ARLINGTON, Texas -- Most boxing fans would have preferred to see lineal middleweight champion Canelo Alvarez fight fearsome unified titleholder Gennady Golovkin in what many believe would be boxing's biggest fight, but Alvarez and his team had a different plan.
Instead, Alvarez returned to the junior middleweight division, where he once unified belts, to challenge world titleholder Liam Smith. In the end, it was as big of a mismatch as most expected as Alvarez won another 154-pound world title on Saturday night at AT&T Stadium.
Smith was game, but he was no match for the bigger, faster, more powerful Alvarez, who knocked him down three times, including with a brutal left hook to the body that finished him in the ninth round.
The pro-Alvarez crowd of 51,240 -- besting the total of 50,994 that Manny Pacquiao drew for the first fight in stadium history against Joshua Clottey in 2010 -- had come to celebrate Mexican Independence Day weekend at the home of the Dallas Cowboys, and Alvarez gave them the power show they expected.
"I told you I was going to give you a great fight and bring you the championship, and here it is," Alvarez told the adoring crowd. "I started controlling him, but in the second round I hurt my hand. I hurt my right hand, so I had to use my left more often. I only used sparingly my right hand, but that's what happened."
Even with one healthy hand, Alvarez dished out a beating on England's Smith, who was making his third title defense and fighting in the United States for the first time. He was also facing his first top opponent and found out Alvarez was on a different level.
"He was too good and skillful today, and I was too slow," said Smith, 28. "I did hit him with some jabs and right hands, but to be more competitive I needed better timing, and my timing was off. I think maybe if I waited a little longer and gotten more experience I would have been able to fight a guy like that better. I am very disappointed."
Alvarez (48-1-1, 34 KOs), 26, got off to a good start in the opening round, which was fast paced. He measured Smith (23-1-1, 13 KOs) with hard jabs and worked the body without taking much in return. He continued to attack Smith with more body shots and right hands in the second round. Smith did not look nearly as physically strong as Alvarez, who threw a lot of combinations.
Alvarez showed tremendous versatility with his punches. He landed combinations and fired right hands to the body followed by uppercuts that Smith had no answer for. If Alvarez's hand was hurt, it did not look that way with the steam he had on those shots. Even when Smith did connect, Alvarez was right there to answer, usually with something harder.
Alvarez opened a cut in the corner of Smith's right eye in the fifth round, which ended in a spirited exchange, after which Smith shoved Alvarez at the bell and smiled at him.
But Smith was getting beaten up, and Alvarez continued to land combinations in the sixth round as Smith's eye got worse and worse. Midway through the seventh round, Alvarez put together a combination, including a left to the body and a right hand to the side of the head, that dropped Smith near the corner. He made it to his feet quickly but absorbed punishment in the round. Alvarez continued to pound the game Smith to the body and head in the eighth round of what had become a big-time mismatch.
Alvarez dropped him for the second time in the eighth round with a crunching left hook to the body late in the round. There was no quit in Smith, but Alvarez was just too powerful and accurate for him to deal with. It looked like a matter of time before Alvarez would get the knockout.
It came in the ninth round, when Alvarez landed a brutal left hook to the body. He sunk it in hard, and Smith dropped to the mat in agony. As Smith was writhing in pain, referee Luis Pabon waved off the fight without a count at 2 minutes, 28 seconds as the crowd went wild. HBO will replay the pay-per-view fight next Saturday (10:05 p.m. ET/PT).
"Liam Smith was a resilient fighter," Alvarez said. "He was tough, has a lot of heart. He thinks before he attacks. I could tell in the way he blocked and 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.
"I felt he was very strong in the beginning, so I felt I had to put that body work in so slowly, so he would dwindle and I did my job."
According to CompuBox punch statistics, Alvarez landed 157 of 422 (37 percent), and Smith landed 115 of 403 (29 percent), but Alvarez's punches were obviously more powerful. Alvarez also had a 113-68 advantage in power punches landed.
"No excuse from my point of view," said Smith, whose streak of eight consecutive knockouts came to an end. "I couldn't really land nothing clean. He was too cute for me tonight. I was slow and had no timing to even make him think twice. He was cute. I didn't really land to the body much tonight. He caught the body shots well and landed some of his own."
Of course, moments after Smith had been vanquished, attention turned to the prospect of a fight with Golovkin, who last week traveled to London and scored a fifth-round knockout of welterweight titleholder Kell Brook, who moved up two weight classes.
Although Alvarez drew a big crowd for the third boxing card at the stadium -- Pacquiao headlined the other two in 2010 -- most boxing fans were bitterly disappointed when he did not live up to his promise to fight Golovkin.
After Alvarez brutally knocked out Amir Khan in May, he called Golovkin into the ring and said, "Like we say in Mexico, we don't f--- around. I don't fear anyone. We don't come to play in this sport. I don't fear anyone in this sport."
And at the postfight news conference, Alvarez reiterated his desire to fight Golovkin next. Golden Boy Promotions CEO Oscar De La Hoya made a big show out of it, telling the assembled media that he would call Golovkin promoter Tom Loeffler the next day to begin negotiations, proclaiming that he hoped Loeffler's cell phone would be on.
But instead of negotiating the fight, Alvarez gave up his alphabet belt (which went to interim titleholder Golovkin), left Golovkin and fans around the world out in the cold and returned to junior middleweight to challenge Smith.
Alvarez is due back in the ring Dec. 10 on HBO, likely at Madison Square Garden in New York, and at 160 pounds for the first time as he prepares for the eventual fight with Golovkin, possibly in September 2017. But he won't be fighting GGG next and made no apologies.
"I fear no one. I was born for this, and even though many people may not like it, I am the best fighter right now," Alvarez said. "About a month ago or so we offered [Golovkin] twice or three times as much [money as he had previously made] to make the fight. You know, I didn't want to say anything, because I respect all my rivals, but about a month ago we offered him twice as much. But I'm ready."
Many believe it is De La Hoya who is preventing the fight from happening because he does not want to risk his company's only big money maker, but Alvarez would not throw him under the bus.
"As I said, we are a team. We are a team," Alvarez said. "And I'm not going to blame my promoter or anyone else. I'm ready for anyone. I'm 26 years old. I fought against [one of] the best in history [in a loss to Floyd Mayweather].
"Like I said it before, and I'll say it now, I am the best at this moment in time. Long live Mexico."