SAN DIEGO — Although four years are an eternity in sports, Canelo Álvarez still remembers every round of his two fights with Gennady Golovkin. He recalls every tactical decision and momentum shift during those now-distant meetings with arguably his greatest rival.
But as he prepares for their third meeting in Las Vegas, Álvarez doesn’t plan to call on those memories very much. Four years to the weekend after they last met, Canelo doesn’t think there’s much to be gained from preparing to fight a boxing memory.
What’s more, he believes Golovkin will scarcely recognize what he sees in the ring Saturday night.
“I think he’s going to be surprised how much I’ve improved,” Álvarez told The Associated Press near his home in San Diego. “My strength, my resistance, everything has improved. I think maybe he doesn’t realize this is going to be a different fight. I’ve been working hard the whole time.”
Golovkin feels much the same way about a matchup that could turn out to define the careers of two of of the greatest boxers of their generation, particularly if Golovkin pulls an upset. They fought to a hotly disputed draw in 2017 and to an equally debatable majority-decision victory for Álvarez in 2018, but Golovkin said his power and tenacity have only grown in the interim — and he also expects to benefit from moving up to super middleweight.
“We’re in different times now, and that’s a lot of time since the last fight,” Golovkin told the AP through an interpreter. “It’s going to be very different. Not only just four years, but we’ve lived through the pandemic, which was very tough. It’s like an entire Olympic cycle, but even more.”
Since they last met, both fighters’ trainers say they’ve made fundamental changes to the ways they prepare and compete in their dangerous sport. The 40-year-old Golovkin (42-1-1, 37 KOs) has a new trainer and is bulking up to 168 pounds after 16 years as a middleweight, while Álvarez (57-2-2, 39 KOs) is newly humbled and motivated coming off a loss to light heavyweight Dmitry Bivol this year.
Their mutual dislike also appears to have grown, although Álvarez is more upfront than Golovkin about the personal animus between the rivals. Away from microphones, it seems clear they don’t like each other any more than they did in 2018, when the entire promotion of the rematch proceeded under the cloud of Álvarez’s positive test for a performance-enhancing substance and his subsequent suspension.
Álvarez took a break from his usual training routine late last month to visit House of Boxing in the working-class, sun-bleached Paradise Hills neighborhood of San Diego. Several miles away in an office park is Canelo’s usual gym, where trainer Eddy Reynoso has paused training with most of his other fighters to focus solely on Álvarez.
“Canelo is better at everything since the last time he fought Triple G,” Reynoso said through an interpreter. “I’m not being funny. He has improved with his conditioning, with his technique, with his toughness. He has more ways to beat you, and I’m not going to say what they are, but Triple G is probably not going to be ready for some of them.”
Since the last time he fought Álvarez, Golovkin replaced Abel Sanchez — the American trainer who shepherded his rise to worldwide stardom — with Johnathon Banks, the former cruiserweight champion and Wladimir Klitschko’s former trainer.
Banks said Golovkin’s camp isn’t studying film of the first two fights, not even the parts where Golovkin was clearly beating Álvarez.
“It’s hard to look back at that, because we’re so steady looking forward,” Banks said. “No matter what you see in those fights, you can’t go backwards. Both fighters are significantly different from those two fights and the last time they saw each other. … That’s one good thing about Triple G — he always, always wants to learn. He wants to be better, and he wants to be more efficient. That’s where I can contribute and show him ways to be more efficient, and he’s always paying attention.”
So Golovkin may attempt to press Álvarez even harder, while Álvarez may try to use his vaunted physicality more effectively at the higher weight. Both fighters say they’ll try to avoid a wild brawl — but both believe they’ve spent the past four years building to this moment, and neither expects to hold anything back if technique alone isn’t getting it done.
“Only one thing is pretty much the same from four years ago, and that’s that (both) of these guys are absolutely unafraid of any challenge,” Banks said. “They’re the exact same guys in that respect.”