Canelo Alvarez vs. Billy Joe Saunders: A Head-to-Toe Breakdown
He's the straw that undisputedly stirs the boxing drink.
And on Saturday night, he's climbing back in the ring for the latest defense of his pay-per-view status.
Canelo Alvarez, who became a legit four-division champ within months of his 30th birthday, returns to the site of a past victory when he faces fellow super middleweight claimant Billy Joe Saunders at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, where a crowd of better than 60,000 fans is expected.
The facility, which is home to the NFL's Dallas Cowboys, was where Alvarez stopped Liam Smith in nine rounds to capture a championship at 154 pounds back in 2016.
"We are proud to host a boxing match of this magnitude as we welcome back Canelo Alvarez to AT&T Stadium to take on Billy Joe Saunders," said Jerry Jones, owner of the Cowboys.
"AT&T Stadium was built to house the greatest sporting events on the planet, and we feel we have another incredible boxing event on the horizon with this matchup taking place in Arlington."
Alvarez is The Ring's champion at 168 pounds, while Saunders, 31, is ranked fourth in the division.
The Bleacher Report combat sports team took a head-to-toe look at each principle as a primer for the mid-spring extravaganza. Take a look at what we came up with and drop a thought or two of your own in the comments.
What You Need to Know
What: Canelo Alvarez vs. Billy Joe Saunders
Where: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas
When: May 8
What's At Stake: It's step two in Alvarez's stated mission to unify the championships at 168 pounds. He's already the WBA and WBC titleholder and Saunders, an unbeaten Englishman, has held the WBO's super middleweight belt for nearly two full years and has successfully defended twice.
Canelo Alvarez's Tale of the Tape
Record: 55-1-2, 37 KOs
Weight: 167.5 pounds*
All stats per BoxRec.com.
*Official weight at last fight in February 2021.
Billy Joe Saunders' Tale of the Tape
Record: 30-0, 14 KOs
Weight: 167.25 pounds*
All stats per BoxRec.com.
*Official weight at last fight in December 2020.
Styles make fights.
And Saunders, though he's an underdog for a reason, will certainly arrive in Arlington with a style that could give Alvarez some challenging moments.
Not only will the undefeated Englishman have the requisite statistical edges in height (5'11" to 5'8") and reach (71" to 70"), he's also a slick southpaw who can move well and counterpunch—an approach that's been troubling in the past when employed by the likes of Austin Trout and Erislandy Lara.
Trout went 12 rounds with Alvarez back in 2013 and was down just 7-5 on one official scorecard, while Lara had a similar 7-5 edge in the eyes of one judge while dropping a split decision just 15 months later.
In fact, though Floyd Mayweather Jr. was not left-handed, he was similar in that he fought behind a jab, didn't allow Alvarez to plant his feet and used speed and angles while inflicting the Mexican's lone career loss between the Trout and Lara bouts in September 2013.
That said, Alvarez has evolved greatly since that fight, which occurred when he was just 22.
He's a clever and patient counterpuncher these days who throws effective punches to both the head and body, but his most predictable path to victory here will be walking Saunders down, controlling space in the ring and forcing his opponent into prolonged exchanges.
Remember the highlights?
The sweeping right hand that dumped James Kirkland. The majestic overhand right that flattened Amir Khan. The wicked liver shots that folded Liam Smith and Rocky Fielding like origami.
Make no mistake, it's not the only facet of his well-rounded game, but that doesn't change the fact that Canelo Alvarez is a world-class power-hitter both upstairs and downstairs.
He's scored 37 KOs across 55 wins, including 11 in his last 20 victories since he captured his first world championship at 154 pounds back in 2011 and against reigning or past champions like Kermit Cintron, Khan, Liam Smith, Fielding and Sergey Kovalev.
As for Saunders, well, maybe not so much.
His career KO clip of 46.67 percent isn't exactly "Hands of Stone" material, and just one of his 14 stoppages has come in a world title fight, against the dubious Marcelo Coceres—who'd arrived at their 2019 bout in Los Angeles having won exactly one fight outside of Argentina.
Wins over the more familiar likes of Martin Murray, David Lemieux, Willie Monroe Jr., Andy Lee and Chris Eubank Jr. all went the 12-round route and were as much a product of evasion as concussion.
Bottom line, if this fight is won based on the landing of heavy punches, it won't be Saunders winning it.
Saunders plays defense, but not the smash-mouth type.
His ability to avoid punishment is based on his ability to stay out of range. He'll be light on his feet and move around the ring, popping jabs and one-twos in order to frustrate Alvarez.
Erislandy Lara took that defensive tack to the extreme, avoiding nearly any semblance of conflict in a 2014 bout that was as much a track meet as it was a fight. It was enough to earn him the nod on one official scorecard, but Alvarez himself dubbed the clash "a marathon" in the aftermath of his split-decision win.
Two years and three fights later, Amir Khan tried the same thing until he was knocked unconscious.
Meanwhile, Alvarez slips punches, bobs and moves his head on an elite level, which forces foes to double-down on their efforts to land shots and thus leaves them within range for precise counters. He also uses his feet well to pivot and move in and out of range—allowing him to both defend and attack from angles.
He's never been knocked down and, even in bouts against bombers like Sergey Kovalev and Gennady Golovkin, has never been punished to the point where a loss has seemed imminent.
Billy Joe Saunders' X-Factor: Welcome to the Big Time, Kid
It's a fact that Saunders is an unbeaten two-division world champion.
He's won 30 straight fights across a nearly 12-year career, including seven straight with title belts on the line.
But what's just as true as those things is the fact that none of the foes Saunders has encountered have been on nearly the level of what he'll see in front of him Saturday night. It's just his third fight outside the friendly confines of the United Kingdom and the first time he'll share the marquee on a significant pay-per-view card.
If he's everything he says he is, the sudden change in magnitude won't mean a thing.
But if he looks across the ring and suddenly realizes he's in deeper than he's ever been and with more people watching, it might not be pretty.
Canelo Alvarez's X-Factor: Too Much, Too Soon?
Boxing purists, look away.
Given the prodigious work rates of fighters just a generation or two ago, the idea that Canelo Alvarez is proposing four fights in 2021 doesn't so much as register a blip on the radar.
But these days, it's a big deal.
Alvarez was in the ring just 10 weeks ago for a three-round wipeout of no-hope challenger Avni Yildirim, and the Mexican's preparation for that fight was stunted by a brief bout with COVID-19. Coming back that quickly against an opponent as capable as Saunders, after having had even a brief dalliance with the virus, could conceivably be a problem if the fight gets more rugged than anticipated.
An unlikely scenario? Certainly. But if you're looking for ways Alvarez can lose, it's within range.
Let's not kid ourselves, Canelo Alvarez is a big favorite in this one.
And he should be.
He's done more on the championship level. He's fought and beaten better opposition. He's been the sport's pay-per-view stalwart for a while now and seems completely at home on the biggest of stages.
It'd be one thing if Saunders was a hell-bent-for-leather slugger who might be able to land a fight-changing blow, but the idea that a tricky stylist—even a left-handed one—can beat him at this stage seems unlikely.
But not impossible.
"Stink the joint out, succeed in making it a non-contact fight," former HBO blow-by-blow man Jim Lampley told Bleacher Report when asked if Saunders had a path to victory. "Canelo must be the new attacking Canelo, relentlessly walking him down and trapping him in corners, beat the body to death. If anyone in that weight neighborhood can beat Canelo Alvarez it is Billy Joe Saunders."
Randy Gordon disagrees.
The ex-chairman of the New York State Athletic Commission and current SiriusXM radio host doesn't buy the idea that Saunders—even the best version of Saunders—has the chance to provide much beyond irritation.
"Most of his 14 KOs have been against much weaker opposition," Gordon told Bleacher Report. "He didn't stop Martin Murray, David Lemieux or Willie Monroe. He won't stop Canelo. A 100-percent Saunders loses a one-sided decision to Canelo."
It's hard to contest that kind of logic, particularly when it knows what it's looking at.
So let's not.
Prediction: Alvarez stops Saunders in the 10th round