Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

Las Vegas — Gennady Golovkin suffered the first loss of his professional career when Saul “Canelo” Alvarez won an epic middleweight world title fight in Las Vegas on Saturday.

A year after their first fight ended in a controversial draw, Alvarez clinched a points decision that again divided experts in what many thought could have gone the other way.

Two judges gave it 115-113 for Alvarez, while the other had it a 114-114 draw.

The fight, in front of a sellout, celebrity-studded crowd that included Mike Tyson, actor Will Smith and basketballer LeBron James, lived up to its billing as the best two pound-for-pound fighters in the world.

Golovkin landed some big blows to the head in the closing rounds, opening a cut above Alvarez’s left eye, but the Mexican prevailed to improve his career record to 50-1-2, including 34 knockouts.

Golovkin fell to 38-1-1, with 34 knockouts. It was his first defeat since the 2005 world amateur championships.

“It was a very tight fight,” said Alvarez after becoming the WBC, WBA, IBO and Ring Magazine world champion.

“I looked for a knockout but it’s difficult. He’s a great fighter but in the end I got the victory.

“I’m very excited, very emotional. I want to thank everyone who believes in me. This is for them and long live Mexico.”

Kazakh Golovkin, 36, thought he had perhaps done enough to get the decision.

“I’m not going to say who won tonight, because the victory belongs to Canelo according to the judges,” he said.

“I thought it was a very good fight for the fans, and very exciting. I thought I fought better than he did.”

ESPN boxing analyst Teddy Atlas agreed.

“There’s no doubt about it. Golovkin won the fight,” Atlas said. “At the end of the day it was the wrong decision.”

Golovkin was tentative early on as Alvarez dictated the terms, but the Kazakh got more aggressive as the bout progressed. Alvarez landed more body punches, 46-6 by the official count, and more power punches, even as Golovkin landed more overall punches.

Both fighters were suitably bloodied by the end of a bruising encounter, after Alvarez had somehow absorbed a series of blows to the head and chin, while Golovkin’s puffy face offered proof that it had been a two-way street.

The fight came after an acrimonious weigh-in during which Alvarez almost head-butted Golovkin, who is known affectionately through the boxing world as “Triple-G”.

The bad blood between the pair has grown since Alvarez was temporarily suspended by the Nevada State Athletic Commission in April for testing positive for the banned substance clenbuterol, forcing a postponement of their May 5 rematch.

But they embraced at the end of Saturday’s fight as the crowd waited for the judges’ verdict. “One of the best fights I’ve ever seen,” James tweeted.