Jim Lampley often likens exciting matchups to Marvin Hagler-Thomas Hearns or Arturo Gatti-Micky Ward, which is usually hyperbole but understandable given the incomparable electric energy that exists at ringside.
He didn’t do so during the thrilling junior middleweight showdown between James Kirkland and Alfredo Angulo on Saturday, but no one would have faulted the HBO commentator for doing so if he had.
Kirkland, a grizzled ex-con fighting to maintain his place among the most talked about warriors in the sport today, overcame the dismissive pre-fight remarks from naysayers to stop the favored Angulo in six rounds in Cancun, Mexico.
One could be forgiven for writing off Kirkland (30-1, 27 knockouts), of Austin, Texas, following his shocking defeat to Nobuhiro Ishida in one round in April, which followed a nearly two-year incarceration for a gun possession wrap and a split with long-time trainer Ann Wolfe.
Kirkland reunited with Wolfe after the loss, and not a minute too soon.
Much like in the Ishida fight, Kirkland found himself on his backside early in the fight, after a right cross from Angulo (20-2, 17 KOs), of Mexicali, Mexico, sent Kirkland down. Kirkland got up, but exhibited the same lack of emergency coping skills that led to his downfall against Ishida as he languished against the ropes without holding on. In that moment, the fight appeared to be en route to an early, definitive end.
But this is why they say, “The fight isn’t over until it’s over.”
Kirkland battled back after two minutes of a pounding as Angulo, who had fought just one round over the past 16 months, slowed noticeably after an unrealistically active open sequence. Angulo also showed that he lacked the basic instincts to hold when under duress that figured to make their fight a classic.
Kirkland continued to pound away, and a sequence of uppercuts and straight lefts from the relentless southpaw acquainted Angulo with the canvas for the first time in his career.
It was like the first round of Hagler-Hearns on steroids.
Angulo’s fatigue would be a harbinger of his despair to follow as Kirkland continued to take “El Perro” “to places he ain’t never been,” as he promised in his pre-fight interviews.
Kirkland’s body work, relentless pressure and creative punching angles spelled doom for the seemingly impervious Angulo. The end came with Angulo, bloodied and defeated, being battered along the ropes and mercifully spared by the referee.
“I trained hard,” Kirkland said during the post-fight interview when asked what happened in the wild first round.
“I can’t take nothing away from him, he’s a true champion… I put everything down when I come to the table.”
Those lamenting how 2011 lacked a clear-cut frontrunner for Fight of the Year prior to Kirkland-Angulo are probably feeling satisfied at this late stage of the calendar year.
Victor Ortiz’s upset win over Andre Berto to lift the WBC welterweight title had more knockdowns, but leveled out in the second half of the fight. Orlando Salido’s TKO of Juan Manuel Lopez had sustained action, but will likely be more fitted for the Upset of the Year laurel. No one would be faulted for preferring Marcos Maidana’s close win over Erik Morales as Fight of the Year, either.
However, no fight of note this year has surpassed this level of pure violence and destruction of Kirkland-Angulo.
Kirkland’s victory will undoubtedly elevate his standing in the rankings. The fight with Angulo was for the No. 1 position in the 154-pound ratings of the WBC, which recognizes popular Mexican fighter Saul Alvarez as their champion.
Whether Alvarez’s handlers will jump at the chance to match their unbeaten 21-year-old ATM machine with a man who calls himself “The Mandingo Warrior” is another story.
Lampley, whose words have encapsulated the sport’s greatest moments over the last 20 years with HBO, made note on air that he didn’t think Alvarez was in a hurry to get in there with him, either.
For Angulo, his exile from America due to visa issues and the punishment absorbed in this fight will make returning to the stature that he previously enjoyed a difficult task.
At a time when the biggest promotions have brought us some of our biggest disappointments, boxing fans, “Mr. Can’t-Miss TV” James Kirkland is back.
Ryan Songalia is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and contributes to GMA News and the Filipino Reporter newspaper in New York City. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. An archive of his work can be found at www.ryansongalia.com. Follow him on Twitter: @RyanSongalia.