By Jake Donovan
A bout some four years in the making, Saturday night’s headliner in Cancun was expected to be a free-swinging brawl for as long as it lasted, until one of them eventually wilted.
The fight followed that script, only the guy everyone expected to wilt – didn’t.
Resurging 154 lb. contender James Kirkland overcame an opening minute knockdown to stop longtime rival Alfredo “El Perro” Angulo in the sixth round of their vicious brawl Saturday evening at Centro de Cancun in Cancun, Mexico.
Pure unadulterated violence was expected in the HBO main event, yet they managed to still surpass those expectations. A right hand by Angulo put Kirkland on his butt less than 30 seconds into the evening. The Austin native arose to wobbly legs and a foggy head, and the ensuing assault he absorbed offered the suggestion of the Nobuhiro Ishida fight all over again.
Then came his second wind, which came midway through the opening round.
Kirkland turned things around in a big way, scoring with body shots to slow down Angulo. His offensive assault was aided by Angulo badly punching himself out, throwing wide looping shots after unloading in the first 90 or so seconds. Kirkland caught wind of it, and began launching straight left hands, which froze Angulo along the ropes and eventually out him on the canvas for the first time in his career.
The Mexican beat the count but was clearly unsteady as he arose, though he managed to make it out of a round that is by far the leading candidate for the best of 2011.
The rest of the fight couldn’t possibly compare, but still kept the capacity crowd on the edge of its collective seat – particularly because their guy was in trouble and never seemed to fully regain his faculties.
There appeared a moment when Kirkland threatened to punch himself out, but – unlike the Ishida fight – he was truly prepared for combat and never encountered a moment when he needed to stop.
“I trained hard for this fight,” Kirkland would simply describe his effort afterward. He told anyone who would listen during the pre-fight buildup that he felt undertrained and underprepared heading into the Ishida fight and that a new and improved version would be on the scene for this throwdown.
Kirkland didn’t exaggerate one bit, showing up chiseled and ready. An in-shape, properly prepared Kirkland proved to be way too much for Angulo, who has amassed less than two rounds of ring time in the past 18 months. Not that additional experience would’ve helped – Angulo has never been known for his defense, and it proved to be a major liability once his Plan A ran out.
A barrage of uppercuts had the Mexican hurt in the third round, while a series of headshots along the ropes had him in trouble and dangerously close to being stopped. All fans could do was watch with their mouths agape as Angulo absorbed an inhuman amount of punishment as Kirkland never took his eye off of the ball.
Even as the fight crept into the sixth round, it was clear that it didn’t stand a chance of lasting much longer considering the amount of punishment dished out. Angulo took a world of punishment and somehow managed to remain on his feet. So Kirkland did the next best thing – continue to throw until the referee was left with no choice but to rescue him.
The referee did just that, at 2:01 of the sixth round.
Kirkland improves to 30-1 (27KO) with the win, by far the biggest of his career. More important, it returns him to the level of promise he exuded prior to going back to prison on a weapons charge in 2009. Knockout wins over Bryan Vera and Joel Julio – both of which aired live on HBO – sold the Texan as a future force in the 154 lb. division before the forced break in his career.
Angulo is now the one left with memories of what used to be, as he falls to 20-2 (17KO). The loss is his first since falling short against Kermit Cintron, a letdown that was subsequently blamed on an ill-advised cross-country drive during fight week, as his illegal immigration status prevented him from boarding a plane from California to Florida.
Five wins followed the Cintron debacle, though just one since he was forced beyond U.S. borders last year. That lone ring appearance came earlier this summer, a 1st round stoppage of Joseph Gomez that ended the moment Angulo dared to throw a meaningful punch.
Suffice to say, it did nothing to prepare him for what would come in this fight.
Kirkland certainly knows the feeling, as his own comeback came along the same lines in being fed a series of tomato cans to build up his confidence and win total.
What was missing was the hardcore training he enjoyed while under the watchful eye of Ann Wolfe. The two had a falling out upon his release from prison, as they didn’t see eye to eye on what needed to take place in the gym prior to his returning to the ring.
Kirkland instead went with Kenny Adams, but didn’t care for the training methods employed by the veteran cornerman, known more for his military-like discipline than he is for ability to teach. It’s not a good fit with just any fighter, least of all someone like Kirkland, who thrives on guidance.
That part returned to his career the moment he reunited with Wolfe, which has led to three straight knockouts. None of them were bigger than this one as he never hesitated at the opportunity to travel south of the border for the fight.
“I can’t take nothing away from Alfredo Angulo. He’s a true warrior, he’s strong. But I was fighting for my life in there. This James Kirkland trained super hard. Ann Wolfe studied and trained night and day (for this fight). We said we had to do whatever it takes in order to take this fight.”
With the win, Kirkland is now the mandatory challenger to 154 lb. titlist Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez, who faces Kermit Cintron later this month.
QUILLIN STOPS MCEWAN IN SIX
The HBO crew at ringside in Cancun, Mexico declared that unbeaten middleweight Peter Quillin has arrived.
The transplanted New Yorker certainly has tons of upside. But the statement itself was much like his 6th round stoppage over Craig McEwan – a tad premature.
Quillin boxed his way to a virtual shutout over the Scottish prospect through the first five rounds of action in their televised co-feature. However, the fight itself wasn’t always pretty to watch, as the lefty versus righty matchup produced a number of headbutts, of which McEwan was the one left worse for the wear.
Massive swelling developed around McEwan’s right eye as early as the third round, and Quillin treated the wound as a target for his jab and right hand, both of which inflicted considerable damage.
As the fight progressed, it became clear that Quillin was going to surpass the performance by Andy Lee earlier in the year, who fought McEwan tooth and nail before scoring a last round stoppage.
Perhaps the referee sensed this as well, as he abruptly stopped the contest midway through the 6th round while McEwan appeared still capable of defending himself. Quillin connected with a check hook that caused his opponent to pitch forward, leaving himself open for another left hook and a right hand. The final shot jarred McEwan, prompting the referee to act – many will argue, overreact – and stop the contest.
No official time was announced, at least on air as ring announcer Michael Buffer dealt (not very pleasantly) with audio issues all evening.
Quillin improves to 26-0 (20KO) with the win, racking up his fifth straight stoppage as he impresses in his HBO debut.
McEwan suffers his second straight loss as he falls to 19-2 (10KO). Both losses have come on HBO and in 2011.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to JakeNDaBox@gmail.com .