LAS VEGAS — In the moments after Saúl Álvarez’s 11th-round knockout win over Caleb Plant, the sellout crowd at the MGM Grand Garden Arena rejoiced. The vast majority of the 16,586 spectators supported Álvarez, now the undisputed boxing world champion at 168 pounds.
Officials and supporters of each fighter climbed into the ring, and one person in Álvarez’s corner waved a Mexican flag. Álvarez grew up in Guadalajara, and has said he wants to retire as the greatest Mexican fighter in history.
And amid the crowd and the celebration, the two fighters, who had engaged in an ugly shoving match at a September news conference, embraced and traded conciliatory words. Plant, according to Álvarez, said he could have continued fighting, and apologized for the vulgarity that triggered the September brawl. Álvarez said he accepted the apology, and praised Plant as a great fighter.
We only have Álvarez’s account because Plant, who suffered his first loss as a professional, left the ring before speaking with reporters, and went to a hospital for a precautionary examination.
Like most fighters who have faced Álvarez recently, Plant, now 21-1, fought hard, then bent until he broke. The victory was Álvarez’s third straight by knockout or retirement, and the 39th stoppage win of his career.
More importantly, Álvarez, who entered the bout with the World Boxing Association, World Boxing Council and World Boxing Organization titles, picked up the International Boxing Federation belt to become the division’s undisputed champion. While boxing fans often lament that a proliferation of sanctioning bodies makes it tough to determine who exactly is the champion in a given division, Álvarez ended the debate at 168 pounds.
“To become the first Mexican unified champion means a lot to me,” said Álvarez, who is now 57-1-2. “That makes me happy. It motivates me.”
An undisputed champion is a rare distinction in modern boxing. The sport has 17 weight classes, but only two fighters with belts from all four major sanctioning bodies. There’s Josh Taylor, the super-lightweight champion from Scotland. And now, after the 11-round boxing lesson he dealt to Plant, there’s Álvarez.
Plant, 29, from Ashland City, Tenn., won the I.B.F. belt in January 2019, with an upset victory over a Venezuelan, José Uzcátegui. From there, he reeled off three more wins, using a stiff jab, combination punching and a tight defense. He had seen other fighters try — and fail — to neutralize Álvarez with a long reach and stiff jab. Callum Smith tried that strategy last December. Álvarez pounded him with body shots en route to a lopsided unanimous decision win.
Plant, however, promised a different skill set and different outcome.
“Smith is not the boxer that I am. He don’t have the skills that I have,” Plant said in an interview in October. “That’s what those guys did, but those guys aren’t me.”
But soon after the opening bell, the fight fell into a familiar pattern.
Plant circled and retreated and used his jab to keep Álvarez at a distance. Álvarez stalked Plant, deflecting as many jabs as he could, developing a sense of Plant’s timing and looking to win by attrition. Álvarez is less a slow starter than a patient one, happy to land heavy blows that will drain opponents later.
In Round 4, he landed a left hand to Plant’s forehead that sent sweat flying. Four rounds later, a looping right hand went over the top of Plant’s defense. In the 10th, Plant fought more aggressively but absorbed harder punches than he landed.
Another left hook to the head started the sequence that dropped Plant. The knockdown was the first of his career. Another salvo from Álvarez put Plant down face first, prompting referee Russell Mora to stop the fight.
“He’s a great fighter,” Álvarez said. “We don’t have to take any credit from him.”
According to CompuBox, Álvarez landed 117 of 361 punches, but only 15 jabs. The rest of his connections were power punches — left hooks, right hands and uppercuts. Of the 101 punches Plant landed, 59 were jabs.
One of those shots landed hard enough to make a mark on Álvarez’s right cheek. But none of Plant’s punches could stop Álvarez from taking the I.B.F. title, and becoming a rare undisputed champion.