Sunday, March 26, 2023  |


Canelo Alvarez stops Billy Joe Saunders after round 8, unifies super middleweight belts

Photo by Ed Mulholland/Matchroom.

ARLINGTON, Texas – Pound-for-pound king Canelo Alvarez’s march toward boxing history looks unstoppable.

Alvarez, boxing’s biggest star, took another step toward achieving his short-term goal to become the first-ever undisputed super middleweight world champion by pounding Billy Joe Saunders into submission at the end of the eighth round on Saturday night at AT&T Stadium, where a United States indoor boxing record crowd announced at 73,126 turned out to cheer wildly for Alvarez on Cinco de Mayo weekend.

“I knew the fight was going to develop around the eighth round,” said Alvarez, who had predicted a knockout win between the eighth and 10 rounds. “It wasn’t as difficult as I expected. I know my preparation is good and I improve day by day.”

The previous American indoor attendance record was 63,352 for the heavyweight championship rematch between Muhammad Ali and Leon Spinks at the Superdome in New Orleans on Sept. 15, 1978.

The largest crowd of any kind in North America since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic — surpassing the 51,838 that attended the Kentucky Derby in Louisville, Kentucky on May 1 – saw Alvarez retain The Ring championship as well as the WBC and WBA belts while also seizing Saunders’ WBO title in a destructive performance in which he damaged Saunders to the head and body and left him slumped on the stool with a battered right eye after the eighth round.

Saunders was taken to the hospital immediately after the fight with a suspected broken orbital bone.

The victory leaves Alvarez, a four-division world champion from junior middleweight to light heavyweight, just one belt short of becoming the first 168-pound fighter to hold all of the major sanctioning body titles in the three- or four-belt era, and now his eye is firmly on trying to entice IBF titleholder Caleb Plant into facing him on Mexican Independence Day weekend in September.

The opening round was a feeling out one with Saunders, a former middleweight world titleholder and 2008 Olympian, leading the way with his jab and movement while Alvarez (56-1-2, 38 KOs), 30, of Mexico, took his time before landing a few body shots.

Photo by Ed Mulholland/Matchroom.

Alvarez continued to work Saunders (30-1, 14 KOs), a 31-year-old southpaw from England, to the body in the second round but he also landed a hard right hand that put Saunders back on his heels.

Saunders turned much more tentative in the third round and started to move and back up much more than he had in the first two rounds, perhaps because he felt Alvarez’s power in the right hand in the previous round. Alvarez continued to stalk him and fire body shots and right hands, one of which caught Saunders, who shook his head as if to say it didn’t hurt.

Saunders had some success boxing against Alvarez in the fifth round but he took several digging, audible right hands to the body in the sixth round as Alvarez continued to target his flanks and slow him down.

Saunders, who often dropped his hands to his side almost daring Alvarez to him, had a hard time getting anything going on offense and with Alvarez moving straight ahead and whacking him to the body constantly. It seemed that it was only going to be a matter of time until he stopped Saunders.

Alvarez had a huge eighth round. Although he did not score a knockdown, he hurt Saunders with a left hook to the head and seemed to sense the end was near, because he raised his fist and motioned for the crowd to cheer louder, which they did.

After he landed a solid right uppercut, Alvarez again raised his fist toward the crowd and the fans responded with another electrifying roar.

The right hands continued to rain in and late in the round Alvarez bent Saunders over with a body shot. By the time the eighth round was over Saunders’ right eye was swollen closed and his corner motioned to referee Marc Calo-oy to stop the fight with Saunders on the stool.

“I was winning round-by-round,” Alvarez said. “My fight would improve around six and seven and I started to adjust real quick. I knew this would be final outcome. I knew it. I think I broke his cheek and knew he wasn’t coming out of the corner. I told (trainer) Eddy (Reynoso) he wasn’t coming out because I broke his cheek. I knew it was it. I have the best trainer. His name is Eddy. He’s the best trainer. He tell me and I prepare, do this and I do it.”

Alvarez, who was did not seem troubled by Saunders’ southpaw stance – he said he wouldn’t be — was ahead 78-74, 78-74 and 77-75 at the time of the stoppage.

“He couldn’t see,” Matchroom Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn said of Saunders. “I spoke with (trainer) Mark Tibbs and he wouldn’t let him go out. I thought he boxed beautifully. Canelo took his time, Billy is so tricky, but Canelo busted him up.”

According to CompuBox statistics, Alvarez landed 73 of 206 punches (35 percent), including 39 body blows and 53 percent of his power shots. Saunders landed 60 of 284 shots (21 percent).

The end was a far cry from the bravado Saunders, who was making his third title defense, showed in the buildup, when he said that unlike other opponents, he was coming to win, not just to collect a paycheck.

He spent much of the promotion complaining about various issues, including the size of the ring, but Alvarez gave him his way — 22 feet-by-22 feet inside the ropes – so Saunders could not have any excuses if he lost a fight that was originally planned last May 2 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. The deal was done and the press release ready to be blasted out, but when the NBA shut down its season and the sports world began to follow suit due to the coronavirus pandemic, the fight announcement was put on hold and then cancelled.

Alvarez, making his second title defense, won yet again in dominating fashion during a very busy stretch in which he won his third fight since Dec. 19, when he cruised to a one-sided decision over Callum Smith at the Alamodome in San Antonio to win The Ring and WBA titles and the vacant WBC belt. He returned on Feb. 27 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami and destroyed overmatched WBC mandatory challenger Avni Yildirim in the third round, and then announced the showdown with Saunders in the ring after the fight.

Now attention will to turn to see if a fight between Alvarez and Plant (21-0, 12 KOs), 28, of Las Vegas, can be made for the undisputed 168-pound crown.

It’s only fight to make happen,” Hearn said. “It’s the only fight and I hope Caleb Plant feels the same way. I know he was in an interview the other day and didn’t mention much about Canelo. Listen if we want to keep the great times coming in boxing, it’s the one to make in September.

“Ultimately, Canelo will fight absolutely anybody. You know who he wants to fight. He told me who he wants to fight, Caleb Plant. It’s all up to Caleb Plant. I will speak to their team and see where that takes place. That’s the fight that has to happen for the undisputed at 168 pounds. It has to happen. What is Caleb Plant going to do?”

It’s the fight that Alvarez wants and wants badly.

“That’s the plan, to go for the belt. I’m coming,” Alvarez said. “I hope that fight can be made easy. I want that fight. Give the fans the best fight.”


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