ARLINGTON, Texas — Canelo Alvarez could feel it coming.
In the eighth round at AT&T Stadium on Saturday night, the Mexican champion egged on a record-breaking crowd as he pelted Billy Joe Saunders in their super middleweight unification fight. Alvarez inflicted enough damage to enhance his legacy, winning the fight after it was waved off between the eighth and ninth rounds.
Saunders’ right eye had swollen shut, and the bout was called off with Saunders still on the stool. With the victory, Alvarez holds three of the four belts in the 168-pound division.
“I knew this would be final outcome,” Alvarez said through a translator in his postfight interview. “I knew it. I think I broke his cheek and knew he wasn’t coming out of the corner. I told Eddie [Hearn] he wasn’t coming out because I broke his cheek. I knew it was it.”
Saunders, who lost his WBO belt in his first professional defeat, was taken directly into an ambulance and was suspected to have a broken orbital bone, according to his promoter, Matchroom Boxing.
A crowd of 73,126 was announced at the home of the Dallas Cowboys, breaking the record of the largest indoor attendance for a boxing event in the United States. The previous mark was 63,350 for the Muhammad Ali-Leon Spinks rematch in 1978.
The crowd for Alvarez-Saunders is believed to be the biggest gathering in the United States since COVID-19 became a pandemic.
Alvarez (55-1-2, 38 KOs) turned the fight in his direction in the pivotal eighth round. He started to overwhelm Saunders (30-1, 14 KOs) with punches while playing to the raucous crowd heavily favored for one of the sport’s pound-for-pound best from Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico.
The turning shot came in the middle of the ring. Alvarez unleashed a looping, right uppercut that hit Saunders squarely on the right eye as the fighter from Hatfield, England, attempted to duck beneath it. When Saunders turned and walked to his corner, the eye had noticeably swollen shut.
Between the rounds, Saunders’ corner said the fighter couldn’t see and didn’t let him out for the ninth. Before the stoppage, Saunders was effective at circling the ring and landing shots from the outside. At the top of the stoppage, Saunders was down 78-74 on two scorecards and trailed 77-75 on another, with all three giving Alvarez the dominant eighth round.
Saunders’ trainer, Mark Tibbs, told ESPN it was his call to stop the fight and that there wasn’t any objection from others in the corner, including Saunders.
“He’s a young man,” Tibbs said. “He’s got a family. He’s got children. I’ve known him a very, very long time. He lives to fight another day.”
Alvarez maintained that his short-term goal was winning all four belts in the 168-pound division to become the first undisputed champion in the modern era. In the postfight interview, Alvarez clamored for that fight along with Matchroom’s Hearn, who has worked with Alvarez in his three fights since splitting from Golden Boy Promotions.
“That’s the fight that has to happen for boxing — the undisputed championship at 168 pounds,” Hearn said on DAZN. “It’s the must-make fight next. What’s Caleb Plant going to do?”
Throughout fight week, Alvarez said he wanted to secure that feat to enhance his legacy. He took a big step toward that on Saturday night.