By TIM DAHLBERG, AP Sports Columnist
LAS VEGAS (AP) — The freak show of a fight is over, and for that everyone in boxing should be glad. That Conor McGregor managed to make it into the 10th round against a retired 40-year-old who can’t knock real boxers out isn’t much to celebrate, unless you’re McGregor’s accountant.
Yes, McGregor and Floyd Mayweather Jr. captured the nation’s attention with a spectacle that played out pretty much how most boxing experts predicted. It made for a grand time in living rooms across the country, providing some entertainment in tense times for about 50 million people.
Now comes the real fight — and what a fight it will be.
Canelo Alvarez against Gennady Golovkin is as good as it gets in the Sweet Science, a sport that is in the midst of a renaissance of sorts. They meet Saturday night in a middleweight title clash as highly anticipated by boxing purists as was McGregor’s challenge of Mayweather to UFC fans.
Two fighters who both rank high on anyone’s pound-for-pound list. One loss between them, with Golovkin’s three middleweight belts on the line.
And unlike Mayweather, they knock people out.
“It is not a fight,” Golovkin said. “It is a war.”
Whatever you call it, it shapes up as the most anticipated fight of the year in boxing. It’s not too much of a stretch to say it might be the best middleweight clash since Marvelous Marvin Hagler and Tommy Hearns engaged in their three-round classic more than 30 years ago.
Styles really do make fights, and these are two fighters with explosive styles.
“We’re both going to fight a fight where anybody can win by knockout,” Alvarez said. “We both have the power to win by knockout. But that’s what makes for a great fight.”
That the fight comes only three weeks after McGregor and Mayweather persuaded more than 4 million households to buy their pay-per-view is not fault of the fighters or their promoters. The fight was announced in May, before Mayweather-McGregor was finalized.
Oscar De La Hoya, who promotes Alvarez, made no secret of his disdain for the Mayweather-McGregor fight, sending out an obscene tweet just before the event, claiming both were disrespecting boxing.
But viewers seemed generally satisfied with the money they spent on Mayweather-McGregor, and boxing fans will open their wallets for this bout. It won’t sell as much as the most recent fight, but it still figures to do huge pay-per-view numbers, particularly among Mexican-American fans of Alvarez.
It should be money well spent.
“I’m going to do my part to make it memorable so I can go down in history as one of the best fighters,” Alvarez said.
Alvarez is already a superstar in his native Mexico, the most celebrated boxer in a boxing-mad country. He does beer commercials with Sylvester Stallone and has been a steady pay-per-view draw, with his 2013 loss to Mayweather checking in as the fourth most watched pay-per-view of all time.
Now the charismatic redhead is a full-fledged middleweight, after waiting nearly two years to agree to meet Golovkin while he moved up from 154 pounds. He’ll need to bring the power that has gotten him 34 knockouts against Golovkin, a former amateur star from Kazakhstan now living in Los Angeles who has knocked out 33 opponents in winning all 37 of his pro fights.
The fight is a rarity in boxing, two stars in their prime meeting in a fight that will likely define both their careers. It’s a huge risk for both, but the rewards should be good, too, with purses north of $10 million.
Golovkin is making his 19th title defense, one off the record of 20 in the middleweight division set by Bernard Hopkins. He has done it fighting everywhere but in the boxing capital of the world, where he will make his debut against Alvarez at Las Vegas’ new T-Mobile Arena.
The fight is a showcase of all that’s good about boxing, a sport that is enjoying a good run in recent months. It’s the best against the best in their prime in a fight fans have been clamoring to see.
And there will be no excuses no matter which way it goes.