LAS VEGAS – If you know a lifelong boxing fan, chances are you know somebody with rosy retrospection.
That's the term for the psychological phenomenon that leads people to believe the past was much better than the present.
Rosy retrospection inflicts many people who closely watched the boxing greats of the 1960s, 1970s or 1980s. Most modern fighters don't stand up to their memory of giants from an era when boxing attracted more of the world's top athletes and reigned supreme on sports pages and television with passion and drama.
Boxing has declined in overall popularity from its peerless height, and the natural inclination is to assume the quality of the sport has declined as well. Canelo Álvarez’s clear unanimous-decision victory over Gennady Golovkin on Saturday night is the biggest fight currently on the boxing calendar for the second half of 2022, but its lack of primal pleasures left some fans wondering if that's the best boxing can do.
“I think we had a great fight," Álvarez insisted afterward. “Not every fight can be a knockout. That's just boxing. That's the way it always is. We had blood. We fought hard. My fans are happy.”
Canelo is correct, actually: The good old days weren’t always good, and modern boxing has plenty to offer — even if the sport’s most recent showcase event didn’t deliver that punch in the gut.
This third meeting between two of the current era's greatest champions was not a viscerally thrilling bout, and neither fighter scored so much as a knockdown in the entire trilogy. The 40-year-old Golovkin looked slower than ever, and Canelo grew weary in the late rounds while nursing an injured left wrist.
All three bouts were still elite-level competition between two beloved fighters with worldwide fame and bulging bank accounts from their popularity — but in a sport built on blood, sweat and toughness, a bout without serious damage or drama just won't satisfy a large portion of the boxing public.
“This is high level, the best fight for boxing,” Golovkin said afterward. "Look at his face. Look at my face. It’s high level because we trained well, and this shows that we did a very good fight, very good quality.”
Those fans with rosy retrospection seem to expect a violent classic in every big night, forgetting about the countless megafights that have underdelivered over the decades. Even the greatest multi-fight rivalries have flopped in their finales before, from Sugar Ray Leonard's anticlimactic third victory over Roberto Durán in 1989 to Rafael Márquez's unsightly finish of a worn-out Israel Vázquez in 2010.
Boxing doesn’t have as many giants, and its truly transcendent events are fewer and farther between. But few live sporting events can still match the pure excitement of attending a big fight night: When Golovkin shook off his slow start and began to connect with Canelo in the late rounds Saturday night, T-Mobile Arena was in a frenzy.
What's more, only the rosiest retrospection could blur a fan's vision of the outstanding fighters and compelling matchups in the sport's near future.
Outstanding fighters abound in nearly every weight class, and champions are rising from more spots on the globe than at any time in the sport’s history. In the past decade, women's boxing has grown from a disrespected sideshow to a viable career for dozens of fighters competing at previously unseen levels of ability.
Jermell Charlo, Naoya Inoue and Jesse “Bam” Rodriguez have all produced spectacular knockout victories in title fights this year. Dmitry Bivol pulled one of the most surprising upsets in recent history when he battered Álvarez four months ago, and the Russian light heavyweight fights again in November.
It's true that the rest of the 2022 boxing schedule doesn't currently have a fight as theoretically compelling as Álvarez-Golovkin — but it might soon. The two most tantalizing matchups of the fall still haven't been finalized.
Terence Crawford and Errol Spence Jr. are closing in on a deal for a welterweight title meeting that would be arguably the biggest fight of the year. After years of promotional squabbles kept them apart, the perpetually underappreciated Crawford and the supremely talented Spence could get together in a bout that would match two of the world's best fighters at a point near their professional peaks.
British heavyweight champions Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua are negotiating a deal to meet Dec. 3 in what would be yet another blockbuster during a half-decade of impressive action in the sport's glamour division.
Add in ring returns by Vasyl Lomachenko, Shakur Stevenson, Devin Haney and Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez this fall, and boxing clearly has the potential for plenty of memorable action in a sport that's very much alive.
Even if it can't match some fans' memory of the glory days in boxing's past.
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