James Kirkland: The moment Alfredo Angulo put Kirkland down in the first round with a vicious right, most of those watching probably thought: “Here we go again. The guy isn’t even going to last a round.” And then, in what instantly turned into an unforgettable brawl, the slugger from Texas proceeded to prove us all wrong Saturday night in Cancun, Mexico. Kirkland survived, Angulo punched himself out in a vain attempt to finish the job, Angulo went down and Kirkland scored a stunning sixth-round knockout. Remember: Kirkland only seven months ago was stopped in one round by light-punching Nobuhiro Ishida, the apparent result of too much weight loss. The Kirkland we saw on Saturday was a force to behold. He took the best Angulo had to offer, maintained a dizzying pace, landed one damaging shot after the other and even displayed boxing skills we didn’t know he had. Kirkland’s turnaround in only three fights since the Ishida disaster is nothing short of amazing.
Alfredo Angulo: The irony is that Angulo was the more-experienced fighter on Saturday night. The Mexican should’ve known that he might punch himself out if he was unable to take Kirkland out after putting him down in the first round. In the end, even after an onslaught of punches, he couldn’t do so and was never the same thereafter. And it cost him the fight. He absorbed dozens of punishing blows that would’ve put most fighters to sleep, which is no surprise: We all know how tough Angulo is. At the same time, we wonder whether a fearful beating like that – and, yes, it was brutal — could take a long-term toll. He was all but out on his feet when the fight was stopped. The guess here is that he’ll be back. He works hard in the gym. He’s only 29. And he undoubtedly is really pissed off right about now. The next guy he fights could be in a lot of trouble.
Kirkland-Angulo, Round 1: The 10th round of the first Diego Corrales-Jose Luis Castillo fight (in 2005) was thrilling because of unusually raw ferocity and a swift change in momentum. One minute Corrales seemed to be on his way out; the next he stopped Castillo. The round is one of the greatest in boxing history. The first round of Kirkland-Angulo had the same feel. Kirkland hadn’t endured a beating, as Corrales had, but he seemed to be in significant trouble when he went down from the big right. The frenetic exchange of vicious punches from both fighters that followed and the fact Kirkland turned the tables by putting Angulo down made this a classic round. The rest of the fight wasn’t too bad, either.
Kirkland-Angulo rematch: What would’ve happened if Angulo had been more intelligent in the first round? A rematch would give us a good idea. Angulo most likely didn’t take Kirkland 100-percent seriously in light of what happened against a relative unknown like Ishida. That was a fatal mistake, as we saw on Saturday. And Angulo will have surely learned a lesson. He undoubtedly would be better prepared – physically and mentally – if they were to meet again. He earned another shot at Kirkland with the role he played in a wonderful fight and courage he demonstrated until the last moment. He would’ve kept fighting in spite of the punishment he was taking had the bout not been stopped. And who wouldn’t want to see a rematch? The executives at HBO, which televised the fight on Saturday, would be wise to push for Kirkland-Angulo II.
BIGGEST WINNER II
Lucian Bute: Bute passed a significant test against Glen Johnson on Saturday in Quebec City. We can speculate about what role Johnson’s age (42) played in his performance, which was below his standards. However, he looked pretty damn good against Carl Froch in June. No, the fight on Saturday was more about Bute than Johnson. The Romanian-born Canadian made a very good super middleweight look lost with his formidable all-around ability, including a lethal combination of speed and power. Bute also seems to be an unusually big 168-pounder, which only adds to a package that makes him extremely difficult to beat. We now look forward to a fight between Bute and the winner of the Dec. 17 Froch-Andre Ward fight, which probably will be Ward. If Bute gets and wins that fight, he will have emerged as one of the very best fighters in the world. One thing, though: He better keep that right up against Ward.
BIGGEST LOSER II
Glen Johnson: Johnson probably could go on fighting at a near-elite level for years in spite of his age. He seems to have hit a wall, though: He can’t quite beat the very best in the world. He is 4-5 in his last nine fights, defeating Aaron Norwood, Daniel Judah, Yusaf Mack and Allan Green but losing to Chad Dawson (twice), Tavoris Cloud, Froch and Bute. His performance against Bute provided no evidence that he’s capable of a major breakthrough at this point of his career, at least not against an opponent as athletic as Bute. Those days are behind him. I could see Johnson moving back up to the light heavyweight division, where making weight would be easy and he could continue to make good money. A better option might be to walk away now, before a steep decline in his abilities.
BIGGEST WINNER III
Ricky Burns: Some wondered about the Scot’s decision to move up to lightweight and take on a physical monster like Michael Katsidis on Saturday in London. Burns apparently knew what he was doing. The former junior lightweight titleholder withstood Katsidis’ relentless pressure and – behind his exceptional jab and all-around skills – won a one-sided decision, making a noteworthy statement in the process. Burns, who has won 18 consecutive fights, must now be considered one of the better 135-pounders in the world. We shouldn’t get carried away, though. A victory over the predictable Katsidis is a nice step but not proof that Burns can compete with the likes of Juan Manuel Marquez or Brandon Rios or Roberto Guerrero. We look forward the next step in his fine career.
BIGGEST LOSER III
Michael Katsidis: Katsidis was one of the most compelling fighters in the world in 2007, having started his career 23-0 (with 20 knockouts). And even after he was stopped by Joel Casamayor and outpointed by Juan Diaz in consecutive fights in 2008, he rebounded with some nice victories and remained a feared opponent. Now he seems to be stepping stone. Marquez stopped him last Novemeber and both Guerrero and Burns easily outpointed him since. This isn’t to say that Katsidis is finished. He’s still relatively young (31) and about as tough as they come. However, he clearly doesn’t have the all-around ability to challenge the best in the division. That probably is the result of so many wars, which have to have to taken something out of him, and skills that were always limited. No matter what happens going forward, though, one thing is certain: When boxing fans think of Michael Katsidis, they’ll always smile.
Muhammad Ali, in response to the news that rival Joe Frazier is battling liver cancer: “The news about Joe is hard to believe and even harder to accept. Joe is a fighter and a champion, and I am praying he is fighting now.”
Photo by Roberto Fernandez / Hoganphotos-Golden Boy Promotions