Will three times be the charm for James Kirkland? He certainly hopes so.
Twice before the “Mandingo Warrior” has emerged from layoffs of more than two years. Following a one-round KO of Russell Jordan in November 2003, Kirkland returned in April 2006 with a three-round stoppage of 13-11-2 Manny Castillo. Exactly two years after stopping Joel Julio in six, Kirkland blasted out the 10-2 Jhon Berrio in two rounds. On Saturday, 21 months after a controversial DQ win over now-IBF junior middleweight king Carlos Molina, Kirkland begins again – this time against the 20-0 Glen Tapia. A tall order indeed.
With a victory, Tapia vaults himself into the 154-pound title conversation while for Kirkland, perhaps a rematch with Molina is on the horizon, a fight that fans hope will answer the questions the first match should have provided.
Statistical factors that may provide insights into the result include:
Kirkland's Ups and Downs: As described above, lengthy layoffs did nothing to change his take-no-prisoners approach (no pun intended). That blueprint has resulted in a sparkling .844 knockout percentage. While he succeeds most of the time, his recent past has featured several dramatic shifts of fortune.
Kirkland’s comeback fight saw Berrio’s long right to the temple nearly score a knockdown. But Kirkland righted himself and scored the expected KO in the next round. Averaging 86.5 punches per round -- 33 percent above the 58.2 junior middleweight norm -- Kirkland created connect bulges of 45-22 (total), 7-1 (jabs) and 38-21 (power), landing 39% of his total punches and 47% of his power shots. Aside from the one hiccup, Kirkland's defensive numbers were better than average as he felt 21% of Berrio's overall punches, 3% of his jabs and 28% of his power punches.
The Ishida fight was a disaster because the 35-year-old Japanese seized on what Berrio exposed. In scoring three knockdowns and ending the fight in 112 seconds, Ishida more than doubled Kirkland's total output (49-26) and nearly doubled his power connects (15-8). The same story appeared to unfold when Angulo dropped Kirkland 28 seconds into their fight, but a much better conditioned Kirkland weathered the Mexican's storm and scored his own knockdown with 14 seconds left in round one.
Despite the beating he absorbed in round one (37-28 total connects and 37-24 power connects), Kirkland still managed to out-throw Angulo 103-74 (total) and 83-67 (power). The rest of the fight was all Kirkland as he out-threw his arm-weary opponent 442-252 (total) and out-landed him 178-37 (total) and 131-24 (power).
But as up as he was against Angulo, that’s how down he appeared against Molina. “King Carlos’” all-around game slowed Kirkland to 52.6 punches per round and his superior accuracy (34%-19% overall, 19%-10% jabs, 37%-22% power) built connect leads of 151-102 (overall), 13-12 (jabs) and 138-90 (power). A technicality saved Kirkland from fistic purgatory, for because Molina’s cornermen entered the ring too early following a late-round knockdown in the 10th caused referee Jon Schorle to disqualify Molina and deny fans a potentially dramatic stretch drive.
Which version of Kirkland will appear Saturday? It had better be the very best one, for Tapia is no easy mark.
When His Left Is Right, It Rules: Tapia’s jab should be the weapon of choice against the rampaging Kirkland and his fights with Joseph de los Santos (W 8) and Abie Han (KO 8) explain why that is.
Against De Los Santos, 385 of his 644 punches (60%) were jabs and that’s because they landed 34% of the time (well above the 22% junior middleweight average) and his 16.5 connects per round nearly tripled the 5.4 division norm. The jab’s effectiveness set the table for everything else as he landed 41% overall and 51% power, out-landed De Los Santos 264-87 (overall), 132-35 (jabs) and 132-52 (power), and kept his opponent to 17% overall, 10% jabs and 33% power en route to a shutout decision on all three cards.
Tapia was even more active against Han (86.4 punches per round) than against De Los Santos (80.5) and again the jab was excellent (38.8 thrown and 9.6 connects per round and 25% accuracy). That success enabled Tapia to pound out connect bulges of 221-142 overall, 77-23 jabs and 144-119 power as well as create percentage gaps of 32%-28% overall, 25%-20% jabs and 38%-30% power.
Prediction: How many times can Kirkland come back? If he’s in good shape and if he’s motivated, he can win, especially with Ann Wolfe in his corner. One can see Tapia surviving the opening surge and using his height and reach to carve out a points win but the guess here is that Wolfe will lead a frothing Kirkland to yet another comeback win, probably by mid-rounds TKO.