Yeah, by a long stretch. He’s experienced; everything about him. He’s a long way ahead.
Ryan Rhodes: Whatever I tried in the ring that night he had an answer for. He could move; he could box; he could punch. His reflexes were second to none. He had great head movement. What an exceptional fighter should have, he had, and he had it in abundance. I could adapt my style as well so I tried everything possible, and he had an answer for everything.
Joe Gallagher: No, I’d say [Vasyl] Lomachenko. There isn’t many I’ve walked away from a fight and thought, ‘Wow’. He blew me away. He’s a once in a generation fighter. I’m a huge fan of Canelo – he’s a great fighter and he’ll be remembered alongside [Floyd] Mayweather and [Manny] Pacquiao. Liam Smith did very well against him. But losing to Mayweather taught him.
What are his greatest strengths?
LS: Probably his brain; his variety. His ability, more than him being a beast, a puncher, or solid. His IQ and boxing ability – his defence – is second to none. I think he overlooked [Dmitry] Bivol [when he lost on points in May], but his boxing IQ and adjustments, he’s up there with them all.
Canelo vs Golovkin LIVE: Date, UK start time, undercard and how to watch trilogy clash
RR: He’s got great reflexes, and he doesn’t waste anything. When he’s throwing, he’s definitely landing – he puts his combinations together so well. He works the body so well; his combinations to the head. With his reflexes and his movement, he’s not your typical Mexican fighter. He’s got everything, plus what the Mexicans have got – he can stand in front of you and have a fight.
JG: His presence – the little feints, the movements. He sits on that border, making you wonder if he’s coming in or not, and makes you work and burn up nervous energy, and he’s always within striking distance. Also, when you get in the ring, you’ve got [retired greats] Bernard Hopkins, Oscar De La Hoya, and they stand two-thirds of the ring in across the middle, so you and your team are boxed in. Then Canelo jumps in. Psychological things like that – you’re comfortable moving and all of a sudden you’re penned in, so you’ve got to be switched on to a lot of things. [But] it doesn’t faze Triple G.
At what point did you realise how difficult a challenge you faced?
LS: Round one. His feinting; the switching. He had me switching with every movement he made. It was his variety that showed how good he is. Nothing about his power surprised – I thought he’d punch harder than he did, especially to the head – and I was fine with his power. It was more his ability that surprised me. Regardless of the [Dmitry] Bivol fight he’s one of the best, pound-for-pound, in the world; top two, three.
RR: The fights before that he were really aggressive – a typical Mexican, come-forward fighter. An aggressive, big puncher. But the first round he was counter-punching me, making me miss. I tried to change my style and put pressure on him but he had great reflexes and movement. When he counter-punched, it weren’t a single counter-punch, it was two-or-three shot combinations. I believe he took himself away from Mexico for that fight, to Big Bear, living the life. Before that I’d heard he used to cut training and weren’t 100 per cent disciplined.
He put me down round five, with a glancing shot on top of the head. From the sixth round onwards I thought, ‘I don’t know what to do with this kid’. It’s very difficult, knowing that whatever you try, he’s got an answer for.
How much bigger and stronger is he on fight night?
LS: I was his last fight at 154lbs. That isn’t playing a big part now he’s at 168lbs, 175lbs, but when he was at 154lbs, 160lbs, that obviously played a big part. My experience with him was he was fucking huge the next day. Huge. He’d just filled out. He put a lot of weight on. Everything about him was solid. Trying to punch through his guard – it was solid. I couldn’t, really.
RR: We had the weigh-in on the Friday, just slightly under 154lbs. We both looked a similar size. On the night the first time I’d seen him was when he was walking to the ring. Me and Dave [Coldwell, my trainer] looked at him and thought, ‘Wow, look at the size of him’. Dave went, ‘He’s got shoulder pads in that gown’. He took his gown off, and I went, ‘They weren’t shoulder pads – they’re his real shoulders’. We still laugh about that. He looked two weights above me – it were crazy. I normally put on eight, nine pounds. He must have put on at least a stone-and-a-half. He was absolutely huge – his arms, his shoulders, his chest, his legs. Everything filled out. He was like a super-middleweight; light-heavyweight.
JG: When Liam weighed in we were looking at Alvarez and going, ‘Oh my God, how small’s 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’re all looking, ‘He fucking wasn’t that size yesterday’. He was a proper solid, ice-block unit. It was unbelievable. You’ve got to be aware of that.
To what extent is one of his opponents wary of the judges?
LS: I probably thought I was never going to beat him on points because he’s very good, and I knew he’d win the early rounds because of how good he was, and I knew I wouldn’t get any favours with the judges. The build-up, I thought he’d be fucked at 154lbs because he’d been middleweight champion and come back down to fight me, so I thought the weight would hurt him that much. He wouldn’t get me out of there, because I’ve got a good chin, but after six rounds I can put the pressure on him, he’ll be that dead at the weight he’ll fold. A bit like [in 2008, Miguel] Cotto-[Antonio] Margarito. You couldn’t convince me I wasn’t going to win. In hindsight I did okay, but I was never going to win.
RR: I was in Mexico, Guadalajara. Oscar De La Hoya had said he was the next superstar. Fighting in his hometown, I knew I couldn’t leave it close with the judges. Since then we’ve seen some big scorecards and iffy decisions; it didn’t cross my mind back then, but now it’s a lot more highlighted.
JG: Sometimes that’s been the case in the past but it’s the judges on the night; the eyes of the world are watching. Canelo’s took residence in Vegas since Mayweather retired; Triple G’s got to win well, and he knows that. He knows he needs a career-best performance.
LS: Canelo wins, and he probably breaks Golovkin down and stops him. He digs the body. The [Ryota] Murata fight [in April]; Murata was getting reactions out of Golovkin to the body. Canelo will slowly but surely break him down, and the ref might jump in, around rounds seven, eight. Golovkin’s been a special fighter, but he’s 40 and you’re starting to see it. He’d always looked invincible, but against Murata he looked vulnerable to the body, especially.
RR: I favour Canelo, but I really think Triple G will really put it on Canelo. They’ve just got this animosity – they both desperately want to put a show on against each other. Canelo had an off-night against Bivol. I know the size difference was massive, 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 written off at all. One fighter may even have to get up off the floor, even though they’ve got amazing chins.
JG: Canelo. It’ll be a battle of body 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’ll get stopped. [But] you find good body punchers get done in the end, and we’ve seen Triple G with people like [Matthew] Macklin – Ricky Hatton got done in the end by a body shot – and I think Canelo Álvarez may do Triple G with a body shot.