Caleb Plant had the desire, the tactics, the belief and then a left hook separated him from his senses and started his heavy fall to the canvas. It was a sudden twist, one the bookies favoured at about 12-1 , and it was also something that all Canelo lovers knew was coming. As Plant slumped, his body naturally turning away, a sickening right uppercut landed flush on his jaw as he folded and fell. Plant was both distressed and hurt and there was 2:11 left of the 11th round at that point. Plant got back to his feet, the fight continued, but his fight was over. Canelo never gives second chances.
Canelo, with about 17,000 fans on his back in support, moved across the canvas of the MGM ring in hostile pursuit of a wobbling, vulnerable, but still resisting Plant. Resistance, however, was useless against the Mexican idol and fighting genius at that point. Plant was caught, hurt, caught, hurt and dropped again. The fight was waved off and the time was 2:05 of round 11. Canelo was soon draped in championship belts and had a gold crown fixed to his head. His fans serenaded him, a full-blown, teary eyed choir of adulation.
Plant lost for the first time in 22 fights and was told in the ring, during the loving embrace at the very end, that he would be champion again. And he probably will; on Saturday it felt like a close fight, one that Plant had prepared for in his head and gym. Plant knew he had to avoid falling victim to Canelo’s pressure. However, avoiding that pressure demands a heavy physical reply – a reply that requires risk – and Plant had the moves, but not the power to hold off Canelo. So far, nobody has found the power to hurt and keep Canelo off.
There is, as ever in boxing, two ways to look at Plant’s tactics; when Floyd Mayweather beat Canelo in 2013 he did so by not getting hit, by using his defensive skills to last the 12 and frustrate Canelo. High on Plant’s list of priorities was not getting hit clean on the chin, and he did his absolute best to take away Canelo’s power, but his plan was considered negative in the quickly fading afterglow of the event. As I said, two views, both different.
Canelo had to chase and think and he missed with a lot shots. Plant was able to smother a lot of Canelo’s punches, the type of punches that usually cause the pain and suffering he so enjoys. Plant was smart, mobile, tough and won many of the early rounds. Canelo losing a few of the first five rounds is standard, I should add.
The crowd’s noise had dipped by about round nine; not because Canelo was getting beaten, but because he was not winning big, not bullying Plant, not scaring Plant. It was a terrific fight. Canelo was read the riot act by his trainer, Eddy Reynoso, at the end of round nine. There was no panic, just a need for Canelo to be a bit smarter. Plant was making Canelo work. Plant was also tired and his face was marked. I had Plant up going into the 10th, but I had Canelo favourite to end it. That, my friend, is the Canelo way.
There was a serious race on; Plant was listening for the final bell, Canelo was looking for the final shot. It was Canelo who found what he was looking for. The fight turned in seconds, turned between pleasure and pain in just a few punches. Plant was brave in those last truly desperate seconds of round 11 and Canelo, possibly, at his most ruthless. That is boxing at this level in just a few seconds of joy and despair.
Canelo became only the sixth man to hold all four versions of the world championship since 1988. He is also the first Mexican and it was the first time that it had been achieved at super-middleweight. They both talked about the belts and the history before the fight, but on the night it was strictly personal, a fight with real edge. The belts just work as a glittering distraction in a fight of such intensity and rivalry.
Canelo has won world titles at four weights, is still only 31, a loser just once in sixty fights and he will leave Las Vegas with a guarantee of $40m. The figure will probably double. Canelo will buy a few trophy horses and then look at his options. There is a chance he will fight in Britain, part of a mission to be a global star.
Incidentally, Plant went off to hospital for a routine check and then, in the chaos that followed the fight’s savage end, the completed scores of the three judges circulated at ringside; Plant was trailing by six, four and two rounds. The six-round margin was harsh, but it was not a fight that would ever be determined by a few numbers. It was a real fight for pride and the great Canelo is all about pride.