Canelo breaks record, breaks down Saunders to win third division title
SAN DIEGO, Calif., May 8, 2021 – Real, honest to goodness crowds returned to boxing in record numbers at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on its biggest weekend all year, setting an all-time indoor record at 73,126.
They enjoyed a first-class Cinco de Mayo flourish of mariachi music and dance as pound-for-pound WBC/WBA Super Middleweight champion and superstar Saul “Canelo” Alvarez entered the ring. Fans made no secret of their loyalties to the wildly popular Mexican star.
As he was introduced, British WBO super middleweight champion Billy Joe Saunders (30-1, 14 KOs) waited quietly in his corner. One can only imagine what was running through his mind during the introductions.
Would the roar of the record crowd influence the judges? It didn’t matter.
Alvarez (56-1-2, 38 KOs) took command early and never let Saunders settle in, making him pay for all the trash talk leading up to the fight. The Mexican champion broke down his British rival and eventually broke his heart when he broke Saunders’ orbital bone at the end of the eighth round, forcing Saunders’s corner to stop the fight. The current WBC and WBA World Super Middleweight champion adds Saunders’ WBO title to his collection, lacking only the IBF World Super Middleweight title held by Caleb Plant to be the unified division champion.
“I knew it. The truth is I knew it; I think I broke his cheek, and I knew he wasn’t coming out,” said Alvarez after the fight. “I told Eddy (Reynoso, his trainer) in the corner he wasn’t coming out. I broke his cheek, and that was it.” Scores at the time of the stoppage were 78 – 74 X 2 and 77 – 75.
Power punching clinic ends with an orbital bone bang
Alvarez can be a slow starter, so confident in his skills he can afford to take time to settle in and assess his opponent’s approach before executing his game plan. Alvarez also understands how to win a fight round by round, concentrating on power punches to impress judges and roll up damage on his opponents. Saunders did an admirable job of staying in the fight and give himself a chance. When he began to fire his jab and start landing follow-up punches in the fourth and fifth round, his confidence visibly grew.
But Alvarez trusts trainer Eddy Reynoso implicitly, and his fight plans have never let Alvarez down. “As I said beforehand, I said the fight was going to develop by the seventh or eighth round, and that’s what happened,” said Alvarez.
“The fight, as I said, I was winning round by round. The truth is, as I told you is, my fight would develop after six or seven rounds, but I started getting adjusted pretty quick. I knew this was going to be the final round,” said Alvarez.
Saunders’ bread and butter is the jab; well over half his punch output thrown and landed are jabs. He put the jabs to work early. Alvarez began landing counter left hooks within a round, cutting the big ring Saunders asked for, forcing him into the ropes to target heavy right hooks to the body. The contrast in power behind Canelo’s punches compared to the jabs from Saunders prefaced the eventual end to the bout. As Alvarez settled in, Saunders began to use the ring size to dance away and move, buying himself time to figure out another approach. Hard counters from Canelo were the story. Saunders couldn’t establish the jab and couldn’t hurt Alvarez.
Saunders did the only thing he could do, taking more chances and throwing more punches. He won the fifth round on all three cards. But it was the only round where all three judges called it for Saunders. He wasn’t busy enough and wasn’t doing enough damage. Still, he was in the fight – until he wasn’t.
Alvarez wasn’t going to let Saunders gain any traction. After a good effort by Saunders in the seventh round, Alvarez came out in the eighth with determination. This is where he had predicted he would stop Saunders before the fight, and he made good on his word. He turned up the heat with hard right hands. Saunders launched a jab, and Alvarez learned back, causing Saunders to miss and dip down, just as Alvarez threw a low right hook to Saunders’ face.
Immediately, Saunders’ right eye started to close. Alvarez saw it, and so did referee Mark Calo-oy. Saunders may not have been able to see clearly, but he saw enough to know Canelo was closing in. He held as Alvarez did more damage, landing a hard left hook inside. Alvarez returned to his corner, waving his arms toward the crowd.
In Saunders’ corner, the eye damage looked serious. Saunders was clearly hurt. The corner stopped the bout.
Saunders left the ring without comment, clearly in pain and bound for a Dallas area hospital to assess his injuries.
Canelo: ‘I have the best trainer’
Alvarez gave credit to his longtime and only trainer through his entire career, Eddy Reynoso. “I have the best trainer. Here’s Eddy. This is the best trainer I could have. He’s the one who tells me I just prepare, he tells me, and I do it.”
Asked about his role in setting an American record for an indoor boxing event, Alvarez said, “Hey, it’s something very difficult to explain. I don’t have words. The emotions that I feel for all the people that have come out, the love they give me, and the motivation to carry on. I want to thank everyone for coming out, from the bottom of my heart, thank you.”
Super middleweight unification is the goal
Alvarez has made no secret of the record most important to him: to become the first fighter and first Mexican to unify the super middleweight division. He needs the belt held by American Caleb Plant. Asked if this might be his next fight, Alvarez confirmed, “That’s the plan to go for the belt, and I’m coming, man, I’m coming my friend. I hope so. I hope the fight is made easy, and give the fans the fight and Mexican history.”
Matchroom Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn said, “It’s the only fight. Hopefully, Caleb Plant feels the same way. We want to keep the great fights coming in boxing. It’s the one to make in September.” Mexican Independence Day weekend is September 18, and you should mark your calendar now. Matchroom will have to lure promoter Premier Boxing Champions into the deal, but it’s a cash cow. With boxing allowing full crowds back, only injury or a rampant pandemic resurgence should delay it, assuming Premier Boxing and Mr. Haymon don’t play too many games.
It’s not likely to be even as competitive as Saturday’s bout. There are no remaining doubts about Alvarez’s status as the best pound-for-pound boxer in the world. He won’t be tested unless he faces a top light heavyweight, either a powerhouse like Artur Beterbiev or a nimble technician like Dmitry Bivol.
A final word to those on social media called Saunders a quitter: Stop, and shame on you. The man’s injuries were obvious, and his corner didn’t hesitate in making the decision. Although no one knew for certain at the time, Saunders was down on all three cards and sinking. There is no reason to let him risk his eyesight or worse and no reason to add the handicap of poor vision facing the world’s best fighter as he took the upper hand in the fight. Saunders has a long life to live and a long time to think about his first loss.
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