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Canelo Alvarez knocks out Liam Smith, and takes another step toward a bout with Gennady Golovkin

Canelo Alvarez polished himself for the clash that awaits, and felt so good about his ninth-round knockout that he spoke of being a finished product. 

"I fear no one. I am the best fighter at this moment," Alvarez said Saturday night.

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In front of a crowd of 51,420 at AT&T Stadium that exceeded both of Manny Pacquiao’s 2010 fights here, Alvarez stopped Liam Smith and took another step toward unbeaten middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin.

The victory makes Mexico's Alvarez (48-1-1, 34 knockouts) the new World Boxing Organization junior-middleweight champion.

Alvarez, 26, and his promoter Oscar De La Hoya opted to relinquish Alvarez's middleweight belt in May rather than fight Golovkin (36-0, 33 KOs), with De La Hoya promising to make the fight a year from now.

Clearly, there was a strategy in play to take fights that would better prepare Alvarez for the 34-year-old who has dominated lesser competition.

And taking on Smith, who had knocked out eight consecutive opponents while fighting exclusively in England, provided a proving ground against a resilient world champion.

While knocking Smith down in the seventh and eighth rounds before finishing him at 2 minutes, 28 seconds of the ninth, Alvarez spent Saturday passing the Golovkin-mandated tests.

He received some pun-ishment from Smith, who landed 115 of 403 punches, and answered back impressively with more powerful blows. Alvarez landed 157 of 422 punches and hit Smith with 113 power shots while Smith responded with 68 power punches.

Smith was cut twice — above and to the side of his right eye.

"Liam Smith was a resilient fighter," Alvarez said. "He was tough, has a lot of heart."

Alvarez said he acknowledged he felt pain in his right hand in the second round, which his trainer, Chepo Reynoso, indicated afterward wasn't serious.

"I was actually only using my left hand for the most part, making sure [it] was connecting with power," Alvarez said. "The body shot was what I focused on, making sure I worked his body down, and that is what secured the victory."

Indeed, the knockout was gained by a hard left to the ribs that forced England's Smith (23-1-1) to crumple to the canvas and writhe in pain as referee Luis Pabon waved him out.

"He was too good and skillful and I was too slow," Smith said. "I did hit him with some solid jabs and right hands, but I needed better timing and I was off today.

"If I had waited a little longer and gained more experience, I'd be able to fight a guy like that."

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Alvarez understands that. As long as the hand heals, he's likely to fight again Dec. 10 in New York, once more in the spring and then face Golovkin, barring no surprises.

The turnout at the home of the Dallas Cowboys could lead Alvarez back to Texas for that showdown, with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones promising to make the winning bid.

"It's good to see Canelo draw [that] crowd and it will make his fight with [Golovkin] that much bigger," Golovkin promoter Tom Loeffler said in a text message to The Times.

Alvarez said he believes De La Hoya is pushing for the fight now.

"About a month ago, we offered GGG three or four times as much to make the fight. We are ready for him and he doesn't want to accept," Alvarez said, in a claim that was not confirmed by Golovkin's camp.

Earlier, the necessary but unglamorous work Joseph Diaz Jr. toiled through in his San Gabriel Valley gym and in the Southland’s smaller venues netted him greater glory. The South El Monte fighter, given a pay-per-view spot, basked in the attention and showed off his skills to score a ninth-round technical knockout over Blythe’s Andrew Cancio.

Cancio's corner, deciding that its bloodied fighter was "tired and badly hurt," told referee Gregorio Alvarez to wave off the bout 2 minutes, 27 seconds into the ninth round.

"This is a great victory. It will open up so many doors for me," Diaz said.

Diaz (22-0) is the No. 3 rated featherweight in the World Boxing Council, and the triumph could vault the 2012 U.S. Olympian over top-ranked Leo Santa Cruz and No. 2 Josh Warrington of England to challenge WBC champion Gary Russell Jr.

Follow Lance Pugmire on Twitter @latimespugmire

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