The sparring session: Work, not war
Before the session, which took place on Wednesday, May 25, began, Sanchez told me not to expect a blood-and-guts shootout. Angulo, a big, strong, mature pressure fighter, forced Golovkin’s heavy hand, so to speak.
In general, Sanchez discourages gym wars, which is why he's always operated out of private gyms away from an “audience” that might spur on unnecessary displays of machismo in the ring.
“Think of this gym like a school,” he said. “It’s not a public gym with pride and egos on the line. This is about learning. We’re here to work and prepare for our upcoming fights.”
Golovkin defends his WBA belt against former 154-pound titleholder Kassim Ouma on June 17 in Panama City, Panama. Alvarez defends his WBC strap against Ryan Rhodes on June 18 in his native Guadalajara, Mexico.
On this day, they would spar six four-minute rounds (which is no walk in the park 6,000 feet/1,800 meters above sea level).
“We’re using ‘Canelo’ for his speed,” Sanchez said. “He’s using us for our size.”
That was fine by me. I was using both for a RingTV.com column.
Alvarez began the session sticking and moving effectively. The young redhead was on his toes when he maneuvered around the casually advancing Golovkin, but he planted his feet every time he let his hands go, including his stiff jab. However, Golovkin picked off most of Alvarez’s shots with his gloves as he quickly cut the ring off, occasionally switching stances as he stepped forward. The 2004 Olympian slipped a beautiful left uppercut through Alvarez’s guard to score the first significant punch midway through the round. Alvarez loaded up with a retaliatory hook that missed and spun him halfway around. Golovkin didn’t jab much, but he landed it whenever he let it go. Alvarez began to look for ways to counter his antagonist in the final minute and scored with a sweet right cross followed by a hook that shook Golovkin down to his shoes. The Kazakh just smiled at him, though. Unfazed, Alvarez stood his ground in the final 30 seconds and took a few hard body shots.
Golovkin stalked a little faster while displaying decent head movement and a nice straight, crisp jab. Alvarez definitely felt the pressure as he gave ground without allowing his back to touch the ropes. He used fluid upper-body movement to evade Golovkin’s short power shots, which prompted co-trainer Jose Reynoso to yell “Bien, bien, muy bien!” from the corner. Alvarez landed a picture-perfect head-to-body hook combination mid-round. Golovkin fired back but the kid leaned away from the punches. Alvarez tried to counter Golovkin but couldn’t get through the older fighter’s guard. Still, the young man’s accuracy backed Golovkin off for the first time during the session. Alvarez followed Golovkin during the final minute but walked into a hard left hook that appeared to rock him with 10 seconds remaining. Alvarez didn’t return to his corner after the bell but instead tried to shake out his right leg, which immediately stiffened on impact of Golovkin‘s hook.
Rounds three and four:
Alvarez abandoned his jab and his upper-body movement and took the fight to Golovkin with both hands. Golovkin welcomed the aggression, easily blocking Alvarez’s punches while landing most of his. Alvarez sucked it up and even walked forward while attempting to block as much heat as he could, but it was clear that he could not match Golovkin’s strength or power. Still, the budding young star got in an occasional power punch whenever he let his hands go in bunches. His hook-right combination found the mark but his technique was not as tight as it was at the start of the session and his face was turning beet red from Golovkin‘s punches. The kid showed guts but he didn’t merit a single “bien” from Reynoso in the third round. He didn’t hear it until two and half minutes into the fourth round, when he let loose with a blazing five-punch combination. Golovkin dodged or parried most of the shots but Alvarez earned his respect for the round.
A tired-looking Alvarez resumed his jab and lateral movement to buy himself a breather. His jab was especially effective when he shot-gunned it. Golovkin neglected his jab and looked to counter Alvarez’s left stick with single power punches (the hook in particular). Alvarez did more moving along the ring perimeter (his back now grazing the ropes) than punching, but he got off hard shots when he did let his hands go.
Alvarez caught his second wind in the final round, bouncing on his toes with quick one-two combinations. “Muy bien!” Reynoso yelled after Alvarez landed a right uppercut-right cross combination off the ropes. Golovkin grinned again and attacked Alvarez’s body as the kid tried to spin away. They both loaded up with single power punches during the final minute of the round.
It was good stuff and definitely worth the trip. I wasn’t the only observer who appreciated the session.
“That was great,” said Antillon, who is slated to challenge WBA lightweight beltholder Brandon Rios in a can’t-miss barnburner on July 9. “Two undefeated champions going at it. You don’t see this often.”