LAS VEGAS — There's a temptation after a big fight to attempt to make sense of it all, to place 36 minutes of carnage into an easily understood narrative. But tying all the extraneous loose ends into a bow never quite fits a boxing match, where time ebbs and flows in three-minute pockets and much of what we remember doesn't even take place in the ring.
On Saturday night, Gennady "GGG" Golovkin and Saul "Canelo" Alvarez put on a classic, bravura performance that three judges saw in dramatically different ways. That made the result a draw, one even the pro-Canelo crowd booed mercilessly.
That means the narrative will be "highway robbery," yet another terrible boxing decision in a line of unthinkably bad calls going back a hundred years. But it will be a shame if that is all fans take away from the bout. Because if so, they will be missing some spectacular moments from two athletes delivering their best when the lights were brightest.
Every megafight is made up of moments we will never forget. From the atmosphere to aftermath, these were the split seconds that made this event an unforgettable experience.
There's something special about a fight night in Las Vegas. It's not just the people dressed to the nines—every night in Sin City looks like the grownups are holding a prom. Decisions are, no doubt, regretted in time.
On fight night, the volume is turned to 12, with the guarantee of fisticuffs fueling a fire that feels contagious. Only on fight night will three consecutive Ferraris cruise slowly in front of T-Mobile Arena, begging to be seen. When else but fight night will men walk arm-in-arm, sombreros worn proudly, chanting "Vamos, Canelo," one man representing a people and inspiring a passion that is almost frightening?
On fight night, you don't have to hope for a magical moment to remember—it's almost a guarantee. At a prize fight, you can scream. Literally. Calls for blood and retribution, for violence in its worst forms, are not just tolerated—they are encouraged.
After all, men are stepping into the ring to punch each other until someone's brain says "No mas." In the face of such a spectacle, who will notice something as gentle as a blood-curdling scream? At the fights, anything goes.
Smoke filled the air as the fighters entered the ring. Three separate anthems were sung: Star-Spangled Banner, Mexican national anthem, national anthem of Kazakhstan. But it was the fans who provided the energy that turned a boxing match into an event.
Dueling chants rang out, a modest one for GGG and a booming, all-encompassing one for Canelo. It was a Canelo crowd. On the concourse, fans wore red headbands with his name in gold letters—that is if they didn't go full sombrero.
Jonathan Snowden @JESnowden
Some passionate Canelo fans on their way in. #CaneloGGG https://t.co/8bryj5Gt6C2017-9-17 00:14:46
Getting the timing just right on a big boxing match is tricky business. If it marinates too long, like with Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao, fans are left wistful, like they missed out on something wonderful. If it happens too soon, before fans are ready, no one notices at all.
The chants in Las Vegas proved this one was timed just right. The fighters were cautious in the opening stanza—but the fans were fast out of the gate, and their energy never wavered. This is what a big fight, perfectly cooked, is supposed to feel like.
Shake It Off
In most of his fights, GGG spends the bout pursuing his opponent, a relentless attempt to trap his foe in the ropes. It's there that bad things happen.
But Canelo likes to be in the ropes. He moves well there, both his feet and his waist, making him a tough target while also drawing his opponent into the danger zone.
It's a risky gambit, and he paid a price for it in the fifth round as Golovkin landed a huge right hand. That, however, wasn't what anyone will remember. Punches are part of boxing—but how often does someone take the fearsome Golovkin's best punch and shake his head?
Like "that didn't hurt." Like "I can handle whatever you give." Like "I am not afraid."
"He has power," Canelo said after the fight. "But he's also not the monster everybody was talking about. I didn't feel that."
Sometimes when a fighter acts like a punch didn't hurt, that means it rattled him. And badly. Canelo proved that a lie by immediately launching an attack of his own. This was boxing at its best and the first sign this was going to be a fight for the ages.
In the 10th round, Canelo did the impossible. You can count the number of times Golovkin has been wobbled by punches in his fighting career on one hand. And that's if you have spent a lifetime playing with bootleg fireworks and table saws.
Canelo did it with a three-punch combination catching Golovkin between thoughts, the kind of momentary lapse that is deadly in a sport like boxing where the margins are so incredibly thin.
"I wanted to finish him right there," Canelo said. "But I didn't have just any opponent. I had an experienced, complicated opponent."
Golovkin refused to be hurt. Throughout the fight, he caught Canelo's best punches. He just didn't choose to let them bother him. Even when his legs did a little shimmy, he managed to land a head-snapping left hook of his own.
For the remainder of the round, my notes say things like "Wow" and "My God, the bombs."
When it was over, the crowd stood as one, giving both fighters an ovation.
And there were still six minutes to go.
When the final bell rang, both fighters leaped into their trainers' arms. Abel Sanchez, Golovkin's trainer, all but beamed, his face an open book, the joy obvious to all. Across the ring, Canelo was equally confident.
It was a close, hard-fought bout, the kind destined to be remembered for a long time.
"Those guys fought their hearts out," promoter Oscar De La Hoya said. "Gennady is a tremendous, tremendous champion. Canelo is a tremendous, tremendous champion. That's what made it such a great fight."
When the judges' scorecards were read, the joy dissipated from the arena, replaced in equal measure by confusion and anger. Judge Dave Moretti scored the fight 115-113 in favor of Golovkin, and Don Trella scored the fight 114-114.
Judge Adalaide Byrd, a controversial figure in Nevada, inexplicably scored the fight 118-110, giving 10 of 12 rounds to Canelo.
The crowd, which had cheered every time Canelo even considered throwing a punch all night, quickly turned ugly, booing the Mexican star when he said he believed he had won easily. Not even the partisans in attendance were willing to buy that.
"Unfortunately, she didn't do well," Nevada Athletic Commission executive director Bob Bennett said. "There's not one person sitting in this audience, whatever their position is, who hasn't had a bad night at their job. She was off her mark tonight."
As the crowd filed out grumbling, promoters called for the media to focus on what was good about the night, to not allow a single rogue judge ruin what had otherwise been a fine night of combat.
"I saw two guys, one and two, do their best," former middleweight champion Bernard Hopkins said. "At the end of the day, no one leaving the building had the right to say they didn't enjoy the fight itself. The fight itself wasn't a failure."
In time, the disappointing scorecard will fade. The back-and-forth action won't. And while De La Hoya and Canelo wouldn't commit to a rematch, they are entitled to one. By May 2018, fans will be ready to see the two champions settle the score—a bout once again served at the perfect time.
Jonathan Snowden covers combat sports for Bleacher Report.