There was a sequence at the end of round six of Canelo Alvarez’s victory over Caleb Plant on Saturday night that both changed and ultimately encapsulated the fight. 

In the first four rounds of the bout, Plant found some degree of comfort with an offensive approach built around poking and flicking jabs. Plant, who utilizes a shoulder roll defense, found a routine in offering his jabs, trying to catch Alvarez’s hooks on his elbows, then bouncing and circling out to reset. It may not have won him all of the early rounds, but it at least seemed like he was doing what he intended to do.

At the end of the sixth, perhaps emboldened by the fact that his minimalist approach had kept him somewhat competitive in the early going, started to fire rapid jabs at Canelo’s face. Watching back in slow motion, in one sequence, Plant either pawed with or full-on threw his left hand 21 times, never once landing on Canelo. Most didn’t even touch his gloves. As the sequence went on, Canelo began to drop his hands and bob and weave a little more, as if he had found his rhythm while working on the slip bag in the gym. At one point, the fighters came together, Canelo pushed him back and assumed the same posture as if to say “try again.”

If one had to pinpoint a turning point in the fight, that would likely have been it. Canelo has produced dazzling defensive sequences in the past. There’s a clip of him slipping Daniel Jacobs’ jabs that gets repurposed and re-shared by dozens of boxing meme aggregator sites every once in a while. This one was maybe even more impressive, both because of the magnitude of the fight it occurred during, and because of the length of time Canelo remained untouched. But also, it was in this moment that Canelo realized that his opponent’s one true weapon had been neutralized. If Plant didn’t know it in that moment, he surely started to have doubts about its utility. 

As Morgan Campbell pointed out in his recap of the bout for the New York Times, Canelo is less of a slow starter as he is a patient operator. Canelo wasn’t appreciably more aggressive in the 11th round when he knocked Plant out than he was in the first round. For as much nuance as there is in Canelo’s game, the core principal of the super middleweight version of Canelo in particular is effectively asking his opponent “how long can you put up with this?” From the opening bell, Canelo basically ignored his jab (he landed 15 of them according to CompuBox) and threw power shots almost exclusively. Of the power shots he threw, just over 40% of them landed. Of the ones that didn’t, a good number of them touched something on Caleb Plant, primarily hard hooks absorbed by his arms. 

Prior to the bout, Canelo, fueled by a misinterpretation that Plant had insulted his mother when using the term “motherf----r,” predicted that he would score a knockout by the eighth round. Plant made it past that point, and went on to have his last hurrah in the fight in the following round. At the end of the ninth, Plant threw a quick pitty pat combination that ended with a right hand that connected cleanly.  After the shot landed, Canelo took a step back and seemingly rolled his eyes and exhaled, frustrated with himself that he allowed it to land. The bell rang, and Plant went to his corner with his arms in the air in celebratory fashion. 

The next round, Canelo kept the same steady pressure, but began searching for ways to land a big left hook more earnestly. Once, he was so deliberate in his attempt to go to the inside and step around Plant that he bonked into Plant’s head, leading to a warning from referee Russell Mora. 

There are things to be commended about Plant’s defense in this fight, which Alvarez himself even described as “frustrating” afterwards. In using his shoulder roll defense and keeping his body bladed towards Canelo, he took away many of the lanes Canelo is able to find for his left hook and left uppercut against fighters who position themselves more squarely. Canelo was forced to throw wider shots, or make an extra maneuver to get Plant out of position to land his hooks. By design, the shoulder roll is, first and foremost, a deterrent to the jab, as the defending fighter’s back hand is positioned to parry them. But in doing so, it also makes throwing right hands, in Plant’s case, as anything other than a single shot counter or lead, a little more difficult. 

Plant’s gumption is also to be commended. Utilizing that type of defense against Alvarez necessitates absorbing a lot of shots from one of the sport’s best punchers in order to block them. Much more so than Billy Joe Saunders and Callum Smith, who were actively working to avoid contact but couldn’t, Plant was willing to attempt catch and shoot counters. 

Considering his skillset, Plant’s game plan was probably the best approach he could have taken. 

But the difficulty in fighting Canelo, as Plant found out, is that you’re not just dealing with an explosive power puncher or a nifty counter puncher or a slippery defensive artist or a high motor pressure fighter. You’re dealing with all of it, round after round. Canelo is able to move forward all night long while making you miss, making you pay for those mistakes and doing so with fight-ending power. 

In the 11th round, Plant’s jab had gone away, and his hands and reaction times had dropped just the slightest bit, a consequence of dealing with Canelo all night long. Canelo looped a left hook which scraped the forehead of Plant and sent him to the canvas. Wobbled but determined, Plant tried to jog in his dazed state to a neutral corner. Canelo swarmed him once the referee allowed him to, and before long all Plant could do was turn away while Canelo hammered him with right hands until he fell to the mat for good. 

An endearing aspect of Canelo’s era as the sport’s top figure has been the compassion he’s shown towards even his most antagonistic opponents. After he beat Callum Smith for the RING super middleweight title, he went to visit Smith, whose arm he had battered gruesomely with hooks to the point of visible swelling, in his locker room. Canelo gave him the pair of gloves he used in the fight with the inscription “Thank you, Champ.” After beating Billy Joe Saunders, who was as boorish and needling as possible in the lead-up to their bout, Canelo pushed back against the idea that Saunders was in any way deserving of criticism for not continuing to fight with a horrible orbital injury, telling reporters “when you break that, you can die.”

After stopping Plant, with whom he found personal animosity that resulted in a physical altercation at the introductory press conference for the fight, he embraced and chatted with him in the center of the ring. Even without microphones present, the body language was that of a person offering both consolation and advice to a man he’d just beaten.

“He wanted to keep fighting, and I told him, ‘There’s no shame, we had a great fight today,’” said Canelo in his in-ring post-fight interview. “He did say ‘sorry’ about the ‘motherf------’ incident, that he didn’t mean it that way. I said, ‘We’re men, everything’s okay. Keep going.’”

Corey Erdman is a boxing writer and commentator based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Follow him on Twitter @corey_erdman