Canelo was a matador in this eighth round after delivering the upercut that would ultimately decide Saunders’ fate. His smile was sadistic – he knew Saunders was on his last legs and wanted the biggest post-pandemic boxing crowd to rejoice in the wild end.
The final was one of those slow, excruciating finishes as the message passed from the beaten fighter’s corner, through the referee, to the winner, and then to the barking crowd. This can be a particularly cruel way to lose, the exact opposite of a split second knockout.
The white towel Saunders draped over his head was a reaction to the searing pain of his eye injury, but in reality it was to protect him from the outside world and the intrusive questions that were to come. Has he stopped?
We now know that he suffered multiple fractures of his orbital bone. Until then, he had boxed skillfully in flashes although Canelo landed harder and more often. The loss was Saunders’ first in 30 fights.
The decision to stop his trainer Mark Tibbs was justified by what we now know about the injury. But it was an ironic turn after some of what Saunders said.
He criticized Daniel Dubois for his inability to fight through a broken orbital against Joe Joyce. It now seems like a tempting fate – Dubois is only 23 and is set to return.
The fines incurred over the years by the British Boxing Board of Control meant that Saunders had run out of defenders – Chris Eubank Jr, his former rival, was the first to laugh at his costs.
But it’s worth looking back at what Paulie Malignaggi, who walked the distance with Miguel Cotto despite a broken orbital bone, told Sky Sports after Kell Brook was injured for the second time in 2017.
“When you’re young and haven’t accomplished anything, there’s more fire out there,” Malignaggi said. “When you’re older you think about these things more and more.
The remaining fire within Saunders, a two-weight world champion, is something to consider another time as he recovers from surgery at a Texas hospital.
What matters now is that his conqueror Canelo, now WBA, WBC and WBO super middleweight champion, looks as unbeatable as in sports.
The Mexican is a champion in four divisions and is aiming for Caleb Plant’s IBF belt to go unchallenged. If it does, it will be one of the great 10-month races in modern history – beating a trio of undefeated champions at Callum Smith, Saunders and Plant to take over a division.
This fight with Saunders showed a wicked side to Canelo, something rarely pulled out of his composure, and also new insight into his personality as he spoke English. It has become a fascinating examination of how brutal he is as he is brilliant.
You fail to come out of Guadalajara as a success story without major courage.
He had reacted angrily to Saunders’ inducements in previous days – but years earlier had remained silent when preparing for a fight with Rocky Fielding as he negotiated ransom for his kidnapped brother from a gang in Mexico. . He is not easily confused.
His reaction to Saunders mind games of requiring a ring with specific dimensions was to shrug, allow it and not accept it as an inconvenience.
Then his rebuke of Demetrius Andrade, which invaded his victory speech on Saturday night, was cold and withered. Canelo also has a great sense of humor. Who knew?
He’s the best fighter living in his absolute prime in the midst of a historic race. His two fights with Gennadiy Golovkin, once seen as defining things, now feel like an earlier chapter in a career destined for greater greatness. His only loss, against Floyd Mayweather in 2013, gives the impression of belonging to a totally different boxer.
What comes next for the youngest of the seven brothers who have become professional fighters seems certain – a fight with Plant for undisputed supremacy followed by new offers for history in front of more record crowds (the 73,126 inside the home of the Dallas Cowboys for Saturday’s fight (was an all-time high indoors in the United States).
For Saunders, it’s darker but it’s the barbaric reality of losing on such a stage. He will see major accusations made against him, as he once made against others. But there’s always a way to turn back the clock if he wants one – Britain’s most controversial boxer won’t go away quietly.