'I think I broke his face': A powerful Canelo Alvarez keeps adding to his game

As Canelo Alvarez was receiving plaudits from the record crowd at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, previously unbeaten WBO super middleweight champion Billy Joe Saunders, his vanquished opponent, staggered into the back of an ambulance waiting to take him to a local hospital for an X-ray.

“I think I broke his face,” Alvarez said, matter-of-factly.

Indeed he did.

Alvarez stopped Saunders after eight thudding, crunching, powerful rounds. He landed a counter right uppercut, dropping low and turning into the punch like he was trying to drive his fist through Saunders’ face. Saunders didn’t go down, but that was the fight right there.

Saunders is a good fighter; hell, he’s a very good fighter. He’s smart and he’s tough and he knows how to box.

His problem is he was fighting one of the sport’s all-time greats who, at just 30 years old, is actually adding to his game.

Alvarez’s power has dramatically improved since his victory over Gennadiy Golovkin in 2018. Alvarez moved to super middleweight after that fight and in the six bouts since, has gone 6-0 with four knockouts. In the process, he added the WBA, WBC and WBO super middleweight titles as well as the WBO light heavyweight title that he quickly relinquished.

He’s not a big guy for the division and he’s not insanely muscled. But he’s improved his technique, he’s improved his conditioning and he’s improved his footwork. Those three things have led to the noticeable addition of pop in his hands.

That was evident in the first round. Alvarez did next-to-nothing in the fight’s opening 90 seconds, as Saunders flicked a couple of jabs at him. But in the final 90 seconds, Alvarez landed a few withering body shots that served as a notice to Saunders that this wasn’t Martin Murray, Marcelo Esteban Coceres or Shefat Isufi he was in the ring with.

No, this was a highly skilled, perfectly trained killer whose boxing skills are every bit as good as Saunders’ but who now, in the second half of his brilliant career, is separating himself from the pack by becoming a crushing puncher.

ARLINGTON, TEXAS - MAY 08:  Canelo Alvarez punches Billy Joe Saunders during their fight for Alvarez's WBC and WBA super middleweight titles and Saunders' WBO super middleweight title at AT&T Stadium on May 08, 2021 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Canelo Alvarez punches Billy Joe Saunders during their fight for Alvarez's WBC and WBA super middleweight titles and Saunders' WBO super middleweight title at AT&T Stadium on May 8, 2021 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

His body attack is soul-sapping, and though he didn’t knock out Callum Smith in September, he beat the life out of him by the middle point of the fight by brutalizing his midsection.

Saunders was badly outgunned, but he put up a good effort. But even though he threw 284 punches to 206 for Alvarez, Alvarez landed at a much higher pace, 35 percent to 21. That’s because Saunders was more intent on getting out of punching range and was flicking shots at Alvarez as Alvarez fought like he was going downhill.

IBF champion Caleb Plant on Canelo's radar

As expected, Alvarez called out IBF champion Caleb Plant after the fight, looking to add Plant’s IBF title that would make him the first Mexican-born fighter to hold four belts simultaneously in one division.

Boxing politics will undoubtedly play a part, as Plant is with the Premier Boxing Champions and Alvarez is with the competing Matchroom Sport.

But as Alvarez promoter Eddie Hearn, who deserves credit for a brilliant job promoting and staging Saturday’s high-class event, gestured at the American indoor record boxing crowd of 73,126, his point was obvious. There is nothing that Plant can do that will pay him as well or be as significant as if he fights Alvarez.

So strong was Alvarez on Saturday that he not only added Saunders’ WBO belt, but he essentially rendered Plant’s IBF title meaningless. If Plant chooses to go in a different direction and not face Alvarez for the undisputed title, no one would regard him as a legitimate champion regardless of any belt around his waist. Fortunately, Plant is the kind of guy who seeks out challenges, but sometimes the business side of things gets in the way of what makes the most sense.

Alvarez will fight a big fight in September regardless of what Plant and the PBC decide. If it’s not Plant, Golovkin, now promoted by Matchroom and Hearn, would make a massively appealing option.

Imagine what that fight would be like now with A) the dislike between the two and B) Alvarez’s newly found power. It would have the potential to be like the famous 1985 Marvelous Marvin Hagler-Thomas Hearns fight.

Is Canelo the greatest Mexican fighter of all time?

Alvarez had always been a solid puncher throughout his career, but he’s packed on the power as he’s gotten bigger, which often isn’t the case.

He’s the complete package, adept at every aspect of the game. There is nothing he’s not at least above average at and he’s well above average in most boxing tasks.

He’s gotten to a point in his career where it’s reasonable and fair to ask if he’s the greatest Mexican fighter in that boxing-mad country’s rich history. He’s 56-1-2 with 39 knockouts at 30 years, 10 months old.

When Julio Cesar Chavez Sr. was 30 years, 10 months old, he was 87-0 and had just defeated Terrence Alli en route to a showdown with Pernell Whitaker. Whitaker clearly won that fight, even though it was stolen from him and scored a majority draw.

Chavez was on the decline by that stage in his career, unlike Alvarez, who is ascendant. It’s not inconceivable that Alvarez could unify the super middleweight belts and add a few more light heavyweight titles before much longer.

And given how active he is — Saturday’s bout was his third fight in five months — he could fight 15, 20 or even more times. If he wins those, his record would compare a lot more favorably with Chavez’s.

He’s what you want every fighter to be: He’s active, he seeks out challenges, he’s always in great condition and he’s continually adding layers to his game. The Alvarez of 2021 is vastly better than the Alvarez of 2017, let alone the Alvarez of 2013.

It doesn’t seem there’s much more to his game that he could add, but if there’s something to do, don’t doubt for a second he won’t be working feverishly to do it.

The man is legitimately great, as he showed by pounding an elite opponent like Saunders into submission on Saturday.

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