Photos: Will Hart
By Kieran Mulvaney
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Liam Smith staggered backward, dropped to his knees and rolled to his back, his face contorted in agony. He lifted his knees as if to squeeze out the pain, but to no avail. His effort had been resolute and determined, but guts and desire proved no match for the strength and skill of Mexico’s Canelo Alvarez, who broke Smith down over the best part of nine rounds with an impressively varied arsenal of punches before ending the contest with a picture-perfect left hook below the ribcage that sent Smith to the canvas for a third and final time in an absorbing junior middleweight battle.
Smith (23-1-1, 13 KOs), from Liverpool, England, arrived in Texas as the defending champion, but this was the Canelo Alvarez show from beginning to end. The great majority of the 51,240 fans who filled AT&T Stadium – surpassing the attendance for either of Manny Pacquiao’s bouts here in 2010 – were cheering for the Mexican; and for virtually the entirety of the fight, the Mexican gave them plenty to cheer about.
From the outset, Alvarez (48-1-1, 34 KOs), not normally known as a fast-starting, high-output or especially fleet-fisted fighter, began brightly, throwing combinations that sought to both pierce and bring down Smith’s high guard. His left hook and uppercut in particular found a home in an opening round in which Smith did little except take stock of the situation and settle in.
The Englishman showed some more verve in the second, working behind a stiff jab and right hand and backing Canelo to the ropes. But Alvarez showed a smart defense – parrying and slipping the bulk of what Smith threw at him – as well as a succession of hooks and uppercuts that kept Smith on the back foot. Alvarez later claimed to have hurt his right hand in that second round, and certainly he loaded up on left hands for much of the rest of the fight.
A series of lefts thudded against Smith’s ribcage and head to start the third, and then a rare right snuck behind Smith’s guard to wobble the champion, before Alvarez launched a titanic left uppercut that whistled past Smith’s face.
Slowly but surely, however, Smith was working his way into the contest, standing up to Canelo’s blows and walking forward behind a stiff jab. In the fifth and sixth rounds, Canelo’s punch output dipped and the Mexican began to show signs of fatigue. Smith, bullying Alvarez to the ropes, threw short left hooks of his own and glancing rights that Alvarez mostly slipped but that were starting to land with greater frequency. Alvarez sought to counter off the ropes, but the fight was now being fought on the Briton’s turf, at close range and with a premium on strength over skill. Still, Smith was paying the price for his effort and when he returned to his corner after the sixth, blood was streaming from a cut over his right eye.
It would get worse in the seventh for Smith. Canelo was beginning to time Smith’s mauling attack with greater precision, and as the champion pressed forward, the Mexican landed a pair of body shots and then a right hand that dropped Smith on to his back. He comfortably beat the count and was fighting back hard by the bell, but a corner had been turned.
Smith was down again in the eighth, and this time his visit to the canvas presaged the ultimate conclusion. A close-quarters Smith assault on the ropes was met with a sequence of fast right uppercuts and then a wicked left hook that caused Smith to back up, briefly take stock of the situation, grimace and then drop to one knee. Somehow, he gathered himself to walk forward again, but Alvarez was perfectly comfortable now and merely biding his time, waiting for the right opportunity. It came in the ninth with as good a left hook to the body as a fighter could possibly hope to throw, and with 2:28 gone in the round, referee Luis Pabon looked at the fallen Liverpudlian and, realizing he would not beat the count, waved the contest to a halt.
“Liam Smith was a resilient fighter, he was tough, has a lot of heart,” said Alvarez afterward. “He thinks before he attacks, I could tell in the way he blocked in the way he approached me. The body shot was what I focused on, making sure I worked his body down, and that is what secured the victory today.”
Smith, despite being cast as the underdog, had never accepted the role, and was crestfallen in defeat.
“Canelo was too good today,” he admitted. “I needed better timing, my timing was off tonight. If I would have waited a little longer and gotten more experience I would have been able to fight a guy like that better. I am very disappointed.”