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Canelo Alvarez vs. Billy Joe Saunders preview: A big three-belt unification at 168 lbs

A full preview of Saturday’s big super-middleweight title showdown between Canelo Alvarez and Billy Joe Saunders.

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Canelo Alvarez v Billy Joe Saunders - Press Conference
Canelo Alvarez and Billy Joe Saunders shake hands with Matchroom Promoter Eddie Hearn looking on during the press conference.
Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

Canelo Alvarez (55-1-2, 37 KOs) will take another step towards unifying the super-middleweight division when he faces WBO champion Billy Joe Saunders (30-0, 14 KOs) on Saturday at AT&T Stadium. Canelo already owns the WBC and WBA straps and would only miss Caleb Plant’s IBF belt to fully unify the division if he was to win this week end.

Canelo took the belts in December with a dominant decision win over Callum Smith and predictably stopped Avni Yildirim in three rounds in February. While Saunders is a sizeable underdog, he has a few tools to trouble Canelo. He is a southpaw with a good jab and head movement, a profile Canelo hasn’t faced since his fights with Erislandy Lara and Austin Trout over 7 years ago.

Those, particularly Lara, were some of Canelo’s trickiest fights. The open stance match up limited the effectiveness of his left hook and he had to rely on his jab, defense and potshotting with his straight right to the head and body. However, though he was challenged technically in those fights, he still won them without much controversy and he is a better fighter now than he was back then. Saunders throws more volume than Lara or Trout but that will probably prove to be a double edged sword as it will give more countering opportunities to Canelo who is definitely the bigger puncher. Saunders will probably be hard to hit early and might even take a couple of early rounds on volume but Canelo will pressure and counter him and as the rounds progress and the right straights to the body pile up, he should take over and win a comfortable decision.

In the co-main event WBO light flyweight champion Elwin Soto (18-1, 12 KOs) defends his title against former minimumweight champion Katsunari Takayama (32-8, 12 KOs). Soto took the belt from Angel Acosta in 2019 with a 12th round come from behind stoppage. He’s a fun brawler who mostly throws big hooks, particularly a nasty left one to the body. He is probably too limited to have a long run at the top of the division but it should be an entertaining one. Takayama held every version of the minimumweight title at least once at some point from 2004 to 2016. He retired in 2016 but came back at light flyweight in 2020.

Takayama has a very good jab and excellent footwork, if he was in his prime I would pick him to outbox Soto quite easily. But he is 37 years old and has fought six rounds in the last five years. He looked good in those six rounds and easily defeated Reiya Konishi but his legs seemed to go in the last round and Soto will have six more to get to him. Takayama will probably have a good start before age catches up to him and Soto stops him late.

The most interesting fight of the undercard sees 2016 bronze medalist Souleymane Cissokho (12-0, 8 KOs) take on Kieran Conway (16-1-1, 3 KOs). Despite being a bit in the shadow of heavyweight gold medalist Tony Yoka, Cissokho is in my opinion the best prospect to come out of the French Olympic team that won six medals in Rio. He’s a solid boxer puncher who looks ready for a step up in competition. Beating Conway would get him ranked by the WBA as the fight is for the intercontinental title. Conway is big for the weight and has a decent jab but is very limited otherwise particularly when it comes to his footwork and defense. He’s also not a big puncher so Cissokho should win but how good he looks doing it will say a lot about what his ceiling is in a very good superwelterweight division.

Canelo vs Saunders airs on Saturday May 8th on DAZN at 8:00pm ET / 5:00pm PT.