There's something special about a trilogy in boxing. All sports need genuine rivalries to elevate themselves. Boxing is better if matchups that captivate the fans on more than one occasion can be found. For boxers, finding an opponent to dance with on three separate occasions can lift opinions on how they are remembered. Throughout the history of the sport, clashes between rivals who have met three or more times seem to be held in higher regard by lovers of the sweet science.
Sometimes these multiple matchups cross over from boxing into general sporting folklore. Even if it's just through watching Raging Bull, many non-boxing fans know that Sugar Ray Robinson and Jake La Motta shared the squared circle six times in the 1940s and 50s. “It a wonder I don't have diabetes,” quipped La Motta when asked about his multiple ring engagements with the original Sugar Ray.
Within general knowledge, many will know that Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier rounded off their legendary three encounters with one of the greatest bouts of all time – ‘The Thrilla in Manila.'
On September 17, two modern-day boxers will write their own chapter in the trilogy section of boxing history. Saul “Canelo” Alvarez (57-2-2, 39KOs) and Gennadiy “GGG” Golovkin (42-1-1, 37KOs) will do battle for the third time. It will cement their rivalry as one of the best in this generation.
Perhaps the reason boxing trilogies receive such adulation is because we don't see them at the elite level all that often. When they come around, they are to be celebrated. Many stars need to align in order for two fighters to box a trio of matches against one another. Firstly, there must be interest from the fans. The matchup in question needs to be considered compelling enough to justify going to the well another twice after fight number one. The answer to the ever-present ‘will it make money?' question must be a resounding yes.
Outwith heavyweights, boxers must remain at or around similar weight divisions over several years in order to triplicate their original bout; either that or follow one another through the weight classes as Barrera and Morales did between 2000 and 2004. Finally, as always, the promotional and broadcast hurdles must be cleared.
In the case of Canelo vs. GGG 3, these boxes have all been ticked. Will the saga between the Mexican hero and the Kazakh warrior join the likes of Barrera vs. Morales, Gatti vs. Ward, and Pacquiao vs. Morales as an enduring 21st-century conflict? One for us to point future generations towards, just as our predecessors passed their favorite trilogies on to us.
Let's look back before setting the scene for September.
September 2017 saw the Vanishing Point disappear as Alvarez and Golovkin shared the ring for the first time. It was a highly anticipated showdown in the middleweight division. While Canelo had been competing across various weight classes in the years preceding this, GGG was on an 18-fight streak of title defenses at 160lbs. They were viewed as the two best middleweights in the world at this point. Canelo had been criticized in some quarters for waiting too long to take on Golovkin.
The bout was scored as a split draw. This was viewed as a boxing controversy. The 118-110 card turned in by Adalaide Byrd in favor of Canelo is still one of the worst examples of professional judging I have witnessed. A bad taste lingered. A rematch was guaranteed.
Exactly one year later, both boxers were back at the same venue. On this occasion, I was lucky enough to be in attendance. The Canelo-GGG rivalry had simmered to boiling point. There was interest from across the globe as Golovkin brought three 160lb belts to defend. Perhaps one of the best boxing matches of this century took place that night. Canelo, refreshed after a full year off, looked solid at middleweight. Both men gave as good as they got in a fiercely contested scrap that contained plenty of world-class moments.
The cards were required again. This time Canelo was declared the winner by majority decision. Judge Glenn Feldman scored a draw, but his colleagues Dave Moretti and Steve Weisfeld saw it 115-113 in the Mexican's favor. In my eyes, it was so close that a narrow win for either or a draw was acceptable.
The view of the wider media was that GGG had again been treated harshly in Vegas. A survey of writers, ex-fighters, and trainers returned 34 verdicts for the man from Kazakhstan, while only two believed Canelo won. Another 15 asked had seen it as a draw.
Four years have passed, and the modern era gladiators are preparing to enter the auditorium again. There was no leaving Las Vegas behind, as once again, T-Mobile Arena will host the event. Since that night in 2018, Canelo, 32 years old and prime at 168, has become one of the world's most highly regarded boxers. His status within the sport is so high that he is the cash cow other fighters chase for a payday.
He also does what he wants. Short-term promotional contracts mean he is as close to a free agent as you can get at the top level of boxing. Trips to 168lbs and 175lbs have been fruitful as Canelo has become a four-weight world champion. He is the current undisputed super-middleweight king and will defend all of those straps against Golovkin on September 17.
This successful run was brought to a shuddering halt the last time Canelo gloved up. His fans had to watch on in surprise as Saul's attempt to win a light-heavyweight crown from an elite 175lb champion ended in a convincing defeat. Dmitry Bivol was a fighter in control as he bossed the action in May with his jab, timing, and superior distance control.
This may be the blueprint that the now 40-year-old Golovkin may try to use. Twice he has attempted to load up the weapons and blast Canelo out of the water; twice, that approach has seen the Vegas cards fall against him. Maybe boxing is the way to go for GGG in this bout.
Since their 2018 classic, Golovkin has only fought four times. In April, he knew he had to defeat Ryota Murata in Japan in order to secure date number three with Canelo. This was a unification bout in the middleweight division.
Golovkin looked every one of his 40 years in the early stages against Murata. His feet looked stuck to the canvas. His punches looked like they were being thrown underwater. He survived and shook off the rust to defeat Murata in the ninth round. Such luxuries won't be possible when Canelo comes out of the opposite corner.
Stepping up to 168lbs is unchartered territory for Golovkin. How will the career middleweight fare at super-middleweight? The timing and weight class for this fight favor Alvarez. I must ask, will there be any mental scarring from the Bivol defeat for the Mexican? Time will tell. While nothing is guaranteed in boxing, it seems reasonable to assume that Canelo and GGG will put on another high-quality show in Vegas in six weeks. This trilogy fight is more than justified.
With what has gone before and what's coming on September 17, Canelo and Golovkin, thanks to their rivalry, can take their rightful place beside the legendary fighters of long-gone eras. Fighting a trilogy against a fellow great really does elevate a career.