Photos: Will Hart
By Kieran Mulvaney
One week after the "Fight of the Century" came what, for all its brevity, has to be a contender for Fight of the Year: an intense three rounds of action that featured punches thrown with bad intentions from beginning to end – an end that came with a monster overhand right, thrown by Saul "Canelo" Alvarez, which exploded onto the jaw of James Kirkland and knocked him out cold in the third round.
There is nothing enigmatic about Kirkland’s fighting style, no surprising variations, no guessing what he may or may not do. He is a straight-ahead warrior; a kill-or-be-killed brawler who knows only how to fight with extreme violence, and who will beat on his opponent until he knocks him out or is knocked out in the process. And so it was on Saturday in Houston’s Minute Maid Park where, after perhaps 10 seconds of sizing up his opponent, Kirkland launched into him.
Alvarez, fully anticipating the assault, retreated to the ropes and covered up behind a high guard as Kirkland swarmed, unloading with a constant fusillade of power punches. Most of them bounced off Canelo’s arms, but enough found their way through his tight defense to cause moments of concern to the legions of Alvarez fans that constituted almost the entirety of the 31,588 in attendance at the ballpark. But if Kirkland constantly runs white hot, Canelo is ice cold, and even under the blizzard of blows, he retained his poise and responded with short, sharp counters of his own.
One of those counters Alvarez landed as he fought his way off the ropes caused Kirkland’s legs to do a little dance. Alvarez, sensing that his foe was wounded, backed him to the ropes, unleashed two big right hands that froze him in place and then a third that dropped him to the canvas.
The Texan rose in time to beat the count, and appeared to be regaining his senses when an Alvarez hook wobbled him again and the Mexican unloaded with combinations to body and head as the bell sounded to end round one.
The second round had barely begun when Alvarez looked set to finish what he had started, a left hook sending Kirkland back into the ropes and seemingly bringing the fight to the brink of an early conclusion. Yet somehow Kirkland withstood the Alvarez assault that followed and marched forward again, swinging wildly and backing Canelo into a corner.
But his arms already looked heavy, and it was Canelo who landed the harder blows at the close of the round, a right uppercut that rocked Kirkland and a pair of body shots that bent him over.
Yet still, as the third round opened, Kirkland came forward: swarming and smothering Canelo once more, pinning him to the ropes and then, whenever Alvarez was able to create even a little space, leaping toward him again. But through it all, Canelo remained unfazed. A counter right/left combination snapped back Kirkland’s head, and as Kirkland stepped toward him anew, Canelo landed a perfect right uppercut that dropped him for the second time in the contest. Again, Kirkland rose, but this time Alvarez backed him to the ropes and, as Kirkland looked to uncork a left hand, launched that conclusive thunderbolt of a right hand. Kirkland was unconscious the moment it landed, before he spun around and landed on his back, where referee Jon Schorle called a halt to proceedings without bothering to count.
“I didn’t even know I was knocked out,” admitted Kirkland. “I had him trapped in the first round in the corner but he escaped, and had him hurt again in the second round. He’s a great champion. I’m proud to have fought him, and I hope to fight him again.”
That seems, to put it mildly, unlikely. Canelo has his sights fixed on bigger and better foes: Gennady Golovkin and, more immediately, Miguel Cotto.
“I’m happy about the win,” said Alvarez. “The result was what we were expecting. I knew that James was a strong fighter, but he surprised me with his aggressiveness in the first and second round. But once I dropped him the first time, I knew I had him.”
Kirkland’s promoter, Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson, addressed the fact that his fighter is undefeated with his long-time trainer in his corner, but 0-2 on HBO without her.
“He’s a great warrior and I’m proud of him,” he said, “but I’m sending him back to Ann Wolfe.”
On the evidence of tonight, even their combined fury wouldn’t be enough to melt the ice-cold assassin’s blood that pumps through the veins of Canelo Alvarez.