Handling criticisms of being a 'cheater' and villain, Canelo Alvarez deserves to be called 'king'

LAS VEGAS -- Months after he was villainized for his refusal to admit guilt following a pair of failed drug tests that tarnished his name, Canelo Alvarez did everything -- short of scoring a knockout -- he said he was going to do in Saturday night's middleweight title rematch against Gennady "GGG" Golovkin.

Criticized for running from Golovkin by GGG's trainer Abel Sanchez in their first meeting last September, Alvarez walked Golovkin down in the early rounds on Saturday and traded evenly at close range late. Called a diva and a heel by many in recent months, Alvarez very much acted the part of a must-see performer as the biggest pay-per-view draw in American boxing.  

With his reputation on the line and his career at an interesting crossroads in the eyes of many, the 28-year-old Alvarez put forth the performance of his lifetime on a night -- later called "one of the greatest days of my life" by Alvarez -- that anything less would have rendered defeat. 

However you scored Alvarez's thrilling majority decision win at a sold out T-Mobile Arena, it's hard to do anything by shout praise at the way in which the Mexican star handled himself in doing so.

Boxing can be a fickle game in terms of how a fighter is perceived by the mainstream majority where you're only as good as your last fight. But Alvarez removed the most negative stereotypes against him -- save for his uncanny ability to receive the benefit of the doubt in a close fight -- and heaped nothing but the praise of his opponents in doing so. 

"Canelo did what he said he was going to do," Golovkin promoter Tom Loeffler said. "Canelo came forward and brought the fight."

"Canelo fought the fight he needed to fight today, and he won," Sanchez said. "I think we have to give him the credit rather than say what Gennady didn't do. We appreciate all of the support but we can't be hypocritical and complain about every damn decision you receive. Canelo fought a great fight tonight, and you can't take that away from Canelo."

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Like his promoter Oscar De La Hoya before him, Alvarez's matinee idol looks and ability to fill arenas attracted criticism that he's a pretty boy and more sizzle than steak. But on Saturday, even the harshest of his critics -- his Mexican countryman who prefer the forward-charging Julio Cesar Chavez Sr. to the crafty counterpunching Alvarez -- had to be impressed by just how close he lived up to the embodiment of what makes a traditional Mexican warrior. 

Could the fight have gone either way? Undoubtedly. And after 24 rounds of of action and dueling intensity, did the 36-year-old Golovkin deserve better from his two trips to Las Vegas over the past year? Without question. 

But in almost-shocking fashion, Alvarez was successful in doing something no previous Golovkin opponent had been able to do by forcing the fearsome GGG to take a step backwards during the middle rounds as Alvarez's speed and activity appeared to fatigue Golovkin both physically and mentally. Alvarez also landed the more telling blows over the first six rounds. 

Perhaps Alvarez's best trick in the rematch came in the second half of the fight when he absorbed a number of clean strikes from Golovkin that have previously removed the ghost from a series of opponents before him, including an incredible 23-fight knockout streak between 2008-17. Yet despite getting rocked twice in Round 10, Alvarez bit down and weathered the storm in a manner that was nothing short of inspiring. 

In the years which followed his humbling 2013 defeat to Floyd Mayweather, many media members were quick to point out how Alvarez had learned from the former PPV king when it comes to the business side. The subsequent years saw Alvarez slowly eschew his dare-to-be-great persona in favor of a star who knows how to wield the leverage that comes from being a PPV A-side. 

Against Golovkin in the rematch, Alvarez was anything but Mayweather in terms of the fearsome manner in which he entertained fans and dared to find out how great he can truly be against one of the most feared fighters in the sport. 

"It was I who pushed [Golovkin] back, it was I who was most aggressive," Alvarez said. "I'm satisfied with the victory. I'm satisfied with how we did it today. This was a very important victory for me and this will give a lot of pride for my country."

Alvarez also gave a lot of pride for his sport in the way in which he competed on the grandest stage of them all. Critics have once called him a cheater and many other words that are unfit to print. But on the biggest night of his career, calling Alvarez anything but the unified middleweight king would be selling him short. 

"We can say a lot of things tonight, but first of all, I want to congratulate Canelo because he left this building as a champion," Golovkin said. 

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Brian Campbell covers MMA, boxing and WWE. The Connecticut native joined CBS Sports in 2017 and has covered combat sports since 2010. He has written and hosted various podcasts and digital shows for ESPN... Full Bio

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