When Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker had what many described as the greatest match in WrestleMania history back in 2009, the backstory for this fight was simple: the two best performers of this era competing on the biggest possible stage.
If one were to do a rematch, which they did, the narrative had to change. No longer was the idea of the best fighting the best enough to entice fans to be as invested, if not more, in a rematch between the two. There had to be something personal coming from one of the two that would hook fans into watching next year’s WrestleMania’s main event. That hook was Michaels’ descent into madness as his growing need to finally get a win over the Undertaker turned him into an out-of-control wild man whose sole obsession is to accomplish what he didn’t do the year prior: win even at the risk of ending his career.
If certain elements of this sensational storyline rings any bell within boxing fans, it’s because we are reliving the Michaels-Undertaker rivalry with Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin, two of boxing’s biggest superstars who are set to fight for the unified WBA, WBC and Ring Magazine middleweight titles on September 15.
At first glance, one would easily dismiss the premise of anything related pro wrestling in boxing, especially with something such as this, but you have to understand that boxing and pro wrestling are intertwined and have been for close to a century.
Even in the 1920s when heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey and top wrestling star Ed “Strangler” Lewis were the kings of their respective sport, the crowd had been wanting for the two of them to have a dream match. Although the two of them never had their match, Dempsey would occasionally box pro wrestlers on wrestling shows long after retiring as a boxer, the concept of boxing and pro wrestling being one and the same in some regards was then made concrete.
Throughout the years we see boxers take elements of pro wrestling and made huge careers out of it, most notably Muhammad Ali, who credits his charismatic persona to wrestling icon Gorgeous George, one of the most flamboyant wrestlers in history and one of the biggest stars of the 1940s and 1950s.
Fast forward to 2018 and we have our generation’s Michaels vs. Undertaker inside Alvarez and Golovkin. The parallels are crystal clear.
The two had been hyping a potential fight back in 2016 before it became a reality in 2017. What made the first fight between the two was a well-marketed journey that started in the aftermath of Alvarez’s lopsided win over Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. As soon as the fight between Alvarez and Chavez Jr., a bizarre matchup between two of Mexico’s biggest boxing stars, Golovkin, the consensus top two middleweight in the world, simply walked to the ring, stared at Alvarez and said the two will fight later this year.
With millions of boxing fans already watching and having decided beforehand that Alvarez and Golovkin were not just the two best middleweights but the two biggest stars in the sport, it only made the anticipation even greater. Finally, the sport would get what it was craving: the two best performers of this era competing on the biggest possible stage.
While we got that in the first fight, the result completely soured boxing fans as Adalaide Byrd’s 118-110 score in favor of Alvarez not only cost Golovkin the victory, but also ended the fight in a draw.
Perhaps an unintentional consequence of that draw was not the fact that we are going to see these two fight again, but also created a real distinction between who was the crowd-favorite babyface (Golovkin) and who was the less-favorable heel (Alvarez).
It wasn't just the draw that made a potential rematch have a different feel, it was the first two months of 2018 that completely transformed the way we see Canelo vs. GGG.
This past February, Alvarez tested positive twice for the banned substance clenbuterol, which meant the rematch scheduled to take place in May was canceled. Alvarez would claim for months that the positive tests were as a result of inadvertently consuming tainted meat, a common problem in Mexican athletes.
Regardless of whether or not Alvarez was truly innocent, he was already guilty in the court of public opinion by not only having the illegal substance in his body, but also depriving of fans of closure to this rivalry. As a result, Golovkin became an even bigger babyface as the sport sympathized with his anger at how he seemed to be treated as an afterthought for years as he climbed up the middleweight ladder and once he got a chance to show his talents, he gets screwed out of the biggest victory of his career.
Golovkin’s and Alvarez’s status as babyface and heel, respectively were now established, creating a completely different to how we view the first fight. No longer are certain parts of the population simply cheering for one of the two just to show who is better, but now they’re cheering for each fighter for different reasons beyond wins and losses.
For Alvarez, he not only has to prove that he is a true star on his own standing and can carry the torch as boxing’s top star by beating Golovkin fair and square. On the surface, this isn’t very heelish or motivations a bad guy would have, but his whole approach is different in not just his actions, but in his words as well, with this quote showcasing Alvarez’s edge leaning towards the heel side:
“I know they are bothered, but I don’t know why since it is I who has made them so much money,” Alvarez said.
Meanwhile, Golovkin has to be the sport’s champion in this fight, one of the last true boxers who isn’t afraid to fight anybody and has been overlooked and underestimated for far too long.
By the time the two enter the ring on September 15, we no longer see Canelo vs. GGG 2 as simply a boxing match, but as an epic told throughout the last two years and we may be witnessing this tale’s final chapter.
For Shawn Michaels, his epic ended when he lost his rematch against the Undertaker at WrestleMania 26, and was forced to retire as part of the stipulation for losing the match. Although retirement might not be at stake for Golovkin, a loss to Alvarez after so many months of feuding and becoming the sport’s top babyface would certainly put a dent in his legacy as one of the greatest middleweights in the last 30 years. For Golovkin, his career will be defined on September 15 and if he truly aims to come out on top, he’ll need to top his performance from their September 2017 fight.
And that’s why we’re tuning into this fight. The great thing about storytelling is the unknown the next chapter in any tale has in store. Not even in pro wrestling’s scripted world do fans really know the results of every match and with the many stories told in the ring, we can’t help but suspend our disbelief at times and get sucked into the reality that wrestlers portray. It’s as if a dramatic play suddenly came alive and fans are eager to find out what the ending is.
Inside boxing’s chaotic, politic-driven and historically shady madness, Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin will try and finish two years’ worth of anticipation, of back-and-forth drama, of uncertainty as to whether or not we see a real conclusion to this tale.
On September 15, we will see the ending of the best pro wrestling storyline that boxing has had to offer.