ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Canelo Alvarez jumped into his trainer’s arms while Billy Joe Saunders slumped in his corner with a towel draped over his head.
The wildly popular Mexican fighter added another super middleweight title belt in front of a huge crowd in another fight in Texas. Not only did Saunders have his first loss as a pro, the English fighter might have a broken eye socket.
Alvarez set up another victory in his latest Cinco de Mayo bout with a staggering right hand in the middle of the eighth round, sending 73,126 already-screaming fans at the home of the Dallas Cowboys into a frenzy as we waved his arms to encourage the noise while the round continued.
Saunders’ corner waved in defeat before the ninth while treating a cut under his right eye. Alvarez (56-1-2, 38 knockouts) added Saunders’ WBO belt to his WBA and WBC straps in his third fight in less than five months, and second in Texas.
It was the first loss in 31 fights for the 31-year-old Brit, who was taken to the hospital with a suspected broken orbital bone, fight spokesman Anthony Leaver said.
“I knew the fight was going to develop around the eighth round,” Alvarez, whose only defeat was to Floyd Mayweather Jr. in 2013, said through an interpreter. “It wasn’t as difficult as I expected. I know my preparation is good and I improve day-by-day.”
While the wild celebration dragged on in the ring — to match a wild scene that included two fights in the crowd not far from it — Saunders eventually walked off, booed loudly every time he was shown on the huge video board above the canvas.
“He couldn’t see,” Saunders promoter Eddie Hearn said. “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.”
With pandemic restrictions on attendance long gone in Texas, the festive crowd at 80,000-seat AT&T Stadium was the biggest to date for a sporting event in the pandemic. Organizers have said it would break the U.S. indoor boxing attendance record of 63,352 set in 1978 at the Superdome in New Orleans when Muhammad Ali beat Leon Spinks.
It came a little more than a month after baseball’s Texas Rangers had their home opener in the first full pro sports stadium since the COVID-19 shutdown early last year, right next door at Globe Life Field.
The distinction shouldn’t last long with the Indianapolis 500 planning for about 135,000, or 40% of the track’s capacity, on May 30. But the pro-Mexico crowd enjoyed the moment, dumping decorum by booing in the early moments of the national anthem for Great Britain and singing along to the Mexican anthem.
The wildly popular Mexican fighter joined the folk singers and dancers during his ring walk, after emerging from the Cowboys’ locker room, which made sense for what amounted to a home fight for the redhead.
Thousands of fans waved Mexican flags, some with “Vamos Canelo,” or “Let’s go Canelo,” written on them.
Two current champions were in attendance in heavyweight Tyson Fury, a vocal supporter during fight week of his fellow Brit Saunders, and welterweight Errol Spence Jr., who lives in the Dallas area.
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones watched from his suite in the $1.2 billion showplace that had the retractable roof and huge sliding doors closed. It was Alvarez’s second win in the huge venue, five years after his knockout of Liam Smith.
“It’s difficult to explain,” Alvarez said when asked about the crowd. “I don’t have the words. All the emotions I feel, they give me the motivation to continue on.”
After a tentative first round, the 30-year-old Alvarez took control before Saunders had his best rounds in the fifth and sixth, when the southpaw landed his best left hand of the fight.
Still Alvarez was in control even before the devastating right in the eighth. The crowd roared when he landed the blow, prompting Alvarez to raise both arms above his head, then waving his right arm before the round was over.
“I was winning round-by-round,” said Alvarez, who was ahead on all three scorecards. “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.”
The only missing belt for Alvarez now in the 168-pound division is Caleb Plant’s IBF strap. That was the obvious post-fight question for Alvarez and Hearn.
“Ultimately Canelo will fight absolutely anybody,” Hearn said. “You know who he wants to fight, he told me who he wants to fight, Caleb Plant. It’s all up to Caleb Plant. It has to happen.”
In the co-main event, Elwin Soto defended his WBO junior flyweight title with a ninth-round technical knockout of Katsunari Takayama. It was the third title defense for the 24-year-old from Mexico.
Soto (19-1, 13 knockouts) almost sent Takayama (32-9) to the canvas in the first round and controlled the fight from there against the soon-to-be 38-year-old from Japan. The fight was called at 2:44 of the ninth.