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The Trash Talk Stoking the GGG-Canelo Rumble: Is at least some of it Strategic?

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  • The Trash Talk Stoking the GGG-Canelo Rumble: Is at least some of it Strategic?

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    By Bernard Fernandez

    The subject was trash talk, its truthful origins in some cases and its usage as a strategic tool in others. Sometimes it’s a combination of both. But separating fact from fiction beforehand can be difficult for those on the outside, so it made sense to consult an expert on the subject to weigh in on the increasingly nasty dialogue between the respective camps before Gennady Golovkin and Canelo Alvarez exchange verbal jabs for actual punches in Saturday night’s HBO Pay for View rematch at Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena.

    So how about it, Bernard Hopkins? As the old commercials once advised us, is it live or is it Memorex? Great taste or less filling?

    “It’s real, all right. It’s real on both sides,” said Hopkins, who can’t be described as a strictly neutral observer given his position as an executive with Golden Boy Promotions, for whom Alvarez is the principal cash cow.

    But regardless of whether the charges and counter-charges, most of which are fairly dripping with venom, are 100 percent genuine hardly seems to matter at this point. The perception of bad blood between Fighter A and Fighter B can stoke wildfires of interest in a particular bout, and the methods employed for igniting the conflagration can range from clever, comical, profane and legitimate animosity. Selecting just the right format to throw a particular opponent off his game is something of an art form.

    During a 28-year professional boxing career that will result in a first-ballot induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame, Hopkins spiced his physical skills, superior conditioning and ring smarts with a tart tongue and occasional props, the most obvious being the Puerto Rican flag he twice threw down at press conferences in advance of his Sept. 29, 2001, showdown with that island’s favorite son, Felix Trinidad. The gestures of disrespect so infuriated Trinidad that he boiled over with anger, wanting nothing so much as to put a beat-down on B-Hop. And while a more civil Hopkins might have won anyway, in legend and lore his signature, 12th-round technical knockout victory in a fight he was handily winning to that point is suspected by many to have been somewhat aided by his getting into Trinidad’s head and making him, well, a little bit crazy.

    But the insult route in the prefight mental warfare can backfire sometimes. Prior to the first installment in the classic Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier trilogy, on March 8, 1971, Ali -- whose previously preferred method of annoying the other guy was to compose trite poems predicting the exact round of that fighter’s impending defeat -- resorted to cruel and personal taunts, as well as portraying himself as black America’s champion while holding another proud black man up to ridicule. On one televised talk show, Ali said, “The only people rooting for Joe Frazier are white people in suits, Alabama sheriffs and members of the Ku Klux Klan.”

    While that kind of incendiary rhetoric hyped interest in the “Fight of the Century” to a fever pitch, Ali – who later admitted he didn’t really mean much of what he said, that it was just a means of making a big event even bigger – did not count on the motivational effect it had on Smokin’ Joe. “Before we fought, the words hurt me more than the punches,” Frazier is quoted as saying in Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times, by author Thomas Hauser. Not nearly as verbose as Ali, Frazier exacted his revenge the only way he knew how, with a barrage of left hooks, one of which dropped his tormentor in the 15th round and served as the exclamation point for the Philadelphia slugger’s unanimous decision victory. But that was one of the few instances in which Ali’s trash talk didn’t produce the desired result.

    “When it came to mental warfare,” Hopkins said, “I always won that hands down against the guys I fought. I was right behind Muhammad Ali.”

    A contender for Hopkins’ runner-up status to Ali as the trash-talking GOAT is the now-retired (but maybe not for long) Floyd Mayweather Jr., whose curious matchup with UFC superstar Conor McGregor on Aug. 26, 2017, whom “Money” stopped in 10 rounds, was presaged by a bizarre four-city promotional tour in which the participants tried to outdo one another in the dropping of globally televised f-bombs. The slew of shouted expletives no doubt helped produce the 4.3 million pay-per-view buys and $600 million in total revenues that made the novelty bout a financial bonanza, but there were more than a few horrified onlookers who probably wished the fighters’ mamas could have come on stage to wash their sons’ mouths out with soap.

    Nor is the often-coarse repartee restricted to boxing. Before the NFL took steps to eliminate some of the cruder stuff, it was not uncommon for homophobic slurs, verbal attacks on girlfriends and wives, even questioning the paternity of an opponent’s child to be used to irritate players wearing the other team’s uniform. “I love to be annoying; I’m going to do stuff that will get on your nerves,” Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcom Jenkins told Joseph Santoliquito in a story that was published by PhillyVoice in March 2017. “The talk is more sanitized today than when I first got into the league (in 2009). There is a new generation of players where everybody is buddy-buddy, trading jerseys after games.”

    It remains to be seen how GGG-Canelo II is influenced by the relentless innuendos and flat-out accusations of impropriety. While there was grudging respect between the two in the lead-up to their first meeting on Sept. 16 of last year, which ended in a split draw, whatever goodwill that once existed between them and their camps appears to have dissipated. Golovkin and his trainer, Abel Sanchez, believed GGG had done enough to get the decision, but they hinted at darker forces behind judge Adalaide Byrd’s incomprehensible 118-110 scorecard for Canelo.

    Tensions would continue to mount after the originally scheduled date for the do-over, on May 5 of this year, was postponed when Canelo tested positive – twice – for the banned substance Clenbuterol. Although Alvarez and Golden Boy CEO Oscar De La Hoya claimed the failed drug tests owed to his fighter inadvertently having ingested tainted beef while training in Mexico, Golovkin has maintained that they serve as proof that the vastly popular Mexican fighter is a purposeful cheater, and probably was before his suspension that has now been lifted.

    GGG, on the scoring of the first fight: “It was terrible. It was terrible for the people and, of course, it was terrible for the sport of boxing because statistics showed I landed more punches. The fans saw I wanted to fight and Canelo did not want to fight. The fans who watched it live saw the judges bringing crazy scorecards. When the decision was announced, everyone was saying, `Oh, come on! This is not real! This is not true!’ Everybody was mad because those judges killed the sport that night.”

    Abel Sanchez, on the subject of Canelo’s failed drug tests: “They (Alvarez, De La Hoya and Alvarez cornermen Eddy Reynoso and Jose “Chepo” Reynoso) keep accusing us of insulting them. There have been no insults from our side. What I’ve stated has been facts. Golovkin gets bothered when people try to sweep the two positive tests under the rug like nothing ever happened and it’s business as usual. Canelo is the one that tested positive, twice. He’s the one that created that. It wasn’t us.”

    Sanchez, on Chepo Reynoso’s claim that GGG fights “like a donkey”: “Chepo Reynoso has never had an Olympian. Chepo Reynoso has never had a silver medalist. Chepo Reynoso has never had 18 world champions, as I’ve had. Chepo Reynoso just talks about Canelo. When he gets to my level, maybe he can speak in an intelligent manner. To hear somebody talk like that is ridiculous. It shows a lack of class, a lack of intelligence.”

    Sanchez, on what he thinks of Canelo as a person and as a fighter: “I don’t think he’s a man of honor, a man of character. I think he will run like a scared rabbit, like he did the first time.”

    Would you care to respond, Team Canelo?

    Canelo: “What little respect we had (for Golovkin and his handlers), it’s been lost. Is it personal now? Yes, absolutely. It’s totally changed. They disrespected me. Everything they’ve been saying, everything they’ve been doing, their actions … now it’s different. It’s personal.”

    De La Hoya on Alvarez’s motivation to punish GGG: “That’s exactly what a fighter needs, and that’s exactly why this is going to be a great fight. When you’re a fighter and you have no respect for your opponent, magic happens. You train harder in the gym. You run extra miles. More importantly, it’s mental. The mental aspect of it is at its highest level.”

    Eddy Reynoso: “Canelo has more talent. He’s more versatile. He knows how to walk in the ring, how to make you miss, how to counterpunch. He’s the total package. He is a thinking fighter, an intelligent fighter. Come Sept. 15, I can assure you two things: not only is Saul going to take away GGG’s undefeated record, he’s also going to shut up Mr. Abel Sanchez.”

    From the sound of it, Hopkins would appear to be correct. The two-way rancor is real, not mere hyperbole. Ah, but how to use that pent-up hostility to one fighter or another’s best advantage?

    It is Sanchez who has been constantly sniping at Canelo, claiming he fought “scared” the first time, tactics unbefitting a true Mexican warrior. Meanwhile, Sanchez keeps saying, Kazakhstan’s Golovkin more closely adheres to the “Mexican Style” of fighting, which is to come forward and constantly go for the knockout.

    “I remember how Canelo boasted, how Bernard boasted that Canelo was so great he was going to knock out Golovkin in the 10th round,” Sanchez recalled. “I just hope he’s true to his word this time. The fans are expecting the Canelo that they’ve seen in the past, not the Canelo they saw last year. If he’s true to his words, that’ll give us the kind of classic fight that we expected the first time – two guys that want to win, not one guy that wants to win and the other guy just looking to survive.”

    Although Alvarez has vowed to knock out GGG, he is dropping hints that he will not be lured into a toe-to-toe slugfest. “It’s one thing to be coming forward like a donkey and it’s another thing to be moving, dodging punches, counterpunching, even staying on the ropes without being hit,” he said. “I hope (GGG) goes back to his house afterward and realizes what I’ve been saying about him: that he’s a dumbass.”

    To Hopkins’ trained ear, Sanchez’s suggestions of a frightened Canelo’s reluctance to engage at close quarters is the equivalent of the Puerto Rican flags he threw down to incite Trinidad into fighting the fight that played into B-Hop’s hands. He insisted Alvarez is too savvy to fall into that trap.

    “Why do you think Abel Sanchez is talking so much about why Canelo needs to fight Mexican Style?’” Hopkins asked. “It’s a way of getting people to forget that Golovkin can fight only one way.

    “I told Oscar a long time ago, when Canelo fought (James) Kirkland, that all that talk about Golovkin fighting `Mexican Style’ was just a way to camouflage his lack of ring generalship. How do you finesse this dangerous guy, who can get you out of there at any moment of any round? You make his power work against him, like Ali did with George Foreman.”

    It’s a given that GGG and Canelo don’t much care for one another. But the outcome of their bitter feud, fueled by a desire for each to impose his will upon the other, may well hinge on which of these splendid fighters can keep a portion of his emotional need to dominate with enough mental discipline to perform under control. It is that inner struggle – the one within yourself, as well as the one as against your opponent – that often determines who survives big fights otherwise drenched in raw emotion.

    Bernard Fernandez is the retired boxing writer for the Philadelphia Daily News. He is a five-term former president of the Boxing Writers Association of America, an inductee into the Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Atlantic City Boxing Halls of Fame and the recipient of the Nat Fleischer Award for Excellence in Boxing Journalism and the Barney Nagler Award for Long and Meritorious Service to Boxing.

    Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel

  • #2
    If I could write like Bernard, I would.