Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez stopped Billy Joe Saunders following round eight of their super-middleweight unification fight when trainer Mark Tibbs waved off the contest after the Briton returned to his corner with what looked like a serious injury underneath his right eye.
It was an unsatisfying conclusion to a fascinating fight, which was played out against the backdrop of a record indoor attendance for a boxing match in the United States of 73,126 at the AT&T stadium in Arlington, Texas.
With victory, Canelo (now 56-1-2, 37 KOs) adds Saunders’ WBO title to his WBA Super and WBC straps, and he admitted after the fight that he will now look to target IBF champion Caleb Plant in a bid to seal undisputed status at 168lbs.
As for Saunders (now 30-1, 14 KOs), despite the apparent severity of the injury he sustained he will face inevitable accusations that he quit – in a fight that he was proving highly competitive in.
At the time of the stoppage all three judges had Canelo ahead, by scores of 78-74 (twice) and 77-75 that seemed a little harsh on southpaw Saunders who certainly proved his boxing skills on a heady night in Texas that saw the real return of big-time, big crowd boxing after the rigours of the Covid-19 pandemic.
From the opening bell, the 31-year-old Briton pawed and feinted with his jab, looking to out-hustle and out-pace Canelo, who in turn targeted Saunders’ body and aimed to force him on to the ropes.
You could make a case for either man winning the opener, but in the second it became obvious that Canelo was by far the stronger man as he forced Saunders back twice on his heels with hurtful right hands.
Once again in the third Canelo landed a big right – Saunders shook his head in response in an attempt to assert that the blow hadn’t hurt him, but it was an ominous sign for backers of the Hatfield boxer.
Saunders landed a decent combination early in the fourth, but Canelo once again found success with the right and even landed a solid uppercut, too – a shot he had been looking for all night – which nearly removed the gumshield from Saunders’ mouth.
However, just as Canelo looked to have assumed control, Saunders enjoyed a busier and more successful fifth round, as he began to target Canelo’s body more and land the greater volume of shots. With Canelo seemingly content to stalk rather than throw, Saunders landed his best shot of the fight, a hefty left that caught Canelo flush.
A solid counter left by Saunders punctuated a close sixth round, as Canelo began to look a little frustrated and one-paced. Saunders even found time to clown when the Mexican did land some shots. Canelo’s low punch output, and his tendency to go looking for single big shot rather than land combinations, was giving Saunders the opportunity to steal rounds, and he may have snatched the seventh, too.
However, in the eighth, Canelo finally found the shot he had been looking and Saunders folded quickly. A big right uppercut connected with the area underneath Saunders’ right eye and his distress was immediately evident.
Clearly hurt, he twice held on to Canelo desperately, while the Mexican raised and pumped his fist to the heavens to encourage his fanatical supporters.
“I broke his cheek. I knew [he wouldn’t come out for the ninth], I told my corner,” Canelo reflected after the fight and that pretty much tells the story.
For all his skills, one punch broke Billy Joe’s cheek, but also his heart.
Saunders was later taken to hospital with a suspected fractured orbital bone.
Main image: Ed Mulholland/Matchroom Boxing.