Caleb Plant asked real questions of Álvarez, and Canelo found the answers in their thrilling November fight. John Dennen reported from Las Vegas
SHADES of fury pass across Canelo Álvarez’s face. They come and go quick, a storm cloud one moment, clear the next, changing in an instant. After weighing in, he rounded on Caleb Plant with a look of blazing aggression for a final face off, then turning away was almost at once smiling fondly at his young family and waving cheerfully to a legion of fans.
These supporters had poured into Las Vegas almost exclusively to celebrate him. If that energised him, by the time of the fight he was focused, steady, when all around him the sell-out crowd, more than 16,000 strong, roared with cheers of delirious delight. Simply setting foot in the arena at the MGM Grand on Saturday was all Canelo had to do for that mass of fans to hit a deafening fever pitch.
A look of grim concentration took over his expression when the first bell unleashed him on his American opponent and his face changed again to an almost furious satisfaction when, after a demanding, pulsating fight, he could finally to turn away to embrace victory and leave Plant crumpled on the deck at 1-05 of the 11th round.
Plant came into this fight with an awful lot to prove. A quality, unbeaten fighter though he was, he’d never operated at Canelo’s level. In his best win he picked up the IBF belt from José Uzcátegui. Now he was boxing the sport’s undoubted global superstar. The carnival and chaos of being at the heart of the biggest show in town is, at this point, Canelo’s natural habitat. Plant had done nothing like this before and in the brilliant Mexican he was facing a boxer of the highest calibre, one with skill, experience and astonishing power.
But the man from Ashland City, a small town outside Nashville, was more than his 21-0 boxing record. In his past he’d been through the harrowing experiences of his infant daughter passing away and of his mother being killed by a police shooting. For some people life hits far harder than even Canelo Álvarez at his peak.
For a man from a struggling town in Tennessee, unknown in world boxing until Caleb Plant came along, you could say this fight, against this antagonist, on this stage was the chance to make his name. Caleb called it his destiny.
Plant had reacted to the Las Vegas crowd, barracking back after the weigh-in he declared, “It’s easy to sit in those seats.” Having to be the man in the ring is much more difficult. But he wasn’t daunted by Canelo himself. They had a physical altercation at their first press conference and Plant hadn’t shied away from bringing up Álvarez’s six-month suspension back in 2018 for an adverse drug test result, though later he did say that he was satisfied with the testing for this fight.
Álvarez has been on a remarkable run of form at 168lbs. Last December, while outwitting and outboxing Callum Smith over 12 rounds, the 31-year-old left the Liverpudlian with a hideously swollen arm. After a facile victory over Avni Yildirim, he blitzed the talented Billy Joe Saunders at a stadium in Texas, setting an attendance record for an American boxing event. In the process he built his popularity, honed his considerable skillset even further and amassed three of four sanctioning body belts. Against Plant he wanted to complete his collection. More significant though, this fight was to decide the world’s true super-middleweight champion. Canelo is a man of uncommon determination and knew this fight would help him settle his own place in boxing history.
For Plant to make such a leap up in class, instead of having evidence from a track record of truly elite achievement to work off, Caleb had to rely on pure faith in himself. That was no bad foundation though. He didn’t have enough tools at his disposal to win, but he was certainly competitive, especially in the first half of this super-middleweight world championship fight.
Concentrated, Álvarez observed Plant in the first round. He exerted pressure, advancing but throwing few punches. Plant however made use of his jab, springing it up and finding occasions to slide that shot through Canelo’s gloves. He moved off well and stepped round, even as Álvarez grew increasingly menacing towards the end of the round.
Plant’s handspeed was evident as he shot a one-two to Canelo’s body and he cracked a flashing left uppercut into Álvarez’s chin. His punches flickered at Álvarez, landing as Plant backed away. But Álvarez edged forward still, closing Plant in in a neutral corner and he hammered hard right hooks into the American’s side. Canelo wasn’t as busy but he threw his hands with clean power, generating gasps from the crowd every time he let them go. Plant’s feet carried him from side to side, switching his direction to prevent Álvarez pinning him down. But the Mexican diligently plied the body with left hooks when he stepped in range. The American started to feel them. He started to slow.
In the fourth round Caleb made a mistake. With his back pressed against the ropes, trying to escape from a right hook he stepped on to the left. Canelo caught him and opened up, bombarding Plant with a cluster of those harder shots.
He continued to put his trust in those left hooks to the body, confident that investment would pay off later in the contest. He dominated the sixth round, fighting with a familiar confidence. As Plant worried about the left hook to the body, Canelo struck to the head. He drilled in his right and showed off his outstanding reactions as he slipped his head round Plant’s jabs.
But in the seventh round Álvarez relieved the pressure on Plant. He stood on the ropes, daring the American to come for him. Caleb tried to feint his way in, but was reluctant himself to take the bait. So Álvarez stepped up his aggression. He cantered forward, looking to stifle Plant’s movement. Potent rights hit the body and Canelo continued to crank in his left hook.
The ninth was the round the Mexican star had predicted he’d find the finish. But that eluded him. He went at Plant, trying to live up to his forecast. The American resisted the pressure, even working in a sequence of straight punches that finished with his right careering through.
Canelo’s trainer Eddy Reynoso had a job to do to make sure his charge stayed on track. “The first few rounds, they were tough,“ Canelo said. “Eddy was the one that calmed me down whenever I got to my corner and I was getting a little anxious, he’s was always telling me the right things, kept me on my way, kept me on the right path and then the gameplan came to fruition.”
It was also Reynoso’s birthday, but any celebration would have to wait. “I was a little frustrated, especially in the first five rounds,” Álvarez continued. “The second half of the fight, it was exactly how we envisioned it and in the end we came out with the win. That’s all that matters really. In the end even though the frustration was there in the first five rounds, the second part – it was ideal.”
There was a clear difference in power between the fighters. Álvarez could shrug off the shots Plant landed, while his heavy hands landed with effect. Yet even in the 10th round he couldn’t quite get the results he wanted with those hefty rights to body.
So when the end came, it was sudden. Canelo swept a left hook across. The strike pushed Plant’s head down and Álvarez found space for a monstrous right uppercut. It clattered in flush on the jaw, pitching Plant down on his hands and knees. The impact was stunning. As the entire arena sprang to its feet, Plant pushed himself forward and up, trying to regain his balance but he sent himself half-jogging across the ring. He tried to steady himself, pulling his gloves up and nodding to referee Russell Mora that he could continue. Canelo now was after him, chasing him down, utterly ruthless. With another wide-arching left hook Álvarez rocked him badly. He pursued Plant to the ropes, and he had nowhere left to run. Canelo drove his right down, held his left out to line up a cross that cannoned into the side of Plant’s head. The blunt force collapsed him into the ropes, leaving him on the canvas.
Canelo spun away. He didn’t need to give the referee so much as a second glance to know the fight was won. In his moment of triumph Álvarez sprinted across the ring and leapt on the corner post, slashing his fist through the air as the arena erupted all around him. It was a spectacular close to the show.
“It was truly a historic night and I’m so proud to be a part of it,” Álvarez said afterwards. “The connection [with his fans] has always been there and I’m really happy and really glad that the Mexican fans are able to come and witness the fight and share the success with me.”
Plant would be taken to hospital as a precaution, but first spoke with Canelo immediately afterwards in the ring. The bad blood from the press conference when Plant had called him a motherf**ker has been laid aside. Canelo said afterwards, “He told me after the fight that he wanted to keep fighting, he wanted to continue and he also apologised to me and what he said about my mum – he didn’t mean it and he truly was sorry about that and I told him look, ‘It’s okay, It’s water under the bridge.’ I told him he was a great man,” Álvarez said. “We don’t have to take away anything from Caleb Plant. He’s a great fighter, a great boxer, he made a great effort.
“We are human and we want the best for each other in a sport where we have to hurt each other. We are human and what happens in the ring stays in the ring.”
Aftewards, Álvarez stood at a podium for a last audience with the media. A pro from the age of 15, now a veteran of 60 professional bouts, he is confirmed as the global leader in the sport. It’s a position that will be challenged in the years to come, maybe sooner than we think too. But right now he is at the very top. “I love boxing so much,” he said. “Just as much now as I did 16 years ago. I never lost the discipline, that passion and that’s how I’m here to today.”
He spoke like a statesman. There was some slight bruising round his right eye, those the only marks left on him from the fight. From a distance though that was imperceptible. With a final smile, the champion could depart the stage. His face once again was clear.
The Verdict Álvarez is at the summit of the sport and at his peak. But staying there is never easy.