It was a short list, only five times had a fighter ever held all four belts in any given weight class since the WBO strap became recognized as a major world title. The esteemed list being Josh Taylor (junior welterweight), Terence Crawford (junior middleweight), Bernard Hopkins (middleweight), Jermain Taylor (middleweight) and Oleksandr Usyk (cruiserweight).
We can now write a sixth name into that elite group, with Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez registering a stoppage win in the 11th round to add Caleb Plant’s IBF strap to the WBC, WBA and WBO titles he already owned and becoming the first man ever to unify at super middleweight.
Despite the loss, Plant remains a force in the super middleweight division, having entered the bout as the #2 fighter on the Ring Magazine list.
IN THE RED CORNER – SAUL ALVAREZ
A Boxing legend in the making, Canelo enters every fight knowing his opponent has a life changing opportunity in front of them. The Mexican great is the pound for pound number one ranked fighter as per Ring Magazine, the Ring champion at super middleweight and a four-weight world champion over the course of his career. As a result, becoming the man who beats the man will fire any future conqueror into the pound for pound discussion and to the top of his weight class.
Since a majority decision loss to the legendary Floyd Mayweather Jr. in 2013, Canelo had racked up a 15-fight undefeated streak that included wins over Miguel Cotto, Gennadiy Golovkin and Sergey Kovalev for the world light heavyweight title. Most recently, Canelo fought Billy Joe Saunders in Texas, with the English fighter retiring on his stool after having his orbital bone shattered.
Entering the fight as a heavy bookmakers’ favorite, Canelo told Showtime of his plan to take away the left hook of Plant, and slow down the lateral movement of the American using body shots.
IN THE BLUE CORNER – CALEB PLANT
Underdog Plant entered the fight as the undefeated IBF world champion, having won that title with a unanimous decision victory over Jose Uzcategui in 2019. Plant knocked down his Venezuelan opponent in rounds two and four, before going on to win the fight by scores of 116-110, 116-110 and 115-11.
Plant defended the title with back-to-back stoppage wins over Mike Lee and Vincent Feigenbutz respectively, before outpointing Caleb Truax via unanimous decision last time out.
Carrying a five-inch advantage in height, and a three-inch advantage in reach, Plant said pre-fight that Canelo had yet to face a man with such “size, power and strength.” Plant was confident of his ability to pull off the upset by using feints, lateral movement and what he claimed to be superior boxing IQ.
Having fought through major adversity in life, Plant gave the impression before the fight of being a man consumed with rage. Some would find that understandable, with the Tennessee born fighter having lost his infant daughter in 2015 and suffering the loss of his own mother just months later. Plant made the promise of honoring his daughter by becoming a world champion and was as good as his word courtesy of the win over Uzcategui.
The emotion of Plant spilled over in the prefight press conference, with a heated exchange resulting in the pair throwing blows at each other on stage. Canelo’s trainer Eddy Reynoso explained that the incident had made Canelo’s “blood boil,” but an unphased Plant did not back down at any point when discussing the incident.
At the weigh-in for this fight, a combative Plant taunted the booing pro-Canelo crowd by telling them it was “real easy to sit in those seats, real hard to be up here” before staring down Jim Gray and giving curt, borderline hostile answers to questions put forward.
A fired-up Plant told Showtime TV of his desire to “do unbelievable things, live an unbelievable life” in pre-fight interviews, and a win over Canelo would prove to be just that.
The fight may have been taking place in the home nation of Plant, but it was a crowd heavily in favor of his Mexican opponent, with loud chants of “Canelo” breaking out before the ring walks.
The voice of Muhammad Ali stating “I’m gonna show you how great I am” preceded Plant’s ring walk, before the American confidently strutted to the ring unphased by the audible booing. The jeering continued as Plant stepped between the ropes and skipped around the ring in a circle, as his proud wife Jordan looked on from ringside.
Mexican superstar Fher Olvera, lead singer of Mana was next on stage, leading the crowd in a loud chorus of hit song ‘El Rey’ before the red headed superstar everyone had come to see appeared, bouncing up and down readily in a gold poncho. Wife Fernanda Alvarez blew a kiss as Canelo made his way down the aisle before entering the ring to riotous cheers from the crowd.
In the opening minute of the fight, Plant was the more active fighter as he threw out jabs while circling the ring. During a Canelo attack, Plant grabbed the Mexican’s lead arm before referee Russell Mora separated the pair. After almost two minutes, Canelo threw his first significant punch of the fight, unleashing a chopping right hand.
Canelo backed Plant onto the ropes and threw blows, sparking the crowd into life before Plant circled his way out of trouble and landed more jabs to likely edge the round despite absorbing one last body punch as the bell rang.
Plant was living up to his nickname ‘Sweet Hands’ as he continued to land jabs at the start of round two, Canelo responded by firing off a lead hook and three uppercuts from in close. Alvarez backed Plant onto the ropes and landed three blows before Plant moved out of trouble and landed several shots of his own.
The distance between the fighters was starting to be closed with more intent by Canelo, who landed left and right-hand shots in the corner, then later found the target with hooks to the body and head.
Canelo stalked Plant onto the ropes, with the American throwing jabs as he tried to avoid vicious hooks from his advancing Mexican foe. Plant was looking for ways to stem the tide and used a good feint to open the path for a clean left-handed shot to the face of Canelo. The round ended with Plant being on the wrong end of hooks in the corner in what was a better round for the crowd favorite Alvarez.
“Relax, follow the game plan, it’s fine, we’re good.” The words of Reynoso, Canelo’s long-time trainer, were encouraging to the Mexican in the early stages of the fight while both men were wrestling for the upper hand. “Receive when you go in, try to be careful and feint a little bit, keep moving,” were the instructions before the bell rang for round three.
Plant landed several slick blows to open the third round, before Canelo continued his pattern of walking forward and backing his opponent into corners. Plant fired off an uppercut to keep the Mexican at bay but received two hooks on the counter as a result. Plant landed a straight shot then ducked under a counterattack and moved out of range.
Canelo remained on the front foot while the slick Plant kept managing to land jabs and move out of danger. Canelo closed in with Plant on the turnbuckle and landed three hard blows but could not pin down his slippery opponent.
It was Plant who was first to the punch in round four, peppering his foe with quick jabs and scoring shots. In the second minute of the round, Canelo threw a flurry of blows, whaling away at Plant with hooks as the crowd roared in approval.
Plant responded with stiff jabs and straights, continuing to fight well off the back foot with good movement. The speed of Sweet Hands was on display in the final minute, with Canelo missing a hook and receiving a clean counterpunch to the face. Canelo continued to invest in body shots and landed a stiff shot to the face, but Plant continued to land jabs in a round likely edged by the American.
To open round five, Plant took position in center-ring and landed jabs and a stiff straight punch on an advancing Canelo. Plant was eventually backed onto the ropes, and Canelo landed a solid left hand to the body before being warned by referee Mora to keep his punches up. Veteran official Mora also warned Plant not to pull down the head of Alvarez before signaling for the bout to continue.
Canelo advanced once again and attacked Plant on the ropes, as the American leaned away and soaked up blows in a defensive shell. In a fairly even round, it was Canelo who landed the heavier shots to bank a 10-9 round in a so far well-balanced fight.
Alvarez listened to the instructions of Reynoso between rounds while choosing to stand, perhaps in an attempt to show his seated opponent how much energy he had left. Plant rose from his stool and fired off a quick one-two combination to start the round, before landing a crisp blow to the face. Canelo walked him onto the ropes and threw powerful hooks to the rib cage, continually executing his stated pre-fight plan of investing in the body to slow Plant’s lateral movement.
Plant continued to probe for an opening and landed several jabs, but Canelo responded with the more powerful strikes in the second minute of the round. Plant circled the ropes before absorbing four solid punches in what was turning out to be a strong round for Canelo. Plant tried to register scoring blows to end the round, but good head movement from Canelo made him punch air.
“Throw the right when he crouches, this is where we start turning it on,” said Reynoso in the corner between rounds.
Canelo heeded his trainer’s advice, burrowing forward on the offensive before referee Mora separated the pair. A strong attack by Canelo was broken up by a counter right from Plant, but the Mexican was starting to apply telling pressure. In the final minute of the round, Canelo found himself on the ropes while Plant patiently sought out an opening. A clash of heads caused a brief interlude later in the round before Canelo advanced and unloaded with several shots during one last attack.
The corner man of Plant was becoming concerned with the powerful close-range blows being landed by Canelo. “Make sure you’re doing your best to tie him up when he steps in,” instructed trainer Justin Gamber between rounds.
Canelo landed a hook early in round eight, but Plant countered with slick jabs and good defensive head movement. The Mexican landed a heavy hook before Plant heeded his trainer’s advice and grabbed on for a clinch before referee Mora stepped in to separate.
Alvarez closed the distance and landed four more shots before Plant held on to break up momentum again. Canelo continued to stalk forward and throw heavy blows, while the American broke up the fight rhythm with holds and good footwork to move out of harm’s way.
When the round ended, it was clear that momentum was starting to swing in Canelo’s favor and Plant would need to land a big shot or bank multiple 10-9 rounds to swing the direction of the fight back in his favor.
Trainer Reynoso rallied Canelo for one last push in the corner between rounds, imploring “four more rounds, let’s go, you have this” before the bell rang to start round nine.
It looked like Reynoso was correct as Canelo strode forward and landed heavy blows throughout the first half of the round. Plant appeared to be slowing under the barrage of punches but continued to jab and look for a heavy shot to gain a footing in the fight. Canelo continued to cut off the ring and relentlessly threw hooks to the body and head in yet another positive round for the pound for pound king. Plant threw four punches to end the round but the fight appeared to be slipping away from him on the scorecards entering the final quarter.
Likely knowing he was behind on the scorecards, Plant was more active to open round 10 and fired off jabs in rapid fashion. However, it was not long before Plant found himself with his back to the ropes again, while Canelo worked away to the body. Canelo leaned on his opponent, with Plant poking his head through the ropes and forcing Mora to step in and reset the fight. The pace of the fight slowed in the last minute of the round, with Plant on the back foot pawing with the jab and moving out of range.
The fight entered the last two rounds with Plant likely needing a knockout to win. Despite needing a stoppage, Plant was no more aggressive than Canelo, who walked the American back onto the ropes and dropped him with a powerful left hand and uppercut. Sensing blood in the water, Canelo mercilessly attacked a dazed Plant before ending the fight with a vicious onslaught that forced Mora to step in and wave off the fight.
WHAT THEY SAID
“You are a great fighter,” Canelo said to Plant as the pair embraced and shared respectful words post-fight. “Things happen,” Canelo described as Plant talked about the hostility during the fight buildup.
When speaking to ShowTime, Canelo was asked about the achievement of becoming the first man to unify all four belts at super middleweight. “It hasn’t been easy to get to this point. But with your support, my family, my team. We’ve gotten really far. This is for everybody, especially for Mexico.”
After being asked if he will go down as one of the great champions in the history of Boxing, Canelo spoke ot the rarity of this feat. “We are only six, it makes me happy to be one of the six undisputed champions of the world.”
Of his beaten opponent, the undisputed champion said, “my respect for Caleb Plant, he’s a very difficult fighter who has a lot of ability.”
WHAT NEXT FOR THE WINNER
In less than a year, Canelo has entered the super middleweight division with a win over Callum Smith to claim the WBA and WBC titles, before going onto unify the division with subsequent wins over Avni Yildirim, Saunders and now Plant. If he wants to stay at super middleweight and defend his titles, undefeated contender David Benavidez would be a highly touted fight.
If Canelo wants to move up in weight and try and unify a second division, WBC and IBF light heavyweight champion Artur Beterbiev would provide a stiff test. Regardless of his next steps, when we watch Canelo, we can rest assured we are watching a great of our era in action.
WHAT NEXT FOR THE LOSER
There was no shame in defeat for Plant, who fought well against the best pound for pound fighter on earth. Plant introduced himself to a wider audience in positive fashion with this performance and may look to face another top 10 ranked foe to remain in the title picture. Benavidez, Anthony Dirrell or veteran Daniel Jacobs would be marketable options for Plant’s return to competition. If a weight could be agreed upon, undefeated WBC middleweight champion Jermall Charlo would be another intriguing clash.
Author’s scorecard (round by round)