LAS VEGAS — Gennady Golovkin was on the verge of losing one of the most compelling parts of his legacy: while Canelo Alvarez was in his prime, no one fought him harder than Golovkin, his archrival.

Then in the ninth round on Saturday night, Golovkin no longer looked 40 years old. He punched unconditionally, stinging Alvarez and driving the crowd inside the T-Mobile Arena to decibels that drowned out the ringside bangs. Even as the moment eventually faded, it brought back memories of what made the first two fights between Golovkin and Alvarez so special.

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The third fight between bitter rivals lacked the action and intensity of their predecessors. But even after losing by unanimous decision, Golovkin was able to salvage a key part of how he will be remembered in the sport.

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Along with all the championship titles and an Olympic medal, one of the memorable feats Golovkin accomplished throughout his career was creating an iconic rivalry that will go down in history as one of the best in legendary boxing history.

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“His legacy has been strengthened,” Golovkin’s trainer Jonathon Banks said ahead of the fight. “He has nothing more to prove or anything like that. This man has done everything.”

Golovkin entered Saturday’s fight in a no-win situation. GGG was a significant underdog (plus-380) against Alvarez, who is considered one of the best fighters in the world regardless of weight class. Golovkin was widely believed to have won the first bout in September 2017, a fight that was declared a split draw and was overshadowed by a 118–110 Adalaida Byrd card to Álvarez. Alvarez won by split decision in 2018, a result that was again contested by many but not nearly as controversial.

Despite the fact that public opinion leaned in his favor, Golovkin remained in pursuit of victory over an opponent that had eluded him. After Canelo signed a multi-fight deal with DAZN, a new streaming network that was looking to gain popularity in the United States at the time, GGG also signed a deal with the company that was supposed to make the third fight easier.

After defeating Steve Rolls in June 2019, Golovkin admitted that he, like any other boxing fan, wants a third fight against Alvarez.

“Everyone knows,” Golovkin said in his post-fight interview on DAZN. “I’m ready for Canelo. Just bring him. Just ask him. I’m ready… If you [want a] “Big drama show,” tell him.

Instead, Golovkin waited. And waited. And waited.

To put his patience into perspective, waiting for Canelo-GGG 3 and the matchup between welterweight champions Errol Spence Jr. and Terence Crawford took the same amount of time. According to Sportzshala correspondent Mike Coppinger, Spence and Crawford finally agreed to meet, tentatively scheduled for November 19.

But in the end, it made too much sense for Alvarez and Golovkin to see each other again. Golovkin was even ready to move up to the 168-pound division to hit his opponent one more time.

“This is what they want, what they have been calling for for several years,” DAZN chief executive Joe Markowski said during a press conference. “We’re really excited to finally get it together.”

Look no further than Alvarez’s decision to face Golovkin again to show the importance of what happened on Saturday. After defeating Golovkin, Alvarez was obsessed with fights that would cement his legacy and cement his status as one of the sport’s greatest fighters.

Alvarez became the undisputed super middleweight champion, the first Mexican to hold the title in the four belt era, by defeating Caleb Plant in 2021. a decision that resulted in the second official loss of Alvarez’s career.

The Mexican icon and one of boxing’s main attractions got into a verbal altercation with Golovkin, especially after scrutinizing Alvarez after a positive drug test ahead of their second fight.

But what Golovkin and Alvarez have in common is their willingness to take risks to push themselves towards bigger rewards. In preparation for the fight, Alvarez did not miss the opportunity to go head-to-head with Golovkin, whose strength was evident in the ninth-round stoppage of Ryota Murata in April.

“He’s a good fighter, he’s a dangerous fighter,” Alvarez said at a pre-fight press conference. “There is no doubt about that. But if you want something, as I want it, if you want something, you must take the risk. And I know that I can risk something to achieve what I want.

But the action that kept the drama going for 24 rounds in two fights was absent for most of the third. Fans, nostalgic for these fights, booed at various points as neither fighter could harm the other. Both men, standing in the ring after the fight, insisted that the third fight was good – and this is a minority opinion.

Yet the crowd rose at the end to salute both fighters. After the 36th round between them ended, they exchanged words and a long hug. As Golovkin concluded his interview with DAZN after the fight, he decided to shake hands with Canelo. The vitriol between them was eliminated.

Even at his age, Golovkin has made it clear he’s not going to stop anytime soon. He reminded those gathered in Las Vegas that he still has two middleweight belts and that he is the champion in the 160-pound division, which drew laughter and smirks from Canelo.

But whenever Golovkin drops his gloves for good, exciting rivalry at the highest level of sport will be one for which he will always be remembered.

As he walked down the tunnel back to his dressing room, he smirked and stopped for a photo in his ornate blue and gold robe soaked in cheers.