OK, so Saul Alvarez isn't going to fight Miguel Cotto on Saturday. But standing in the other corner will be one heck of a consolation prize for fans -- the always exciting James Kirkland. No matter how long the layoff, Kirkland seems to pick up right where he left off in terms of activity and ultimate result. He scored a first-round KO of Ahsandi Gibbs after a two-year hiatus, a KO 3 over Manny Castillo after two-and-a-half years away and a brutal KO 6 over Glen Tapia in his most recent outing that occurred following a nearly 21-month break. Then again, this time Kirkland is facing Saul Alvarez after 18 months off.
Statistical factors that may influence the outcome include:
Does Pressure Burst Canelo's Pipes?: Not so far. In fact, he's done well against high-volume aggressors. Although badly weight-drained, Alfredo Angulo still averaged 83.1 punches per round, well above the 57.6 junior middleweight average, and Alvarez simply picked him apart by landing 58% of his total punches, 48% of his jabs and 64% of his power punches en route to huge connect gaps (295-104 overall, 98-26 jabs, 197-78 power) and a 10th round TKO.
And yes, Shane Mosley was far past his best days but he still had enough to average 62.1 punches per round and land 41% of his power punches -- a number that should raise a red flag. That said, Alvarez was spectacularly accurate (52% overall, 41% jabs, 57% power) and thus recorded cavernous connect gulfs of 348-183 overall and 252-100 power while averaging 56.1 punches per round, a good number for him.
But not all has been perfect for Alvarez against volume guys. Alfonso Gomez (60.7 per round) gave a heavily-favored "Canelo" a difficult night at the office before a curiously-timed stoppage cut matters short. Alvarez led 103-86 overall but that's because Gomez prevailed 50-35 in landed jabs and Alvarez led 68-36 in power connects. Also, Alvarez (50.8 punches per round) led 34%-24% overall and 46%-31% power.
All in all, Alvarez has fed off his opponents' pressure while maintaining his usual moderate pace (a combined 53.2 punches per round in those three fights compared to 53.4 in 17 CompuBox-tracked fights). In fact, the main weapon in these fights was the jab, which, against the aggressors, landed 8.2 jabs per round and connected 38.7% of the time as opposed to his career average of 4.6 per round and 20.3% accuracy. So look for Alvarez to maintain his offensive envelope against Angulo but to do so behind an enhanced jab.
First-Round Blues: Kirkland has long been one of boxing's most perplexing riddles and that dynamic extends to his ring statistics. For one thing, 22 of his 28 knockouts have occurred in the first three rounds yet he is considered one of boxing's worst starters.
This reputation began in shocking fashion four years ago when Nobuhiro Ishida stopped Kirkland in 112 seconds, scoring three knockdowns in the process. There, Ishida was 15 of 49 while Kirkland was 12 of 26. Three fights later against Alfredo Angulo, "El Perro" scored an early knockdown and nearly put Kirkland away but once "The Mandingo Warrior" regained his bearings he took over with a monstrous rally that enabled him to go 28 of 103 to Angulo's 37 of 74. Against Carlos Molina Kirkland was a mere 6 of 33 and he never really got his motor revving as he topped off at 68 punches in round four and slowly decelerated from 57 in the eighth, 51 in the ninth and 48 in the 10th before a bizarre DQ turned defeat into victory.
The best fight to illustrate Kirkland's down-and-up dynamic was his most recent outing against Glen Tapia. Tapia wisely bolted from the corner and did his best to lay waste to Kirkland while his engine remained cold. Just like the Angulo fight, Kirkland managed to recover mid-round, after which he laid waste to Tapia in most frightening fashion. In round one, Kirkland's rally enabled him to go 23 of 73 overall to Tapia's 32 of 82 and over the next two rounds they went to war -- Tapia's 27 of 87 in round two and 28 of 93 in the third would have been more than respectable figures in most fights but they paled to what Kirkland did in those rounds -- 53 of 123 and 65 of 132!
Round four was absolutely historic for Kirkland. He went 76 of 140 overall and 73 of 130 in power punches. His 76 total connects broke the previous junior middleweight record of 75 set by Kassim Ouma versus Darrell Woods in October 2002 and his 73 power connects tied Bronco McKart's total in round eight against Santos Cardona in March 1996. His 130 power attempts landed him third on the all-time 154-pound list (behind Dmitrii Mikhailenko's 144 in round eight versus Sechew Powell in August 2014 and Ouma's 140 in round 10 against Michael Lerma in February 2002).
When the dust settled Kirkland averaged 123.6 punches and 109.8 power shots per round and his 55.1 power connects per round more than quadrupled the 12.4 junior middleweight average. He led 305-132 overall and 287-110 power while landing a barbaric 47% overall and 50% power. Can this happen here?
Prediction: Kirkland will try but he won't succeed. Canelo is an elite talent and his skill level will enable him to land enough counters to slow his attack. Whether he nails Kirkland early or gets him late, he'll get him. The guess: Canelo by methodical TKO.