Canelo Alvarez is one step closer to his goal of fully unifying the super middleweight division. The Mexican superstar added the WBO world title to his collection on Saturday night, defeating Billy Joe Saunders by an eighth-round technical knockout at a packed AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
The fight was close and competitive in the middle rounds, but some vicious punches from Alvarez in the eighth visibly hurt Saunders, whose right eye swelled up and closed. Saunders was unable to get off his stool and go out for the ninth round.
Alvarez said he knew the damage was done, per The Athletic's Mike Coppinger:
The judges all had Alvarez ahead at the time of the stoppage, per DAZN Boxing:
Alvarez now holds the WBO, WBA and WBC titles at 168 pounds. His next target appears to be set.
"The plan is to go for all the belts, I'm coming for Caleb Plant," Alvarez said after the win, per the DAZN broadcast. Plant, who is undefeated, has held the IBF belt since 2019.
Alvarez was a solid favorite going into the match, but some felt Saunders' awkward, southpaw style might give him fits. Alvarez did start off slowly, throwing just a handful of thudding left hands to the body in the first round, while the twitchy Saunders kept busy with the jab.
Both fighters picked up steam in the second, with Alvarez moving forward more aggressively and using feints to get in range. He did well to change levels with his punches, while Saunders tried to circle away from Alvarez's powerful right hand. Ring's Ryan Songalia liked the early work from Alvarez:
DAZN Boxing showed off some of Alvarez's great reflexes on the defensive side:
Saunders' own head movement saved him from some debilitating punches as Alvarez stepped up his attacks in the fourth round. His power shots, especially those to the body, kept Saunders from going on the front foot, although the latter looked more fluid and comfortable than he did in the first nine minutes. A left hook caught Alvarez's attention, per DAZN Boxing:
The sixth saw Saunders do a good job of blocking the left-handed body punches that gave him trouble in the early rounds. It allowed him to stick Alvarez with his own counters, breaking up the favorite's forward momentum.
Women's boxing champion Claressa Shields felt this was the best showing from an Alvarez opponent since Gennady Golovkin:
After some close rounds, Alvarez roared back in the eighth. He clipped Saunders multiple times, including a devastating right uppercut, and the latter's right eye swelled up quickly. Saunders, who had looked loose and confident for a few rounds with a lower guard, went back into his shell and went into survival mode for the final minutes or so of the round. He wasn't able to get out of his corner.
After the fight, promoter Eddie Hearn confirmed Saunders "couldn't see out of his eye" after the eighth round. He also said the plan is for Alvarez to fight Plant next, which would give him a shot at unifying all four major titles in the super-middleweight division.