James Kirkland was on the wrong end of the probable Upset of the Year in April. Saturday, he started off his junior middleweight slugfest with Alfredo Angulo a candidate for Round of the Year (above). The rest of the bout was worthy of an honorable mention for Fight of the Year. And the win over Angulo may very well have given Kirkland the Comeback of the Year. Any other awards out there for Kirkland in 2012? Time Person of the Year, perhaps? Is there an Everything of the Year that anyone gives out, just to tidy things up in one fell swoop?
We’ll get to some other Afterthoughts in a moment, but I want to make sure that you noticed TQBR staffers were all over the place themselves over the weekend. Gautham brought us TeleFutura; Alex brought us HBO; Karl brought us Showtime; Andrew brought us England. Elsewhere, over at BoxingScene, Scott wrote up Fox Deportes and Gautham wrote up ESPN Deportes. I can’t recommend all of their accounts enough. I’m just the maid, vaccuuming up crumbs from the cracks of the couch.
Some of those crumbs include what’s in the headline, a middleweight division that is heating up, the worst moment a boxing fan can have and more.
- Kirkland’s performance. Kirkland went from “dogshit” against Nobuhiro Ishida to “monster” against Kirkland. Many were skeptical beforehand, but Kirkland was right: Reuniting with trainer Ann Wolfe made all the difference. Getting dropped in the 1st round, albeit by a punch that would have dropped most everyone, is a hint that he might always be “chinny.” But unlike against Ishida — and like in past fights — this time he regained his composure and stormed back. Proper conditioning is one way to strengthen one’s punch resistance, and Wolfe clearly had Kirkland in demonic shape. Ironically enough, for all the false narratives in some boxing quarters about skill vs. excitement, Kirkland showed more skill than ever. His punches weren’t so wild, his defense not so leaky, his balance not so unsteady. He won’t ever be a pure boxer, naturally, and he’ll always have his flaws. But a couple years back, watching Kirkland led me to declare, “Flaws are overrated.” How Kirkland overcomes his flaws, with unparalleled ferocity, power and just enough skill, will always make him formidable. As long as Kirkland fights to the standard he set against Angulo, he’ll be a monster, a nightmare for any junior middleweight and maybe even any middleweight.
- Next for Kirkland. Kirkland vs. nearly any quality junior middleweight suddenly becomes a highly desirable fight. There is some clamoring for an Angulo rematch, but I’d prefer other things for the time being (more on Angulo in a moment). For instance, a fight between Kirkland and someone like Carlos Molina or Erislandy Lara is something I can get behind because I am curious whether this Kirkland beast can be tamed by someone with some cleverness and who deserves a chance at a big fight; both have said, before and after Kirkland-Angulo respectively, that they want the winner. By virtue of beating Angulo, Kirkland is in line for Saul Alvarez’ belt, but Alvarez has a bigger-money, lower-risk fight he’s working on with Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. I don’t think Alvarez-Kirkland is a mismatch like some do, and Golden Boy Promotions would prefer to put it off, but it’s a fight that’s lower down my list of priorities for either man anyway. Another potential option is a Kirkland-Ishida rematch, a fight I wouldn’t mind seeing because of the storyline, even if GBP’s Oscar De La Hoya’s surreal/accidental art Twitter account bizarrely announced recently that Alvarez knocked out Ishida in sparring (and even weirder, Alvarez promotes Ishida, so what’s Alvarez doing knocking out his own fighters, let alone in sparring?). Then there’s the toughest fight of them all for Kirkland: middleweight champion Sergio Martinez. Signs point to both Kirkland and Martinez going in different directions, but that’s a bout that could be quite desirable before too long.
- Kirkland star potential. Before his latest stint in jail, I always thought Kirkland had the potential to become one of boxing’s biggest stars. He fights in an exciting style, to say the least, the closest parallel to Mike Tyson out there. He’s got the kind of news peg that the mainstream media tends to love and ought to, namely his female trainer, who happens to be one of the most quotable people in the sport and has all kinds of strange, eye-catching training methods. He’s a black American who can sell with the segment of the black audience that loves the boxing equivalent of gangsta rappers, and I don’t mean that to sound impolitic — there are no black American superstars generating interest from black fans outside of Floyd Mayweather, Jr., who plays that same role. Whether Kirkland has merely been foolish in his personal life or he’s rehabbed or whatever the case, his two felony convictions won’t hurt him with that crowd. Now, as long as Kirkland fights like he did against Angulo and keeps his nose clean, the sky is the limit.
- Angulo’s performance and what’s next. That Angulo punched himself out in the 1st round was obvious immediately and has been discussed aplenty from the moment it happened, but how did it happen? Angulo has always been a good finisher. His stamina has usually not been a problem. One possible conclusion is that he took Kirkland lightly as a major underdog and didn’t train appropriately. Another way of looking at it: With the number of punches Angulo threw in that round, any number of boxers would have been punched out. Then it becomes a question of why Angulo was so goofy — yes, Kirkland was hurt, but you would’ve thought a good finisher wouldn’t punch himself out. As is often the case here, I think it might be a little of column A and a little of column B. Maybe Angulo wasn’t properly conditioned because he’d taken Kirkland lightly, and maybe that’s why he went for the win with such gusto in the 1st round, knowing that ending it early at all costs was the best option. We haven’t heard much from Angulo or trainer Nacho Beristain by way of explanation, although maybe Beristain will say something on 24/7 Pacquiao/Marquez this coming weekend. Beristain refusing to pull the plug on that fight is a knock against him, if all of the rest of what I just talked about isn’t also. I know that Kirkland-Angulo II has some people excited, but Angulo took a terrible beating the first time and I’d want to see Angulo in at least one get-well fight before going for that rematch. Angulo might not be the same after taking so many flush power punches, a reversal of all the Angulo fights — Harry Joe Yorgey, Cosme Rivera, Andrey Tsurkan — that went too long for his opponents.
- Gary Shaw on Kirkland-Angulo. Shaw, the former promoter of both men, took to the media afterward to dance on Angulo’s grave, not the classiest move. He was nonetheless right about some things, on Angulo. It was clear before that Angulo should have taken $750,000 to fight Martinez, especially with the guaranteed HBO comeback date, but it is more idiotic still since by one account, he made less than $200,000 for the Kirkland fight and it could take him a while before he gets another purse even like that. I do not, however, think Shaw was right to say that Angulo-Kirkland needed to be built up more. It was a fight we’d wanted for years, everyone, and it had been derailed by jail sentences and immigration violations and trainer switches and promoter feuds and upset losses. It could’ve been derailed again by something else; I suspect GBP’s philosophy here was, “Well, Kirkland could lose at any moment — let’s throw him in the fire and see what happens.” They probably hoped Angulo would win, of the two. At least one judge who had Angulo down one point despite getting stomped for most of five rounds apparently wanted Angulo to win, too. But I’m done waiting for fights I want. I want them when they’re fresh, and as good as it was, Angulo-Kirkland was already overdue.
- Lucian Bute-Glen Johnson. The best thing about the Bute-Johnson super middleweight fight was the marching band intro for Bute. It just wasn’t a good fight, contrary to most expectations, whether it’s because they were too good of friends from their sparring days or Johnson injuring himself or Johnson finally getting old in the ring or Johnson using this fight as one last cash-out bout. Johnson has to be in auto-pilot declaring he won every fight no matter what by claiming he won this one, a worse blowout even than the second Chad Dawson meeting he said he won. I love Johnson but he just can’t beat the top guys anymore, I don’t think. For Bute, all I can do is hope that his next fight is against the winner of Andre Ward-Carl Froch, although Mikkel Kessler’s promoter might try to steal that person away, unfortunately.
- Kirkland-Angulo/Bute-Johnson undercards. Middleweight Peter Quillin was pretty good picking apart Craig McEwan, adding another name to a middleweight division where there’s growing parity beneath Martinez. If a couple of these guys start squaring off and a few separate themselves from the pack, Martinez could suddenly have a handful of viable opponents. McEwan could, meanwhile, become a staple of ESPN2 cards — he always brings the effort and often is in good fights, but he is going to get outclassed by the real top talents. And hey, that Pier Olivier-Cote adds another slugger to the junior welterweight division that includes Marcos Maidana and Lucas Matthysse. He’s got to work on his defense if he wants to graduate to full-blown contender status, I suspect, but his speed and power are formidable.
- Ricky Burns-Michael Katsidis/Denis Lebedev-James Toney. Haven’t caught their whole lightweight fight yet, but Katsidis seemed to me from what I saw to be about what he always is — determined, good enough to challenge the top talents but rarely to beat them — and Burns apears to have turned himself into a nice little fighter, not someone who scored a fluke win over Roman Martinez. Lebedev-Toney at cruiserweight was a disgrace. I’d had the faintest notion that Toney would be able to beat Lebedev if a shot Roy Jones had his moments against the crude slugger, but then I saw some videos of Toney working the mitts and abandoned the idea. It turned out worse than I feared, with Toney struggling with being as shot as shot gets, taking a beating that should have been stopped much earlier and Lebedev celebrating after winning like he had actually accomplished something. It’s often hard to be a boxing fan, but rarely worse than when you see one of your favorites have happen to them what happened to Toney. Toney used his injured leg as an excuse and said afterward he expected a rematch, which is more delusional than Johnson’s post fight remarks. Or, wait, is it? After all, Lebedev has a “type” he’s been fighting lately, namely 40-something shot boxers who are a few short years away from the nursing home.
- 24/7 Pacquiao/Marquez. We finally heard from controversial Juan Manuel Marquez strength coach Angel Hernandez, and he didn’t win me over with that explanation of his name change or the rest. If you’re so willing to take a bunch of tests, why not go ahead and do it, then? As for this episode of the series: I enjoyed the girl dressed up as Manny Pacquiao for Halloween and the Day of the Dead footage; I don’t like Pacquiao making everyone on his team get the same crappy tattoo. I continue to like this latest iteration of the series, maybe, again, because I had low expectations for it. Yes, it’s formulaic — this was the “supporting cast” episiode! — but there’s still enough goodness within that formula to keep me entertained.
- Videos. A couple good finishes from the weekend, below.