Knockout of the Year Nominations:
Saul “Canelo” Alvarez KO3 James Kirkland
Randall Bailey KO7 Shusaku Fujinaka
Gabriel Bracero KO1 Danny O’Connor
Krzysztof Glowacko KO11 Marco Huck
Ola Afolabi KO5 Rakhim Chakhkiev
Zolani Tete TKO8 Paul Butler
Winner: Saul “Canelo” Alvarez KO3 James Kirkland
W. W. Naughton wrote in 1913 about a time when Kid Exposito’s trainer, prior to a middle round in an unknown contest, told his fighter, “Go in now and knock his block off. You’re so far behind that you will have to knock him out to get a draw.” A humorous anecdote, yet it captures not only boxing’s cynicism, but also its visceral purity. The finality of a legitimate, neuron-frying knockout is one of the things that sets boxing far apart from other sports; the contest can abruptly end at any moment, rendering judges unnecessary.
The faint of heart prefer to cringe and turn away from knockouts, while the entertained prefer to extol them. The best (or worst) knockouts tease at both extremes, as did Canelo Alvarez’s knockout of James Kirkland.
Like most boxing-related things in 2015, Alvarez vs Kirkland took a back seat to the long-awaited Floyd Mayweather vs Manny Pacquiao showdown. The reaction to “Canelo” taking on an inactive and highly unpredictable character in Kirkland was already lukewarm, and it cooled considerably following the announcement of what would come to be known as #MayPac. The fight date was pushed back a week when the big Floyd & Manny announcement was made, but in fact the timing worked out well for Canelo, considering he scored an eye-popping win the weekend following the biggest dud in boxing history.
If there was a positive sentiment in the pre-fight treatment of Canelo’s choice of “The Mandingo Warrior,” it was that Kirkland was ballsy enough and hit hard enough to potentially surprise the Mexican given the right circumstances. That’s another way of saying “puncher’s chance” and he tried to make the most of it in the opening round, trapping Canelo in the corner and pummeling through a deceptively slippery defense. But just past the halfway point of the stanza, a right hand sent Kirkland down, proving that Canelo wasn’t as affected by Kirkland’s power as he let on.
A well-timed right uppercut scored another knockdown for Canelo in the third and Kirkland bravely rose to face one final onslaught. After driving his quarry to the ropes with a few right hands, Canelo jabbed to the body before poleaxing the Texan with a right that froze his legs while the rest of his body rotated sideways, crashing down hard.
Despite fighting an uphill battle against Canelo and being expected to lose, Kirkland made Canelo work hard to stop him, and on a huge stage. But the frightening way in which he was taken out makes it 2015’s Knockout of the Year. Aiding in its case for the award is that it happened at a time when boxing fans needed a reminder that the future of the sport can be more exciting than a cynical money-grab. — Patrick Connor