When news circulated that the mouth-watering bout proposed between Canelo Alvarez and Miguel Cotto was dead in the water, the boxing world let out a collective groan, with the loudest balloon in the history of mankind loudly deflating behind us.
Things shifted quickly didn’t they? Oscar De La Hoya moved quickly from trying to secure Cotto to another fighter, James “I don’t really have anything planned” Kirkland. Now to put it quite simply, with all hyperbole thrown aside, this is a hell of a fight. Even better is the fact that it will now be a free match on HBO, as opposed to another $70 PPV with a shitty undercard.
For Canelo, it’s further proof that this guy will absolutely fight anybody. Oscar’s influence on the kid is obvious–like De La Hoya before him, Canelo is willing to get into the ring with any style, simply to prove who is the better man. Refreshing? Absolutely.
Now, before we fawn too heavily over Alvarez, we’ll point out a couple of things. First, he’s an absolute superstar. He’s huge in his native Mexico, and he’s built a damn fine following here in the States. So really, taking a loss wouldn’t affect him the way it would for other fighters who don’t have much else behind them besides a great record.
I like to compare it to Radiohead releasing their album In Rainbows in 2007. They allowed the buyer to pay whatever he or she pleased in order to purchase it. Want it for free? Go ahead and take it. And while that was a fantastic thing to do, it had very few drawbacks–they were already massively successful. In short, they could afford to do it, just like Canelo could afford to fight Mayweather and take a bad loss, fight Austin Trout and barely squeak by and fight Erislandy Lara and, well, barely squeak by.
In other words, Canelo has little to lose, because win or lose, he will still have another huge payday ahead of him.
The other thing is what I’ve already mentioned–to many people, Canelo should have three losses on his stat sheet. And while this writer believes that he eked it out against Lara, I have no issue with anyone who thought Lara (and Trout, for that matter) deserved the nod. They were close fights. Combine that with judge C.J. Ross’ abysmal, pathetic scorecard of 114-114 for the Mayweather vs. Canelo fight, and maybe this kid is getting the benefit of the doubt more often than he should.
But we’re not here for that. We’re here to discuss what will be a nasty, wicked scrap in May. James Kirkland is as enigmatic a fighter as anyone in boxing today. He makes for brutal, breathtaking fights. He gives exactly zero fucks about little annoyances such as defense and head movement. No, those things aren’t for him. He’s got two fists, and to him, that’s all he needs.
And for the most part, the face first, fist first strategy has worked just fine for him. In his most recent bout, he went toe-to-toe with Glen Tapia, a really solid fighter from New Jersey. They fought on even terms early on, before Kirkland turned it up and bashed Tapia all over the ring in a mercilessly violent display.
A couple of fights prior to that, he took on Alfredo “Doggystyle” Angulo. Angulo can punch. Really, really hard. But he’s rather limited in terms of boxing skill. So maybe the wise thing for Kirkland would have been to use his southpaw stance to outbox Angulo. But again, he just doesn’t have that in him. Instead, he plowed right into Alfredo. The result was a fantastic battle that saw Kirkland somehow survive a vicious knockdown in Round 1 to score his own knockdown. It became a battle of stamina, and of will. Kirkland won that battle.
The trouble starts when you look at what happened in between the Tapia and Angulo bouts. Kirkland fought Carlos Molina, a tough, solid-but-limited fighter from Mexico in March of 2012. And whether he was ill-prepared, or injured, or sick, or completely disinterested, Kirkland looked awful. He was utterly outfought for nearly the entire fight. He finally woke up and scored a knockdown late in the fight, and then got the win in a bizarre scene when Molina was DQ’d.
And then there’s the first-round knockout loss he suffered at the hands of Nobuhiro Ishida in 2011, when it looked as though a cool breeze would have stiffened Kirkland.
So we’ve got a fighter who tends to have wildly inconsistent performances. The other problem? The performances themselves have been few and far between. He hasn’t fought since December of 2013. In that same span, the guy he defeated, Tapia, has had two bouts with a third scheduled for March. Before that, Kirkland was in jail and didn’t fight for two years from 2009-2011.
So the question is not only which James Kirkland will show up in May, but will Kirkland show up at all?
Let’s assume he gets his shit together. This is a fantastic matchup. Canelo is a pressure fighter, one who throws combinations well to the head and body. Kirkland is a madman. He throws everything with the intention of mashing your lifeless body into the canvas. Canelo was furious when Lara wouldn’t engage him. He won’t be mad here. Kirkland will be right in his face, all night, for as long as it lasts.
Alvarez will have to use his boxing skills here. Turning the thing into a brawl only feeds into Kirkland’s style. So while he’ll be firing off combinations, he’ll have to do it while cognizant of what’s coming back up the pipe at him. The plan for him should be to fire the jab and land shots while Kirkland is loading up, therefore never letting Kirkland get off. It’s a “freeze” effect, where the normally aggressive fighter is at once stunned by the punches landing and frustrated that he can’t fire away with shots of his own.
Canelo will need to use the ring here. As we said before, Kirkland fights about once every Total Penumbral Eclipse. Will his stamina be there? A big factor will be who is in his corner on that night. If it’s Ann “Tappin’ That Ass” Wolfe, odds are that Kirkland will be formidable. She always has him in incredible shape and if he’s not, she’ll beat on him herself. Either way, Canelo will need to make Kirkland find him so he can run him into punches.
For Kirkland, he needs to appeal to Canelo’s pride. Alvarez sometimes can’t help but go to war. He prefers a pitched battle to a tactical one. In the past, he’s been able to plow through guys like Josesito Lopez, who was too small, and Kermit Cintron, who was too spent.
Kirkland needs to make it clear that this will not be like one of those fights. Kirkland is big, and he’s in his prime. The game plan should be to maul Canelo, work his way inside, and test the chin immediately. What of that chin, exactly? Canelo was wobbled early in his career, but has shown a sturdy beard since then. That thing will need to be extra sturdy if he’s to survive what will be coming at him in the first few rounds.
The feeling here is that Canelo will survive some rocky moments early on and serve up a nasty beating to Kirkland. He’s just a little more skilled, and there are far too many unanswered questions about Kirkland’s physical and mental state. Hopefully, we’ll get a shootout. Actually, the odds are that a shootout is exactly what we’ll get. Perhaps it will serve as a fantastic side dish to what could be a historic May for boxing. At the very least, it might make the pain of losing Canelo vs. Cotto a distant memory.
Some Random Notes From Around Boxing:
Well Floyd and Manny met at the Miami Heat game, so that’s interesting. I wish they would’ve engaged in a WWE-style brawl right there at center court, complete with chair tossing and Michael Koncz being knocked unconscious and dragged off to the side by a guy dressed as a Panda.
Oh my god, Mike Alvarado. We all picked against him with the feeling that he was spent. But we weren’t expecting him to want to get the hell out of that arena faster than a guy who left his lights on in a handicapped spot before murdering an attendant.
His handlers, whom I’ve long wondered whose interests they’re really invested in, let him then give a wildly candid post-fight interview where he pretty much confessed to not really giving a shit. That home crowd turned on him faster than they turned on Peyton Manning a couple weeks ago.
Good for Brandon Rios. He looked great hitting a human punching bag for a few rounds. I’d still watch him fight just about anyone.
Jermain Taylor is undergoing a mental evaluation. Can’t imagine why. Perhaps he needs more guns and alcohol around him? Or maybe a few more fights?
I am intrigued by a Pacquiao vs. Amir Khan fight if the Floyd fight doesn’t happen. But how about this–we get the fight we’ve been asking for since 2009, and Cotto can fight Khan? Because to me, Floyd beats Cotto again and Manny rips right through Khan. And let’s face it, Cotto is as much a Middleweight as James Toney is. He doesn’t belong there. Give up the damn belt and move on.