LAS VEGAS -- Everyone expected Gennady Golovkin and Canelo Alvarez to deliver an action-packed classic, and they did just that in a ferocious battle. What it lacked, however, was any consistency from the judges, who ruled the fight a split draw.
Golovkin retained his unified middleweight title Saturday night -- Mexican Independence Day -- before a sold-out crowd of 22,358 at the T-Mobile Arena, but few were satisfied with the result.
Judge Dave Moretti scored the fight 115-113 in favor of Golovkin, Adalaide Byrd stunningly had it 118-110 for Alvarez, and Don Trella scored the fight 114-114.
Byrd gave Golovkin only the fourth and seventh rounds on a scorecard that likely will go down as one of the most shocking in boxing history.
ESPN.com scored the fight 116-112 for Golovkin, as did HBO's unofficial scorer, Harold Lederman.
Afterward, Golden Boy Promotions' Oscar De La Hoya said Alvarez would exercise a rematch clause for another fight, but another member of Alvarez's camp later clarified that they'll talk about it and that no official decision has been made yet.
Golovkin, boxing's longest-reigning world titleholder, made his 19th consecutive middleweight title defense as he pulled within one of tying the record of 20 set by all-time great Bernard Hopkins, who happens to be one of Alvarez's promoters at Golden Boy Promotions.
Golovkin, who yearned for years for a big-time fight, was aiming to prove that he was worthy of his undefeated record and tremendous acclaim by beating by far the best opponent of his career. He appeared to do that, but Byrd and Trella did not agree.
"It was a big drama show," Golovkin said, using one of his favorite phrases. "[The scoring] is not my fault. I put pressure on him every round."
Asked if he thought he won the fight, Golovkin said simply, "Look, I still have all the belts. I am still the champion."
Bob Bennett, the executive director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, came to ringside after the fight to address the controversy of Byrd's scorecard.
"Adalaide, in my estimation, is an outstanding judge," Bennett said. "She's done over 115 title fights and/or elimination bouts. She does a great deal of our training, takes a lot of our judges under her wing. I think being a judge is a very challenging position.
"Unfortunately, Adalaide was a little wide. I'm not making any excuses. I think she's an outstanding judge, and in any business, sometimes you have a bad day. She saw the fight differently [than the other judges]. It happens."
According to CompuBox punch statistics, Golovkin landed 218 of 703 shots (31 percent), while Alvarez landed 169 of 505 (34 percent). Golovkin landed more punches in 10 of the 12 rounds.
Alvarez said he believed he deserved to win the fight, which matched two of the world's elite pound-for-pound fighters.
"There wasn't any power that surprised me," Alvarez said. "In the first rounds, I came out to see what he had. Then I was building from there. I think I won eight rounds. I felt that I won the fight.
"I think I was superior in the ring. I won at least seven or eight rounds. I was able to counterpunch and made Gennady wobble at least three times. If we fight again, it's up to the people. I feel frustrated over my draw."
"Unfortunately, Adalaide was a little wide. I'm not making any excuses. I think she's an outstanding judge, and in any business, sometimes you have a bad day." NSAC executive director Bob Bennett on judge Adalaide Byrd
Scoring aside, it was a bona fide fight of the year candidate, and there's a good chance there will be rematch.
"No surprises," said Abel Sanchez, Golovkin's trainer. "We knew going into this it would be a war."
Many predicted it would resemble the legendary middleweight brawl between Marvelous Marvin Hagler and Thomas Hearns. Although it wasn't quite that, it was indeed the war Sanchez said it was. But it took a few rounds to develop.
The fight began with the cheering sections for each fighter taking turns chanting "Canelo! Canelo!" followed by roars of "Triple G! Triple G!" But it was a close round, with both landing a few solid shots.
Both fighters have excellent jabs, and they tried to establish it early on. Both were able to land it, but Golovkin's jab appeared heavier.
When Alvarez (49-1-2, 34 KOs) went to the ropes in the fourth round, Golovkin (37-0-1, 33 KOs) went right after him. He landed right hands and body shots. Alvarez tried to duck and dodge the incoming punches, but he got clipped with a few shots before moving away.
The fight turned into a slugfest in the fifth round as the crowd went wild. Golovkin hammered Alvarez with a hard right hand that jerked his head, but Alvarez came right back, eliciting a smile from Golovkin. They continued to go at each other hard for the rest of the round, back and forth.
Alvarez spent most of the seventh round on the move as Golovkin stalked him and threw heavy right hands. When he got close, he shoved jabs down the middle, and Alvarez rarely responded.
Golovkin landed a hard right uppercut early in the eighth round that seemed to buzz Alvarez, who seemed to be fading, though he got in a stinging uppercut late in the round even if Golovkin didn't budge.
They traded huge right hands early in the ninth round, but Alvarez buckled and Golovkin didn't. Golovkin, 35, a Kazakhstan native fighting out of Santa Monica, California, later trapped Alvarez, 27, of Mexico, in a corner and unloaded a right hand that knocked Alvarez's head back, but Alvarez responded by connecting with a clean right hand.
The 10th round had wild action, as they exchanged power punches throughout. They were digging down deep with so much on the line.
Golovkin continued to assert himself in the 11th round, as Alvarez continually backed up, and then they embraced as the 12th round began.
Alvarez landed a clean right in the opening seconds of the round and then connected with a four-punch combination. But Golovkin's chin is tremendous. He walked through everything and nailed Alvarez. They closed out a terrific fight slugging away in the center of the ring, fulfilling the prediction they made before the bout that it would be a bruising and punishing fight.
HBO will replay the bout at 10 p.m. ET/PT Saturday along with its live coverage of lightweight world champion Jorge Linares' defense against Luke Campbell.
Given the expected massive commercial success of the fight -- perhaps more than 2 million pay-per-view buys and what will wind up as the third-best gate in history at more than $30 million -- a rematch of such a compelling battle is almost a given. Count both fighters in.
"Yes, of course. Obviously, yes. If the people want it, yes. He didn't win. It was a draw," Alvarez said. "I always said I was going to be a step ahead of him. We'll fight in the second one, but I'll win."
Said Golovkin: "Of course, I want the rematch. This was a real fight."