Saul “Canelo” Álvarez moved one step closer to history Saturday night when he beat Billy Joe Saunders.
ARLINGTON, Texas — In front of more than 73,000 fans at AT&T Stadium on Saturday, Saul “Canelo” Álvarez—the best pound-for-pound fighter in boxing and the sports’ biggest star—moved one step closer to history, stopping Billy Joe Saunders to unify three pieces of the super middleweight crown. Let’s dive into the stoppage, my scorecard (hi, social media!) and what’s next for Canelo with three burning questions.
Did Billy Joe Saunders quit?
No—hell no. In the eighth round, Saunders absorbed a vicious uppercut to the right eye that immediately swelled and closed it. Saunders had boxed well to that point (more on that below) but when he went to the corner, it was clear the injury was significant. Trainer Mark Tibbs, who rejoined Saunders team before his last fight and has been close with Saunders for years, asked him how he was. When he didn’t get the answers he liked, Tibbs waved off the fight.
Saunders’s injury is legitimate: He spent the night in the hospital and is scheduled to undergo surgery to repair multiple fractures to his orbital bone, according to his promoter, Eddie Hearn. The brash Saunders, however, invites criticism. He has ripped fighters for what he has perceived as quitting. Last year, he criticized heavyweight contender Daniel Dubois, who allowed himself to be counted out after Joe Joyce broke Dubois’s orbital bone—the exact injury Saunders is believed to have.
“If my two eye sockets were broken, my jaw was broken, my teeth were out, my nose was smashed, my brain was beaten, I was not stopping until I was knocked out or worse,” Saunders said last year. “I don’t agree with a man taking the knee and letting the ref count him out.”
Eye injuries aren’t hand or leg injuries. It’s not a broken rib or a nasty cut. They are serious. Saunders has a long life to lead after boxing, and risking permanent damage to an eye isn’t smart. But when you talk as much as Saunders does, and then you do what he did, the backlash comes with the territory.
Mannix – what the f— were you watching?
In my role as a DAZN analyst, I’m also the network’s official scorer. And not too many viewers agreed with my card on Saturday night. At the time of the stoppage, I had Saunders leading five rounds to three. I may have been the only one. I gave Saunders the first round, and then four through seven. I gave Álvarez the second and third, and then the eighth, the last of the fight.
Look—Canelo was clearly the more powerful puncher. He always is. Álvarez landed 52.7% of his power shots, per CompuBox, which included 39 shots to the body. Saunders, as he often does, relied on the jab, landing twice as many (30) and throwing nearly twice as much (168). But I was impressed with Saunders’s work rate in this fight. I thought he settled down after losing two of the three early rounds. I thought he opened up with some decent combinations and his elusiveness kept Álvarez from landing clean combinations of his own. And remember—Álvarez doesn’t wipe top opponents out in decisions. He beat Erislandy Lara by split decision. He bested Gennadiy Golovkin and Daniel Jacobs by the closest of margins. Sergey Kovalev was even on one card and trailed 96–94 on two others before Álvarez knocked him out in 2019. Álvarez, while accurate, is judicious with his punches, which can open the door for opponents able to outwork him.
Watching the fight back, I’d probably flip the fourth round for Álvarez—Saunders wasn’t as accurate as I thought he was. But five, six and seven, while close and easily could have gone for Álvarez, are defensible rounds for Saunders, who outlanded Canelo 31–18 in those three. The eighth round was as clear as they come, with Álvarez connecting on 12 of his 23 power shots.
Officially, all three judges had the fight for Canelo when the fight was stopped, with two scoring it 78–74 and the third edging it to Álvarez 77–75. Ultimately, of course, it didn’t matter. Álvarez did what he promised he would do: He stopped Saunders in the second half of the fight.
Is Caleb Plant next?
After the fight, Canelo made it clear what he wanted: a full unification fight with Plant, the IBF titleholder. “I’m coming, my friend,” Álvarez told me in the ring. But while fights with Saunders and Callum Smith were relatively easy to make—both fighters are with Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing, and Hearn has a working relationship with Canelo—a Plant deal could be more complicated. Plant is aligned with Al Haymon, who has proven famously difficult to make deals with outside of the Premier Boxing Champions universe.
Now Álvarez is a broadcast free agent. He can easily link up with Haymon and face Plant on pay per view. But all of DAZN’s top brass was in Texas on Saturday. They felt the magnitude of the event. They saw new subscriptions—both globally and in the U.S.—zoom past expectations. They no longer have a long term agreement with Álvarez. But there is little doubt that they will offer a massive guarantee, perhaps in the neighborhood of $40 million, to keep him. And they will offer Plant a career-high payday, too.
Will Haymon match it? Álvarez-Plant will do a solid number on pay per view. But the pay per view market isn’t what it used to be, even as it has become more saturated. Will Canelo leave a bigger guarantee on the table for the promise of a potentially bigger pay per view upside? Will Plant, who has been fighting regularly on Fox, insist the fight be on a PBC platform?
“It’s the only fight,” Hearn told me. “And hopefully Caleb Plant feels the same way. I know you saw an interview the other day [with Plant], he didn’t mention too much about Canelo. But listen, if we want to keep the great times coming in boxing, it’s the undisputed, the first Mexican undisputed champion at 168 pounds. It’s the one to make in September.”
It’s worth noting that Álvarez has options. One, in particular: Golovkin. A Plant fight offers Álvarez the chance to make history, to become the first undisputed 168-pound champion in the four-belt era. But a third fight Golovkin fight is unquestionably bigger. There remains significant interest among casual fans in a trilogy-completing matchup. Golovkin regained a measure of momentum last December, knocking out an overmatched Kamil Szeremeta. He has won three fights in a row since his majority decision loss to Álvarez in 2018 and has been anxious for another shot. Álvarez, meanwhile, opened the door for a third fight with Golovkin last week, saying he was open to it, as long as Golovkin, a 160-pound titleholder, was willing to move up to 168.
Plant, though, has no such fallback. David Benavidez is out there, but would Plant really face the dangerous Benavidez for none of the history and a fraction of the purse? If Álvarez insists the fight happen on DAZN, would Plant refuse out of loyalty to Haymon? A fight with Canelo is a once in a lifetime opportunity for Plant. And Álvarez made it clear it’s there for the taking.
“I hope so,” Álvarez said. “I hope that fight is made easy. And then give the fans that fight.”
More Boxing Coverage From Chris Mannix:
• Saul ‘Canelo’ Álvarez Feels Unbeatable, and Rightfully So
• Boxing Isn’t Dead. It’s Being Suffocated
• Legends’ Comebacks Won’t Save Boxing