The ruthless nature of boxing was seen in the white towel Billy Joe Saunders draped around his head as he slowly made his way to a waiting ambulance on Saturday night in Arlington, Texas. He then used the towel to cover his bruised and swollen face.
Twenty minutes earlier, Saunders had cut an equally desperate figure in his corner as he told his trainer, Mark Tibbs, he couldn’t see with his right eye. A brutal uppercut from Saul “Canelo” lvarez in the eighth round had caused an immediate and horrible bulge. Saunders knew the damage was significant, both to his eyes and his chances of causing a huge surprise by defeating Álvarez in their world super middleweight unification fight. Tibbs turned to the referee to signal that the fight was over before the ninth round could begin.
As the journey began to the hospital room where Saunders would be examined in the hopes that he had suffered a fractured orbital bone, the brash and at times heinous British fighter had time to reflect on the painful lessons of the week. He had arrived in Texas full of his usual swagger and boasts, and he seemed convinced he would remove Álvarez’s WBA and WBC belts and add them to his own WBO world title.
Saunders had tried various stunts all week. He threatened to withdraw from the fight following a dispute over the size of the ring. He spent much of his time trying to provoke Álvarez with coarse needling. But, generally, Saunders overstepped the mark when he mocked a Mexican interviewer’s use of English – which seemed a bit rich when his own fluency in his native language can be temperamental.
He remains a skilled operator in the ring. Saunders boxed confidently in the first seven rounds. He moved smoothly and landed flurry of punches to win a few rounds and ensure that by the end of the seventh he remained in contention in an interesting fight of contrasting styles. But it was obvious that Lvarez, the world’s best pound-for-pound fighter, wasn’t flustered.
Fighting like a southpaw and often keeping his hands low before throwing his serpentine jab, Saunders kept Álvarez busy while staying off the ropes, where he knew the Mexican would do his most hurtful job. But Saunders is a light hitter compared to Álvarez, who throws much harder and heavier punches, especially on the body. A simple statistic after the fight told a clear story. Álvarez landed 58 powerful shots against 30 thrown by Saunders.
Only one of those punches was needed to change the entire shape of Saunders’ contest and face. Álvarez dodged a Saunders right hand in the eighth round, then, with crisp precision, uncorked his own devastating right. It was a shaking uppercut, thrown perfectly by a master of his craft, and he rocked Saunders. His head recoiled and he staggered back. The damage was immediately visible, and lvarez approached with menacing authority. He knew the fight had changed course and he waved to his roaring supporters, urging them to make even more noise.
Saunders reached the end of the round, but all of his fiery spirit had evaporated as he crawled into his corner. An attempt was made to stem the swelling, but Tibbs quickly confirmed that Saunders was a beaten fighter.
Álvarez punched his chest in defiance of Saunders, who had upset him during the week and prompted the normally restrained Mexican to predict he would win by knockout between rounds seven and nine. “It wasn’t as hard as I expected,” lvarez said coldly, insisting he had won almost all of the rounds. “I think I broke his cheek. he did not go out [for round nine]. “
He paid a moving tribute to the predominantly Mexican crowd of 73,126, who set an attendance record for boxing in an indoor area in the United States. Texas has long flouted all Covid restrictions, but the turnout was still astonishing. This latest Canelo centerpiece has been heralded as ‘night boxing is back’ – but, with few masks in the crowd and no social distancing, the health implications during a global pandemic have been flatly overlooked.
Eddie Hearn, who promotes both men, was as expected in the winner’s corner and insisted that “the only fight there” for Álvarez is a final unification contest to clean up the super middleweight division. . Caleb Plant is the holder of the IBF title. Even before facing Saunders, lvarez had said he planned to unify all the belts by defeating Plant in September. He reinforced that message in the ring when he turned to the camera, as if speaking directly to Plant, and said, “I’m coming. I’m coming, my friend.
It will be a huge salary for Plant – but fraught with danger. There are also various obstacles to overcome. Plant is promoted by the notoriously elusive Al Haymon, who may be reluctant to risk him against a Supreme Champion in Álvarez. It adds to the familiar tangle as Hearn tries to keep relentless Álvarez happy by ensuring a fight he wants so badly.
Hearn defended Saunders against allegations he had resigned. “He couldn’t see. He broke his eye socket.
Away from the heckling and hoopla, Saunders sat quietly in the ambulance as she left the arena. He was in that sad, lonely place of boxing reserves for those who had all the great speeches beaten. One day, maybe years from now, Canelo Álvarez will likely end up here as well, but by Saturday night his current dominance was evident. He was kissed by his family and friends, by fans and experts, as everything seemed secure in his kingdom.
There was no such joy for Saunders as the ambulance moved through the dark streets. At the hospital, he would learn the full extent of the damage he suffered during a grueling night of boxing.