Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez produced a near-flawless display to unpick Callum Smith and take the British fighter’s WBA world super-middleweight title belt.
The Mexican shone in Texas as he all but froze Smith out over 12 rounds with calculated pressure, spiteful punching and evasive defensive work.
Smith struggled to land anything heavy and was told by his corner he had “one more round” after a torrid ninth.
He admirably fought on but lost 119-109 119-109 117-111 on the judges’ cards.
Alvarez - who has only one defeat on his record from 57 fights - also picked up the vacant WBC world super-middleweight title, meaning he holds two of the four significant belts at 168lbs.
“I’m devastated. I came here to win,” Smith told DAZN at the Alamodome in San Antonio. “No excuses, he was very good.
“It could have been a better version of me tonight. He is smart and he is clever. He closes ground, sets traps and before you know it he’s closed the ground up. I maybe let him close the ground up too easily.”
‘A bad beating’
Smith’s seven-inch height advantage had formed much of the foundation for those stating he could defy his underdog status.
But Alvarez refused to take a step back at any point. He shut down space patiently, remained compact, showed head movement and ultimately made himself difficult to hit.
When he was close enough, he jabbed smartly and loaded up with his trademark shots to the body.
At the end of the fifth, Smith’s three older fighting brothers shouted “better” from ringside as he began to throw more but in the seventh, Alvarez - the youngest of seven fighting brothers - landed hard body shots on the counter and a fine uppercut.
A hard right hand sent Smith slumping into the ropes in the ninth and, with his nose bloodied, he replied to trainer Joe Gallagher he was “fine” after it was made clear he would only get one more round.
Ominously, four-weight world champion Alvarez explained he knew he could take Smith’s power “from the first round” and at no point was he rebuffed.
He simply presented a puzzle Smith never looked like solving and by the 10th round, US broadcasters were calling the fight “a bad beating”.
“This is one of the best nights I have had,” said Alvarez, who added he would consider a third fight with Gennady Golovkin.
“One of the greatest nights. I will go for more. I want all the belts, it doesn’t matter who has them. I don’t run from anybody. I have fought against the best. I have shown the world I fight the best.”
A hunger clearly remains
Alvarez - whose sole loss in 15 years was against Floyd Mayweather - continues to underline why he is the sport’s best-paid star.
A restricted crowd of fewer than 15,000 may have impacted on his overall earnings in his first bout in 13 months but his quality is undeniable, his rivals look a class below and crucially his hunger appears undiminished.
The iconic middleweight Marvin Hagler once said: “It’s tough to get out of bed to do roadwork at 5am when you’ve been sleeping in silk pyjamas.”
The sight of Alvarez walking round the fight hotel’s bubble in designer pyjamas this week prompted questions as to how much more he could give.
His status, earning power and lifestyle are far removed from the life he knew on his family’s farm as a child but there can be no doubt his grit and desire remain, and future rivals will need to find something special to stop him.
Smith can be proud of his own journey to face a man he once dreamed of fighting. Alvarez, though, was simply too good.
More to follow.