Saul "Canelo" Alvarez returned to action last night, six months after losing his WBC and WBA light middleweight titles to Floyd Mayweather Jr, with a strong display against fellow Mexican Alfredo Angulo at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
From the first bell, Alvarez has no problem hitting Angulo with very hard shots. Angulo showed a good chin but would wilt every time he was speared with the left hook to the body, displaying the punching power of the former champion.
Angulo lands some shots but there was little snap to the punches as he seemed to have low energy, in contrast to Alvarez, who is fighting with genuine venom.
Angulo still seems tentative in the second round, as he threw punches with very little force. Alvarez put a great deal into his shots but connected at a lower accuracy than he had in the first round as Angulo discovered a bit of defense.
Alvarez landed a few bombs late in the round before Angulo finally answered back with some spite to his punches.
Angulo stepped it up in the third but couldn't keep pace with Alvarez, the younger, stronger, faster and more skilled boxer. Angulo connected with more but his punches had no effect as Alvarez walked right through the shots to dish out withering punishment.
After starting the fourth strong, Alvarez's output dipped somewhat from the sheer effort of the first three rounds and a half rounds, allowing Angulo to step it up and drive Alvarez back, finishing the round strong.
Both men started the fifth frame with the jab but Angulo stayed with it, pushing Alvarez back and outworking the younger man for the entire round for the first time in the bout.
Angulo had some success with combination punching but Alvarez picked his spots well, countering off the backfoot and, at times, snapping back the head of Angulo, who suffered a cut above the right eye.
Alvarez kept his distance in the sixth, as he tried to walk the oncoming Angulo into a shot, blatantly pushing Angulo away, as he has been doing in every round but in the sixth, referee Tony Weeks finally motions to Alvarez to knock it off.
Alvarez appeared to put his head repeatedly on Angulo's cut eyebrow at close quarters. Angulo continued to have the higher workrate and pushed Alvarez back but "Canelo" was far more effective with his sporadic efforts.
Angulo continued to march forward in the seventh, winging a high volume of punches, and did very well near the end of the round, but he couldn't hurt Alvarez, who began boxing Angulo similar to how Floyd Mayweather boxed Alvarez; throwing combinations when the opponent is out of position and then dancing away.
Alvarez appeared to tire and continued to blatantly shove Angulo away, right in front of Weeks.
Angulo's face was a mass of bruises by the eighth, with selling around the eyes, particularly the right side. Angulo captured a tired-looking Alvarez on the ropes and whaled away but Alvarez continued his Mayweather impersonation by shoulder rolling away from most of the shots.
Angulo had his best moments of the fight during an exciting second half of the round as Alvarez took to dropping his hands and was lashed as a result.
A spirited Alvarez gestured to Angulo to keep bringing it before reeling off combinations that scored but Angulo continued his successful campaign for his best round of the contest.
Alvarez tried to blunt the momentum of his opponent by upping his own work rate in the ninth round but Angulo fought him to a standstill. Alvarez went to the body but Angulo kept coming forward, getting in a few hard shots that prompted Alvarez to throw and land his own eye-catching power shots that snapped back the head of Angulo.
Alvarez finished the round with his hands down around his waist, again evoking Mayweather by trying to slip Angulo's punches, but with only moderate success.
Alvarez continued to pick off Angulo and early in the round landed a very big left uppercut that snapped back the head of Angulo, prompting Weeks to wave off the contest.
Alvarez appeared to signal his surprise and disapproval at the sudden turn of events, which, not surprisingly, have upset Angulo, who had been taking punishment the entire bout but didn't appear to be specifically hurt by the uppercut.
An angry Angulo threw off the arms of Weeks and stormed around the ring, shaking off anyone who tried to console him, including Alvarez, while appearing to laugh sarcastically at the action of Weeks.
The stoppage did appear to be premature but Weeks had the best vantage point in the house to determine Angulo's well-being and as the person responsible for the safety of the fighters, probably felt that the uppercut was one big shot too many.
Alvarez was clearly a tired fighter the last few rounds and during that time, Angulo was much more effective than in the first half of the contest, but he was still losing the fight.
Is it possible that Angulo, 22-4 (18), could have continued to turn things around and stopped Alvarez, 43-1-1 (31), which represented his only possibility of victory, in the remaining two and a half rounds?
Possible, yes, but likely? No.
Normally, there would be the strong possibility of a rematch given the seemingly early ending of the fight, but this bout was designed as a vehicle to show that Golden Boy Promotions cash cow Alvarez was back as a force, and now that has been accomplished, we can likely expect Alvarez to move onto a world title shot, probably against the inexperienced WBO champion Demetrius Andrade.
The undercard was headed by WBC super bantam champion Leo Santa Cruz, 26-0-1 (15), who dominated former WBC/WBA/IBF super fly ruler Cristian Mijares, 49-8-2 (24), to win a points decision by scores of 120-108, 120-108, 119-109, to retain the belt for the second time.
Lightweight puncher Sergio Thompson, 29-3 (26), outfought Ricardo Alvarez, 23-3-3 (14), by scores of 95-93, 95-93, 97-91 to annex the vacant WBC International lightweight strap.
IBO super feather titlist Will Tomlinson, 21-1-1 (12) was handed his first loss by the unheralded Jerry Belmontes, 19-3 (5), by unanimous scores of 99-91, 98-92, 98-92.
Former WBC feather/WBA super feather ruler Jorge Linares, 36-3 (23), won a WBC lightweight title eliminator with a 100-90, 100-90, 98-92 verdict against ex-OPBF/Japanese titlist Nihito Arakawa, 24-4-1 (16).