British boxer Billy Joe Saunders was set for surgery on Sunday afternoon after suffering multiple orbital socket fractures and facing questions about his future in the ring after becoming a victim of the heavy-handed predatory fists of Saul 'Canelo' Alvarez.
The Mexican secured a stoppage victory when Saunders was unable to start the ninth round of their world super-middleweight contest in Texas after a brutal uppercut in the eighth left him badly hurt and unable to see out of his right eye. Saunders was in no position to continue, sat broken on his stool in his corner, but until then it had been a compelling contest played out as expected in their diverse styles. But Canelo, who has become a real predator in the ring, mopped up Saunders' World Boxing Organisation super middleweight crown to add to the World Boxing Council and World Boxing Association belts he already held.
The 30-year-old star of boxing then called out Caleb Plant, who holds the International Boxing Federation title, for a fight in September in which Canelo will have the opportunity to become the first Mexican fighter to be an undisputed champion in the division. Canelo is becoming better and better as a closer, and has won three fights in 140 days, two of those against unbeaten champions in Saunders and, at the turn of the year, fellow Briton Callum Smith, who was ranked the No 1 in the division at the time.
For Saunders, assuming his eye injury does allow him back into the ring - and it will take several months to recover - there are three fights out there for him: Smith, Chris Eubank Jr in a rematch from their fight seven years ago, and Gennady Golovkin at middleweight. Of all three rivals, the battle with Eubank would offer the most attractive fight for fans.
Indeed, Eubank was quick to comment on his social media channels, winning a £10,000 evens bet with a bookmaker that Saunders would be knocked out in the fight. Boxing is full of hubris, and this was one of those moments, as Eubank sank the knife in deep against a foe whom he clearly has venom for.
Saunders left the arena immediately - although his team were involved in a fracas with Mexican fans ringside - and into an ambulance to a medical centre. The promoter Eddie Hearn explained: "Billy went straight to hospital and I believe he will have been operated on immediately. So he is going to be out for a long, long time. But we know Billy Joe Saunders is a world class fighter. He lost to the pound-for-pound No 1 and he boxed well.
"So for me, it all depends on what he wants to do. He made a shedload of money tonight, he boxed on the biggest stage you could possibly box on, he’s a two-weight world champion and he just lost the unification fight to the pound-for-pound No1. If he wants to carry on, there are some big fights for him but he may feel he’s got to a stage where he’s been there, he’s done it, he’s seen it all."
Saunders had his successes in this fight against Canelo, moving well, and in rounds five, six, and seven, he showed a confidence and swagger in the ring in being elusive and making the Mexican miss. And yet, the power Canelo carries makes him a difficult, dangerous opponent, and Saunders, who suffered his first loss in his 31st contest, does not carry the kind of power that his opponent brings.
Targeting the body early, Canelo cleverly hunted Saunders, who held his own behind the jab, but when the finish came in the eighth round, it was decisive. Canelo landed a brutal right uppercut as Saunders ducked down, breaking his foe's face, and in the same round, hit the Briton with an uppercut through the middle that almost knocked his mouthguard out. Clearly hurt in the closing minute of the eighth stanza, Saunders covered up on the ropes, and as he sat on his stool, his face a picture of dejection, his trainer Mark Tibbs relayed to referee Mark Calo-oy that he was pulling his fighter out.
The decision immediately called into question Saunders’ vow not to ever quit in a fight, as he told Telegraph Sport before the fight “I would go and go and go until I couldn’t breath anyway, I’d rather get knocked out cold or have a haemorrhage fit, every which way but lose”. But Tibbs knew better than to listen to a fighter’s desire to fight on at all costs.
"His eye socket was caved in and he couldn’t see. I didn’t get the response I wanted from him. I had to pull him out,” said Tibbs.
Canelo, outstanding once more, said, in his post-fight interview: "I knew he would not come out for the next round, I knew I had broke his cheek and I told my corner [after the eighth round]."
Although some observers had Saunders ahead, others had it 4-4 after the eighth round, and the three ringside judges had it in favour of Canelo.
The event, aired on digital broadcaster DAZN, set an attendance record in the United States for an indoor boxing event, with 73,126 in the Dallas Cowboys Stadium cheering on Alvarez on the Cinco de Mayo weekend. It broke the American indoor attendance record of 63,352 for the heavyweight championship rematch between Muhammad Ali and Leon Spinks at New Orleans Superdome in 1978.
Promoter Hearn also added on the broadcast that he is expecting to provide an update on talks to complete the Tyson Fury- Anthony Joshua undisputed heavyweight fight, headed for Saudi Arabia in August "later this week."
Report: Canelo stops Saunders with devastating stoppage
Saul "Canelo" Alvarez has taken another step towards becoming undisputed champion of the super-middleweight division by adding the WBO belt of Billy Joe Saunders to his WBC, WBA and Ring Magazine belts. He stopped the Briton on his stool after eight hard-fought rounds with the right eye socket or cheek broken by the Mexican's huge uppercut in front of a record indoor crowd of 73,000 at the Dallas Cowboys Stadium in Texas.
Saunders was in no position to continue, with an area around his right eye discoloured and sunken.
To that point, it was a competitive fight with many of the rounds close, though it was Canelo’s power punches which told, as slick southpaw Saunders moved cleverly and kept himself in the fight by making the Mexican, who targeted the body early, miss with most of his power punches. But Canelo, working his way into the fight, and looking for openings, had seen Saunders ducking low as he moved and swayed with his head, and capitalised ruthlessly.
Canelo, regarded as the number one fighter in the sport, hunted Saunders down throughout the fight. Although the British fighter showed great skills and timing - putting the revered champion on the back foot at times - and, near to the shifting point in the fight in the eighth round, found a rhythm and was keeping Canelo off him.
Then the uppercut came into play, and several of them landed in the eighth, bringing the contest to a close.
In the post-fight interview on the DAZN digital platform, Canelo said that he had felt that he had broken his 31-year-old rival's cheek or orbital bone.
“As I said beforehand, the fight was going to develop by the seventh or eighth round. That’s what happened. But it wasn’t as difficult as I expected. That’s where I take note that my preparation is good, and I improve day-by-day," Canelo said.
“The fight I was winning round-by-round. I told you, my fight would develop after six or seven rounds. But I started getting adjusted quickly. "I knew that this [the eighth] was going to be the final round. But I knew it. I think I broke his cheek, and I knew he wasn’t going to come out. That was it.
"The plan is to come for the [IBF] belt [held by Caleb Plant]. I’m coming, my friend.”
The judges all had the fight to Canelo at the time of the technical knockout. Glen Feldman 78-74, Tim Cheatham 77-75 and Max DeLuca 78-74.
Promoter Eddie Hearn said of Canelo's stoppage of Saunders: "He couldn't see. I spoke to Mark Tibbs [his trainer], he said he couldn't see and he wouldn't let him go out. He busted his eye socket."
Carl Froch, the former super middleweight champion, working ringside, said: "Billy Joe Saunders did himself proud. One shot can change a fight. That's a bad injury when it's the orbital socket."
Saunders was taken by ambulance immediately after the fight for medical checks at a local hospital.
'I think I broke his cheek'
Canelo: "I thought I was winning the rounds. I said I would knock him out. I think I broke his cheek, I said to my trainer Eddie Reynoso in the corner that I had finished him. I want to unify the division."
Eddie Hearn, the promoter, says Saunders "could not see. He busted his eye socket. Saul Canelo Alvarez will fight anybody. If Caleb Plant wants it, he has it. Look at this crowd. Why wouldn't he want it?"
And it's over - Canelo the winner
Saunders is unable to answer the bell for the ninth round. TKO.
Saunders' corner threw in the towel.
Canelo adds the WBO belt to his WBC and WBA 12st titles.
Replays show a huge right uppercut into the eye of the ducking Briton.
In the corner, he must have been in pain, or it is possibly a broken orbital socket, surmises former world super middleweight champion Carl Froch, who is commentating ringside.
Round 8 verdict
Two huge uppercuts from Canelo have badly damaged Saunders' right eye, marked underneath, and the Briton is in defensive mode for the rest of the round.
Canelo puts his hands in the air, feeling the confidence.
And it's over. Saunders' eye is too bad to continue. He retires on the stool.
Canelo wins by TKO.
It's an odd end to the fight, with Saunders ahead in the fight on my card.
Round 7 verdict
Hands down, great rhythm by Saunders, out-punching and out-boxing Canelo.
He's moving around and using the ring well. Great generalship.
The Mexican is loading up and missing with huge shots.
Round 6 verdict
Great evasion and counters by Saunders in the first two minutes of the round, and he is making Canelo miss.
Good end to the round by the Mexican with five power punches landed.
Very competitive fight so far.
Round 5 verdict
Saunders jabs Canelo's head back in an excellent round for the Briton who is light on his feet, fluid, confident and lands uppercuts and jabs.
Canelo is loading up for big shots, and largely missing. More of this from Saunders could gain him ascendancy.
Round 4 verdict
This is a much closer round.
Canelo catches Saunders with body shots, and a great right uppercut, almost knocking his gumshield out.
Saunders is busier in this round, too, and edged it.
It's about power to the body so far from the Mexican.
Round 3 verdict
Canelo's heavier punches are clearly telling - he lands a big right hand, taken well, but it is forcing Saunders to move around the ring and become more defensive.
Heavier shots are beating the jab.
Canelo now in a rhythm.
Round 2 verdict
A much more successful round for Canelo - landing hard to the body several times. Saunders felt it, and one big right hand.
Saunders still jabbing, but needs to land with combos and move.
Round 1 verdict
Saunders is pawing, pushing out his left hand.
Both are cagey.
Canelo is crouched, patient. Left to the body, pawed, by Canelo.
Saunders is jabbing, winning the round with his jab, but Canelo landed three lefts to the body and one winging shot to the midriff, which is blocked on the ropes by the Briton.
People's champion is out
The people's champion, of Mexico and beyond, is out to mariachi magic... got to love it... Quite beautiful, in fact. Cinco de Mayo weekend, after all. The fistic dance is now near... Canelo looks all business. As ever.
He acknowledged the huge crowd, circling with his right arm raised, in a snazzy D&G poncho.
More than 30 million Mexicans will be watching this live.
Saunders has been waiting, bobbing, weaving, kicking his feet out, in the ring.
Briton Saunders taking it all in his stride
Saunders thoroughly enjoying his walkout - looking loose limbed and soaking it all up inside this cavernous stadium.
Nerves do not look like an issue.
Last words and a prayer
The anthems... three of them: British, Mexican and... USA.
The Saunders team are huddled in the dressing room, with last words and a prayer. Unity always important for the one man making his lonely walk...
It's a win for Saunders, predicts Tyson Fury
DAZN have interviewed world heavyweight champion Tyson Fury, who is out in full support for Billy Joe Saunders.
The "Gypsy King" is insisting that Saunders has the self-belief to do this, and will not be intimidated by either the partisan crowd or Canelo.
"I believe Billy Joe Saunders will get a points victory over Canelo tonight," said the sartorially dressed Fury, showing a bruised left side of his face. He has clearly been sparring...
'Record breakers' for Canelo vs Saunders
A whopping 73,126 people are attending the fight in Texas.
Tonight's judges and referee announced
It's time. The Texas Combative Sports Program - the state's sports commission - has assigned Nevada’s Tim Cheatham, California’s Max De Luca and Connecticut’s Glenn Feldman as the judges tonight.
Mark Calo-oy, from Texas, has been appointed as the referee and will be our third man in the ring. He has been in both dressing rooms to go over the rules with our two world champion prize fighters.
Saunders is very good, but can he be great tonight?
The Telegraph's Boxing Correspondent Gareth A Davies will tackle our live coverage of this fight...
We are half an hour from the main event at the Dallas Cowboys Stadium.
In the co-main event Mexican Elwin Soto - La Pulga (the flea), to give him his ring sobriquet - is battering Japanese veteran Katsunari Takayama, an aged former champion. But the 106-pound light flyweight Takayama will go out on his sword, in spite of the aggression from the young Mexican...
We have seen Saul Canelo Alvarez and Billy Joe Saunders in their dressing rooms, their hands are being wrapped, and the tension is building.
There are 70,000 fans in the arena. They boo Saunders every time the Briton appears on the vast screens.
Saunders will walk first, Canelo last. After the phoney war of hype and posturing, the fight.
When the bell finally tolls tonight in the battle between destruction machine Canelo and boxing stylist and rebel Saunders, deep pride and global bragging rights are at stake.
Styles make fights, and this is a classic: bull versus matador; Mexican warrior versus Romany Gypsy boxer; iron will versus skill, a raft of narratives around respect and rivalries that will bring together two prize fighters who have been on a collision course for four years as they climbed the ranks and, according to both, since their bodies first lit up at the prospect of fighting.
It promises so much. And it should deliver. They are both in their prime. And the dance, at super middleweight, four years in the making, is a superfight of global proportions.
Canelo, four-weight world champion, regarded as the No 1 pugilist, pound for pound, on the planet, and commanding huge fees of £25 million per fight, steps into the ring in Dallas as a strong favourite.
The 30-year-old Mexican is hellbent on hurting Saunders, having felt a "lack of respect" this week, towards both himself, and the nation in love with the sport - and indeed, the red-haired one.
Saunders has laughed it all off, maverick, jester, picaro, and rebel, as the 31-year-old can be in his many guises.
Yet the depth of this challenge they both face will hinge around just how switched on Saunders is, how much he can frustrate the Mexican, and whether he can deliver a masterclass boxing display.
Saunders is undefeated in 30 contests, and at his very best and moving like a ghost in the ring, makes this a mouth-watering prospect.
We know Saunders is very, very good, but can he be great tonight?
The fighters' records
Saul Canelo Alvarez
Alvarez turned professional aged 15 back in 2005 and has fought 58 times.
His record stands at 55 wins (37 by KO), one loss and two draws.
His sole defeat came to Floyd Mayweather at light-middleweight back in 2013 when the Mexican was a raw 23-year-old.
Billy Joe Saunders
Saunders turned pro after losing in the second round at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and has an unblemished professional record of 30 fights, 30 wins (14 by KO).
He has won WBO world titles at middleweight and super-middleweight, and is currently ranked the fourth best super-middleweight in the world by The Ring magazine.
Making an entrance...
Could it be seventh time lucky?
Canelo Alvarez has made a habit of fighting - and beating - British boxers in his career to date.
Billy Joe Saunders is the seventh fighter from these shores to take on the man from Guadalajara - and will be hoping to succeed where the previous six failed.
Here's a quick run-through of the Brits who have been beaten by boxing's pound-for-pound king.
Matthew Hatton, light-middleweight, March 2011 - lost by unanimous decision
Ryan Rhodes, light-middleweight, June 2011 - lost by TKO in round 12
Amir Khan, middleweight, May 2016 - lost by KO in round 6
Liam Smith, light-middleweight, Sept 2016 - lost by KO in round 9
Rocky Fielding, super-middleweight, Dec 2018 - lost by TKO in round 3
Callum Smith, super-middleweight, Dec 2020 - lost by unanimous decision
Billy Joe Saunders is in the building
Canelo shares appreciation for his fans
More than 60,000 fans in stadium to witness contest
Hello and welcome to our live coverage of the blockbuster super-middleweight unification fight between Saul "Canelo" Alvarez and Billy Joe Saunders.
Alvarez, who is widely regarded as the No 1 pound-for-pound fighter on the planet, is hoping to add the Briton's WBO belt to his WBC, WBA Super, and Ring Magazine titles in what is one of the biggest boxing events of the year.
More than 60,000 fans will be at the AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, to witness this mouthwatering contest as coronavirus restrictions in the US begin to ease.
Two-weight world champion Saunders is unbeaten in 30 contests but this clash against boxing's poster boy is his toughest challenge by some distance.
Saunders enters the fight after a comfortable points win over Martin Murray in December, while the Mexican destroyed overmatched mandatory challenger Avni Yildirim inside three rounds in February.
Alvarez has lost just once in 58 fights - to Floyd Mayweather back in 2013 - and has already won world titles in four weight divisions, from 154lbs to 175lbs (light-middleweight to light-heavyweight).
But the never-knowingly understated Saunders has projected confidence that he has what it takes to topple boxing's kingpin.
He said: "I believe I am the only one with the footwork, knowhow, skillset, mindset and brain to unlock that door in Canelo.
"He’s the main man in the sport and the face of boxing. You have to give him respect, he hasn’t ducked anyone, he’s beaten good names, but nobody is unbeatable, and I believe I have got the tools to beat him if I use them properly."
And when the fighters went face to face for the first time on Friday, Saunders told Alvarez: "You've never been in the ring with someone like me. You've never seen anybody with this [kind of heart]."
The Mexican - whose use of English is often sparing at best - responded simply: "You are going to see."
It promises to be a thrilling contest - will Saunders be able to use his slick movement to keep the fight at range or will Canelo's relentless pressure be too much for the Briton to handle?
We are going to see.