GUADALAJARA, Mexico -- Against the backdrop of 51,000-plus fans who waited nearly 12 years for their hero to return, Canelo Alvarez retained his undisputed super middleweight championship with a unanimous decision victory over England's John Ryder on Saturday at Akron Stadium.
Alvarez, boxing's top star, battered and bloodied Ryder and floored him in Round 5, but he couldn't put the challenger away. Instead, Alvarez settled for the points win via scores of 120-107, 118-109 and 118-109. The 32-year-old fired home run right-hand shots down the stretch, but Ryder, who said he suffered a broken nose in Round 2 that bled profusely for most of the fight, showed immense courage to hear the final bell.
"It's a historic moment for me," said Alvarez, ESPN's No. 5 pound-for-pound boxer. "I'm glad to be here with my people who supported me from the beginning. I'm very thankful to be here and very thankful with my people.
"He's a very strong fighter, man. And when he's going for everything, they turn it on. [The opponents] are more difficult than usual, but I knew that. I'm in this position a long time ... and I respect my opponents because I know they're coming for everything."
The fight was Alvarez's first since he underwent surgery on his left wrist in October. He admitted afterward that he "needed a couple of rounds to start punching and knowing I'm good with the hand."
Alvarez (59-2-2, 39 KOs) said his surgically repaired hand feels "very good" and that he's now "ready for everything." If it's up to him, that next fight will come against a familiar foe.
Throughout the lead-up, Alvarez said his goal remained a rematch with Russia's Dmitry Bivol, who routed him via decision when they met last May at 175 pounds. The rejuvenated lead hand gives Alvarez confidence he can exact revenge, but he insists the encore encounter must take place at 175 pounds for Bivol's title.
"I want the same terms, the same everything as the last fight," said Alvarez, who plans to fight again on Sept. 16, Mexican Independence Day weekend. "... I think I'm better than him -- that's it. If you see the first five rounds, six rounds, I dominate the fight. But then I get tired, of course, because I don't train at my 100%."
Alvarez said he pushed through the pain in his three previous bouts -- most recently a decision victory over Gennadiy Golovkin in September to close out their trilogy -- and that it hurt to even glove up in the locker room.
Boxers usually look to gain every competitive advantage available, but Bivol insists the rematch must take place at 168 pounds for Alvarez's four titles.
"Why should I even do the rematch at 175," Bivol asked ESPN on Thursday. "What is the challenge or what is the motivation for me if I've already beaten him at that weight class? ... He might have a better chance at 168 because he said that that's his weight class."
Alvarez, though, doesn't want to hear any excuses that he weight-drained his foe. Eddie Hearn, who promotes both Alvarez and Bivol, said he'll start negotiations for the rematch next week.
Hearn is also the promoter of Ryder, who entered the ring rated No. 4 by ESPN at super middleweight. Ryder (32-6, 18 KOs) earned the opportunity at boxing's highest-paid athlete (No. 5 on Forbes' list at $110 million in 2022) with a career year.
"The Gorilla" scored the biggest win of his career in February 2022 when he outpointed former champion Daniel Jacobs and followed up with a victory over Zach Parker in November when Parker suffered a broken hand.
But against Alvarez, Ryder was no match -- Canelo landed 189 punches, more than double Ryder's output. What the 34-year-old was able to do was absorb a beating and keep on coming back for more. He displayed tremendous heart round after round, and even connected on a few good counter shots of his own, particularly an uppercut.
Ryder's best moments of the fight came in Round 8 -- three rounds after he gutted out a knockdown from a sharp right hand -- and in the closing seconds, he was on the canvas again. However, it was ruled a slip.
"I think I got him, but you know, he put the head in front and the elbows," Alvarez said. "... I worked and I'm happy that the people got a great fight."
Canelo almost ended the fight again in Round 9. He connected on two massive right hands that rocked Ryder before a third punch sent him tumbling into the ropes. Ryder somehow fired back -- and then another flurry put him on shaky legs him again, but he never touched the canvas. Instead, the southpaw landed some stinging shots of his own.
The fight was entertaining indeed, even if it was one-sided. But it was clear Alvarez was frustrated the KO never materialized -- he slapped his gloves together twice in the final round after throwing the right hand.
Ryder, with a bandage wrapped around his beet-red nose, said at the postfight news conference that he believes Alvarez is past his best days.
"He couldn't get me out of there," Ryder said. "His plan was to stop me. He didn't."
But Alvarez did score the victory in convincing fashion and remains the face of boxing. If he's past his prime at 32, that won't become clear until another day. He entered the ring wearing a green-and-gold poncho, accompanied by a display of fireworks and a 50-plus member mariachi band.
There was a crown atop his head, too -- the king returned home, nearly 12 years after he left as a world-class boxer, but far from the Mexican legend he would later become.