Canelo vs Kirkland: Reasons to Watch

If you’re tired of forking out for PPVs in which the number of pre-fight hype shows and “documentaries” dwarfs the number of punches thrown in the ring, you’re in the right place. If you like it when prizefighters focus more on the hitting part than on the not-getting-hit part of the sweet science, you’re in the right place. If you’re looking for a rebuttal to all the naysayers and casuals whose cries of “Boxing is dead!” only got louder after #MayPac stank out the MGM Grand, rest assured, you are in the right place.

Canelo Alvarez and James Kirkland will meet in Houston this Saturday in a clash that hard core aficionados can’t overlook. Many fight fans will tune in looking to chase down the awful taste that Mayweather vs Pacquiao and all its ensuing controversies left in our mouths. But to leave it at that would be a disservice to Canelo vs Kirkland. And because nothing pisses me off more than seeing fight fans overlook a good fight, let me give you five solid, irrefutable reasons for you to not miss the action this Saturday night.

KIRKland-Canelo poster crop

Reason #1: Canelo Alvarez
The red-headed wunderkind will see action for the first time this year, and given his newly minted HBO contract and his ambitions for world domination, he’ll be looking to put on a great show. Over 35,000 fans are expected to congregate at Houston’s Minute Maid Park to see the Mexican power-puncher face Kirkland in what promises to be an action-packed affair. It’s true recent Canelo outings have left something to be desired, but you’ve got to admit it’s hard to look good against pure boxers like Erislandy Lara and Floyd Mayweather. A more appropriate point of reference is Canelo’s fight with Alfredo Angulo who, like Kirkland, is an offense-first fighter with little regard for defense. Against “El Perro”, Canelo threw over fifty punches per round, landing almost thirty per stanza on average, and connecting over 60% of his power punches. Impressive numbers.

From the point of view of motivation, it’s easy to see Canelo being pumped to headline a card at a baseball stadium, something very few prizefighters can pull off in this day and age. And since he had to concede the Cinco de Mayo weekend to last weekend’s mega-event, we can only assume he’s been reading and watching with amused schadenfreude the toxic fallout from #MayPac, a fight which left few fans satisfied.

Canelo dominates Angulo.
Canelo dominates Angulo.

For Canelo, this is an opportunity to capitalize on fans’ disenchantment by giving them an action fight, one that makes his young name contrast with the old guard headed by Mayweather and Pacquiao. If Floyd and Manny fighting each other brought an end to an era, Canelo is one of the best-positioned candidates to be the face of the new guard with his winning smile, well-crafted charisma and fan-friendly fighting style.

Reason #2: James Kirkland
But to get there, he’ll have to get past James Kirkland first, which is in no way a guaranteed outcome. Notorious for his record-setting punch volume, his stamina, and his tremendous heart, the “Mandingo Warrior” is coming off 17 months of inactivity. But if his previous performance against Glen Tapia is anything to go by, we should expect nothing short of full-out war this Saturday night. Against Tapia, Kirkland broke the Compubox machine—literally: the thing overheated and exploded at ringside, launching debris into an HBO cameraman’s eye. If you don’t believe me, here’s a direct quote from the Compubox website:

“Kirkland was an absolute power punching machine, landing an average of 54 power shots per round– FOUR TIMES THE 154-LB AVERAGE (caps theirs).  Mandigo’s (sic) 73 power shots landed in round four is a CompuBox 154-lb record.”

Ok, so the Compubox machine breaking down didn’t really happen, but you get the point.

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Angulo tastes the power of “The Mandingo Warrior.”

In the interest of full disclosure, we have to say the Mandingo Warrior is also infamous for his highly volatile personality: the guy is equally likely to get arrested for a weapons charge as he is to decline high-profile bouts for no reason whatsoever. His unpredictability in the ring also borders on the incredible: in a span of seven months he went from getting kayoed by a guy with a KO percentage of 27% to beating the tough-as-nails “Perro” Angulo out of his prime.

So what makes us think the hold-no-prisoners version of Kirkland is the one that will actually show up in Houston? Well, even a broken clock is right twice a day, so taking into account all the shenanigans that have kept James from becoming the new Arturo Gatti, a violent and dramatic performance is way past due. I’d be willing to bet big bucks a fight on a huge stage against a stellar name is exactly what’s needed for Kirkland to snap out of the crazies and turn into the action star the boxing world so desperately wants him to be.

Reason #3: The Anti-#MayPac
As an added bonus, Canelo vs Kirkland is in many ways the perfect remedy for the #MayPac hangover we’re all going through. Not only does it promise to have more action in its first three rounds (assuming it goes three rounds) than the entire Mayweather vs Pacquiao affair, but it’s also a great example of what a big, fan-friendly boxing event should look like. It will be staged at a large-capacity stadium, offering plenty of affordable tickets (starting at ten bucks!), and will be shown on regular HBO. And whereas Mayweather vs Pacquiao felt like too little, too late after waiting for five long years, Canelo vs Kirkland will feature two athletes in top shape looking to inflict serious damage on each other, mainly because that’s the only way they know how to fight. Finally, while last Saturday’s fight also felt like the overdue end of an era, Canelo vs Kirkland, no matter the result, should usher in something new. Which brings us to…

Don't expect to see a lot of this on Saturday night
Don’t expect to see a lot of this on Saturday night

Reason #4: A taste of what’s to come…?
Every great Mexican fighter that is now considered a legend was at some point tested in at least one gruelling battle of wills, which he could’ve very well lost, only to emerge aggrandized from it. Juan Manuel Marquez had Pacquiao; Erik Morales and Marco Antonio Barrera had each other; Julio Cesar Chavez had Edwin Rosario and Meldrick Taylor; Salvador Sanchez had Danny Lopez and Wilfredo Gomez. I posit that James Kirkland is the guy who can test Canelo’s chin and mettle and challenge him to rise up to the occasion. On a good night, the Austin-native’s fearsome combination of punching power and relentless physical pressure can make any 154-pounder in the world sweat bullets.

If that’s the Kirkland that shows up this weekend, and if Canelo finds that hidden gear in him that allows him to overcome what may at first seem like insurmountable adversity, then we know he really is the bee’s knees. And who’s to say exactly where such a victory would take Saul? Maybe it’s exactly the kind of confidence booster that will enable the Mexican to finally embrace his growth spurt and move up to the full middleweight limit, where even bigger fights await in names like David Lemieux and Gennady Golovkin.

Reason #5: …or the start of a rivalry?
Of course, there’s always the chance James Kirkland proves too strong and too determined for Canelo to escape Houston with a clear victory. But that’s okay, because no matter the final outcome on this weekend’s main event, as long as the fight is competitive and exciting—and all signs point to that being the case—then we might just be witnessing the birth of a rivalry.

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In other words, if Canelo vs Kirkland provides fireworks and changes in momentum, who cares about the ultimate outcome? At its best boxing is about witnessing thrilling battles between fighters who put everything on the line to emerge victorious. If that’s what we see this Saturday, then who wouldn’t want to see a repeat, or even a trilogy, between Saul and James? For instance, all three Gatti vs Ward fights were ten rounders held at a catchweight and with no belts on the line. The significance of those battles for the rest of the welterweight division were practically null, but they stand in a category of their own because of everything they mean to boxing fans.

Sometimes two fighters’ styles complement each other so well that they produce electrifying battles every single time. There’s reason to believe that Canelo’s power and his brand of counterpunching proves a perfect accompaniment to Kirkland’s ferocious onslaught in a sweet symphony of destruction. So even if this Saturday’s fight doesn’t produce a clear winner or a star-making performance, there’s still the chance it’ll produce what Larry Merchant likes to call instantaneous combustion. Wouldn’t that be something worth trying again? It’s certainly something to keep in mind as you get ready for Saturday night.     –Rafael Garcia

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