Kirkland (30-1, 27 KOs) was just two fights removed from his lone defeat — a first-round knockout to Nobuhiro Ishida — while the granite-chinned Angulo had never been stopped, was known for his hammer-hard fists, and was looking for his sixth straight knockout over the course of as many consecutive wins since losing by unanimous decision to Kermit Cintron in May of 2009.
But it was Kirkland who escaped with Saturday night’s come-from-behind, sixth-round knockout, rising from a knockdown 30 seconds into the fight to floor Angulo just before the bell ending the same round.
Promoted by Golden Boy Promotions, Kirkland was released from Bastrop Federal Prison in Bastrop, Tex., in September of last year after having pled guilty to a charge of gun possession in April of 2009.
The then-26-year-old Kirkland still was unbeaten at 25-0 with 22 knockouts when he was relocated from Austin, Texas, and paired with Las Vegas-based Kenny Adams rather than his previous trainer Anne Wolfe.
Kirkland scored consecutive first- and second-round stoppages over Ahsandi Gibbs and Jhon Berrio within 13 days of each other in March before being matched in April opposite Ishida, who entered their bout with a mark of 26-6-2 and only seven knockouts.
But after Ishida dropped Kirkland three times on the way to a shocking first-round stoppage win, Kirkland reunited with Wolfe and reeled off consecutive knockouts over Dennis Sharpe and Alexis Hloros in the first and second rounds in June and July.
That set him up for Saturday night’s clash with Angulo, for which he was a massive underdog due to a perceived fragile psyche if not an equally soft chin.
His voice quivering with emotion, Kirkland shared his thoughts with RingTV.com in this Q&A within an hour of his tremendous victory.
RingTV.com: How does this sound — Round of The Year, meaning the first round, and Fight of The Year?
James Kirkland: That sounds good to me, because that’s what this needs to be. We actually came out and we gave the people what they wanted.
First round knockdown for me, first round knockdown for him. Hey, everything was fun, and everything was great. It was everything that eveyone expected it to be.
Before the fight, he and I, we sort of had sat down and told each other that we were going to come with everything and that we were going to get in there and we weren’t going to stop for nothing.
So we were going to have to keep on pushing and keep on pushing and keep on pushing, and that’s what happened.
We did that in the gym and that’s what happened in the fight. So, it was everything that I thought that it would be and more. I just wanted it just a little bit more than he did. So I’m just happy for the victory.
RingTV.com: What were your thoughts after having been dropped in the first round?
JK: I got caught. But, to tell you the truth, you know, Alfredo Angulo is just a tremendously hard puncher. Everybody knows that, man. He’s coming with determination and will power.
And, you know me, I come in the same way. He come hard. He works the body and the whole nine yards. But my mind frame was of the type that I just can’t let nothing take me down.
You know, so, when I went down, I just told myself that I was going to get back up and keep on fighting. Me and my trainer, Anne Wolfe, we just said, ‘hey, this is going to go until the death of us both.’
I mean, this was just a fight where I was going to give my all and that’s what I did.
RingTV.com: Obviously, with the fight just ending, you haven’t seen any video of it, but where do you think the turning point began in the first round?
JK: To tell you the truth, man, I just think that it was my staying focused and sticking to the gameplan. I got knocked down and when I got back up, I just kept hearing my coach say, “relax, relax, but stay busy.”
So what that meant was, “hey, just calm down and relax until you see where you can land your punches again, and then you can take control of the fight again.”
RingTV.com: When Angulo went down just before the end of the first round, did you feel at that moments that you were completely in control of the fight?
JK: Well, you know, it’s mano-a-mano, which means it’s one on one and man-to-man. ‘Once that situation happened wth him at the end of the first round, I said, “now it’s one for me and one for you, now let’s see what happens.”
RingTV.com: Were you surprised that he got up?
JK: No, no, no, no, because I know that he’s a warrior. I take nothing from him. He comes to fight and he comes tdo bring it and to put on a show. So I knew that that was what was going to happen.
And I was prepared for it. That was what was on my mind was that it was going to be a really good fight and he’s in top shape and I’m in top shape, and like I said, I don’t take nothing from him.
Alfredo Angulo is a warrior, and I’m a warrior. So that’s why I said, I’m going to give it my all or I’m going to die in this ring tonight. Tonight was my night to show that I’m a true champion.
RingTV.com: What is your response to critics who believed that you couldn’t back up Angulo, and that he would, instead, back you up and stop you?
JK: Honestly, I could care less about what the media and what other people actually had to say or what they though was going to happen in this fight and what their thought process was about this fight.
My mindset was to stick to a goal, and so when he started to go backward, I knew that I was going to just keep on sticking and moving and trying to keep myself out of harms way.
Eventually, the game plan that we consistently worked on in the gym, that’s what paid off. Exactly what we wanted to happen is what happened in the fight.
RingTV.com: In that sense, do you also feel that you displayed some boxing skills in addition to your power and intensity?
JK: You know, I do believe that. Honestly, I wanted to be able to show that to people. It was actually part of our gameplan to box the first few rounds and then to sort of step in like in the old school Julio Cesar Chavez fights.
That’s what we planned on doing, but I got dropped in the first round and so we had to make some adjustments and from there, everything started to fall into place.
I started to pick up my “A” game and I got back into focus. But it was good, man. It was just one of those fights where I really felt great.
RingTV.com: Can you discuss what led to the bout-ending sequence when the referee stepped in and stopped the fight?
JK: Honestly, to tell you the truth, man, I was hitting him so hard, that’s why I know that he has such power and deteermination and the heart and determination to be a champion.
I mean, I was hitting him so hard, that I could feel my knuckles hit his face through my gloves every time whether I hit him to the head or to the body.
There would be sometimes when I would hit him to the body, where he would grab me and hold on because I knew that he was in a lot of pain. But my coach would say, ‘calm down, stick to the gameplan and keep working.”
She told me to keep working the top and working the bottom and to keep shaking and keep moving and that everything would fall into place and that’s exactly what started to happen.
RingTV.com: How validating is this concerining your relationship and your reunion with Wolfe?
JK: This is amazing, to get back in the ring with Anne in my corner. She pushed my a– to a certain level to where it was unbearable. She was the reason.
I can’t even explain it. Through the whole training camp, she was amazing. The way that my weight came off. The whole thing was so good.
I’m just tremendously happy with the way that the whole thing worked out, because a lot of people doubted me. It seemed like the numbers were a million to one against me.
It seemed like there were hundreds of people doubting me and maybe this one little kid that said, “hey, I think he can win.” And that’s what felt so good.
Because the looks on everyone’s face was like, ‘s–t, he said he could do it, and he went out there and did it.” That’s what felt so good.
Now, the sky is the limit. I’m leaving everything to Golden Boy Promotions. We’ve got [WBC junior middlweight beltholder Saul Canelo] Alvarez, we have a whole bunch of different champions out there.
But right now, I’m going to just rest up and leave it up to my camp, and leave it up to my team, and we’re going to lete my body heal up and find the best fight out there for me. I’m going to enjoy this.
Lem Satterfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org