LAS VEGAS -- At first, Saul "Canelo" Alvarez must have seemed that he was in for an early night. Alfonso Gomez came to fight, as he always does, and in fact he also came to fight cleverly, moving in and out with fast combinations. But then, at the end of the opening round, Alvarez landed what appeared to be a hybrid hook/jab, and Gomez went down. He bounced up easily enough, but given the ease with which he had put him on the canvas, Alvarez could have been forgiven for thinking that it was a harbinger of what was to come.
Instead, Gomez, undeterred, kept coming, moving in and out, throwing straight punches in fast combinations. At times, Alvarez's response was to channel Floyd Mayweather, slipping the incoming artillery by shifting his head and protecting it behind a high shoulder. He never looked troubled, but he was being outworked; bit by bit, Gomez was starting to edge away.
But at no point did even a hint of concern cross Canelo's cinnamon features, and by the fifth, he decided to open up, ripping punches to Gomez's body and head. He entered the ring looking as if he belonged in a different weight division, his sculpted body appearing as if it had been squeezed into a 154-pound frame, while Gomez looked every bit the small-to-average-sized welterweight he truly is.
Those physical advantages manifested themselves, expectedly, in far greater power. Whereas Gomez's punches bounced off Alvarez, even when they landed flush, Canelo's ripped into Gomez, their heaviness exacerbated by the torque with which Alvarez twisted into them.
And when Alvarez landed a fast, flush right hand with his back to the corner, the end was in sight. Gomez staggered backward and sideward, clearly affected by the punch, and Alvarez moved in for the kill. He backed Gomez to the ropes and landed several flush blows before the referee stepped in and halted the contest.
The stoppage was premature, but at the same time, less compassion would have only delayed the inevitable. It was notable that, as the referee moved Gomez along the ropes and toward his corner, the fighter stumbled slightly.
For Alvarez, it was a glass-half-empty/glass-half-full performance. On the downside, he was, for several rounds, being outboxed by a popular and efficient but not exactly world-beating opponent. On the plus side, he showed patience, poise and some genuine defensive skills; and when the time came to close the show, he did so in style.
Against that, there is perhaps a sense that much of the time Alvarez is succeeding because of his physical advantages, because on fight night he is so often the much larger man. Eventually, he will have to move to middleweight, where those advantages will either be less pronounced or will disappear. Until then, he will continue to hone his skills in readiness for the time he must face better opposition. And as long as he continues to do so in such dramatic and fan-friendly fashion, plenty of people will pay to watch him do it.