It was a thunderous uppercut that changed the complexion of the bout as Saunders staggered around the ring preparing for an onslaught that never followed as the matador Canelo taunted his rival, waving around his arms and revelling in the suffering of his opponent.
Despite the savagely persistent work to the body from Canelo, it was that one very punch that sucked all life out of Saunders as he struggled to regain momentum and throw any punches of his own as he bobbed and weaved to buy some precious time.
And the damage to Saunders’ eye was evident as soon as the camera panned to his corner when it soon became clear that this fight would not be going the distance.
Now the pound-for-pound king, who successfully navigated the mind games and tremendous skill of Saunders, will have all eyes on Caleb Plant as he looks to collect the final IBF strap and become the first-ever undisputed champion at 168lbs.
For Saunders, this was a fight that proved he belongs at the highest level yet as always, there will be questions asked of his champion spirit after he was pulled out of the fight, particularly after he previously claimed he would not quit as Daniel Dubois did following a similar eye injury against Joe Joyce last November.
Saunders took the fight to Canelo from the sound of the first bell as he looked to claim the centre of the ring, flicking his jab while moving his feet.
Canelo really started to assert himself in the second round and a series of thumping right hands were met by a thunderous roar from the 73,000 spectators inside the AT&T Stadium. The Mexican crowd wanted blood.
A pattern was quickly emerging in this fight and there appeared to be a stark contrast in punch power, something that was laid bare in the third round when a right hook from Canelo – that would have knocked most off their feet – found the target. Saunders shook his head and smiled.
After his gum shield was nearly blown out by an uppercut in the fourth, Saunders began to find his rhythm as he let his hands go.
Saunders now felt in control as he revved up the crowd at the start of round six before waving on Canelo and dangling his tongue at his opponent, who was looking to claw back momentum amid the power shift.
The 31-year-old was continuing to replicate the movement and elements of Erislandy Lara’s game plan in one of Canelo’s closest fights to date, as Saunders continued to use his jab and move around the 22ft ring that he’d campaigned so desperately for.
Canelo, who predicted a knockout in round eight or nine was now going for the throat as the crowd demanded punishment.
His legs remained strong but Saunders was evidently hurt as he looked to clear his head and refind his mojo but it was clear the Mexican was not going to let him off the hook as he looked to close the show in devastating fashion.
But, the swelling was so significant that Saunders’ corner felt there was no other option but to pull him out of the fight to prevent further and potentially life-changing damage.
Saunders was visibly distraught a short while after as he was captured with a towel over his head as he waited to climb into the back of an ambulance to a local hospital, as his team pushed away the cameras. This was sadly not his night despite moments of huge promise.
This post originally appeared on Daily Express :: Sport Feed