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The Mexican moved to 56-1 and became unified world super-middleweight champion by adding Saunders' WBO strap to his collection after the Brit was unable to continue after the eighth round.
'Superb' boxed impressively in front of 73,000 Canelo fans at the AT&T Stadium but retired on the stool having suffered a suspected orbital bone injury en route to his first career loss.
It was an unfortunate end to what had been an excellent and close fight. But the outcome after eight rounds would have been the same as all three judges scoring the fight had Canelo ahead.
Glenn Feldman and Max Deluca had it 78-74 to Canelo, with Tim Cheatham having it slightly closer at 77-75. All three had Saunders winning two rounds (the first and the fifth), compared to six for the victor.
Saunders' work was crisp and clever but the judges clearly felt Canelo's aggressive and volume of power shots gave him the upper hand.
However, unsurprisingly, the judges scorecards caused a stir amongst boxing fans:
Canelo now holds the WBC, WBA, and WBO titles and has his sights set on completely unifying the super-middleweight division by taking on IBF champ Caleb Plant next.
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