by David P. Greisman, photo by Hoganphotos
The expectations that fueled more than three years of anticipation were fulfilled within the first three minutes of action.
The first knockdown – Alfredo Angulo’s right hand sending James Kirkland firmly onto his rear end – came less than half a minute into the opening round. The second knockdown – Kirkland retaliating, Angulo reeling, then collapsing – came with less than half a minute remaining.
That one round brought two knockdowns, two shifts in momentum, 200 punches in three minutes. That is how long it took for Angulo and Kirkland to bring a fantasy fight into the realm of reality.
That one round made it easy to forgive how long it had taken to get them there.
There was symmetry in that first round, and there was symmetry in what had come before it, in what had kept them apart and what had brought them together.
Years ago they both had been prospects promoted by Gary Shaw, bruising brawlers knocking nearly everyone out. They shared broadcasts, first on Showtime’s “ShoBox” series designed to spotlight up-and-coming fighters, then on HBO’s “Boxing After Dark” series designed to feature exciting fights.
Promotion is the art of long-term investment at the expense of short-term satisfaction. It is better to have two potential sources of income rather than one. Angulo and Kirkland would not fight so long as both were in Shaw’s stable, not at least until it was worth it. Then Kirkland departed Shaw for Golden Boy Promotions, and the possibility of their pairing became even less likely, not when one promoter’s risk could lead to the other’s reward.
Kirkland went to prison in 2009; a convicted felon, he’d been caught with a gun. By the time he was out from behind bars, it was Angulo in trouble, immigration issues sending him back to Mexico and rendering him unable to fight in the United States.
Angulo signed with Golden Boy a few months ago. Kirkland had lost in a shocking upset earlier in the year, getting knocked down three times by an opponent who’d been thought to be a light-punching sacrificial lamb. Kirkland had won twice since then but needed a big win to take him from junior-middleweight prospect to 154-pound contender. Angulo, too, had been rebuilding since his own surprising defeat, a decision loss in 2009, and now needed to establish himself in the division.
Golden Boy Promotions has another young star in the weight class, Saul Alvarez, who is exceedingly popular in Mexico. The promoter had one stream of income guaranteed. Angulo-Kirkland, then, was the right bout for both the promoter and the fighters – the winner would be better positioned for the future, the loser would potentially remain where he was before, a fan-friendly prospect not yet at the next level.
For more than three years, the expectation had been of an electric battle, two power-punchers vying to turn his opponent’s lights out.
They knew no other way. Each had only three decision victories on his record.
It was not surprising that Kirkland was the first to fall. He can be as reckless as he is ruthless, his viciousness leaving him vulnerable. Kirkland’s pressure and punching pushed Angulo into a neutral corner. Kirkland, a southpaw, threw a right hook to the body, a right uppercut upstairs and then a left cross, but he brought his head straight back up, his chin in range and exposed. Angulo hit it with a right hand. Kirkland hit the floor.
With one moment, the fight was in Alfredo Angulo’s hands. Within one minute, Angulo’s hands had made that no longer the case.
Kirkland, in his upset loss earlier in the year to Nobuhiro Ishida, had been overconfident and underprepared. He had tried to respond to the first knockdown rather than recover from it, leaving himself open to the punches that would floor him twice more.
Angulo knew his own power and thought he knew Kirkland’s weakness. Kirkland, however, was also aware of both.
Kirkland rose from Angulo’s right hand, clear-eyed but clearly on the defensive. He tried to hold on to Angulo, but failing that he covered up, taking some shots, blocking and rolling with the others. Angulo expended too much energy loading up on power punches, tiring out with time to spare in the first round, with Kirkland’s legs returning and senses remaining.
Kirkland had a second wind. Angulo had none.
For all the symmetry of the action, it was better to be on the right side of the round, to end it better than you began. Kirkland had been knocked down from one punch. Angulo had crumpled from sustained punishment.
After the Ishida loss, Kirkland had returned to Ann Wolfe, the trainer who had worked with him until his prison term and whose training methods were designed to put her fighters through hell.
Kirkland knew how to survive a grueling war, incorporating boxing into his brawling. Rather than overwhelm an opponent with indiscriminate volume, he set up his punches, putting together hard combinations and dodging Angulo’s shots. Angulo had tried to blow Kirkland away with one gust. Kirkland set out to break Angulo down with a sustained beating.
Angulo landed more punches in the first round than he would for the next five rounds combined. Kirkland’s connect rate kept getting better – 27 percent in the first round, 34 percent in the second, 35 percent in the third, 39 percent in the fourth, 47 percent in the fifth and 56 percent in the sixth.
Angulo was still throwing, but the battle was being beaten out of him. Kirkland pinned him against the ropes in the opening minute of the sixth round, peppering him with combinations, chipping away at a granite chin atop an unsteady foundation. The referee jumped in and Angulo wobbled backward.
The symmetry of the first round had been followed by a one-sided beating for the next five.
For more than three years, the expectation had been of an electric battle, two power-punchers vying to turn his opponent’s lights out. Angulo was running out of power before the first round ended. Kirkland, with the flick of a switch, turned himself from a reckless bruiser to a relentless boxing brawler.
It had taken more than three years to get them together. Within three minutes, Kirkland set himself apart.
The 10 Count
1. Quite deservingly, Kirkland-Angulo is the one fight that boxing fans will be talking about this week until their attention turns completely to Pacquiao-Marquez 3.
But there’s another recent fight they should see – and soon – because it belongs in the discussion for “Fight of the Year.”
Pornsawan Porpramook and Akira Yaegashi waged war for 10 enjoyable rounds on Oct. 24 in Japan. In another era, a fight between a 105-pound beltholder from Thailand and his Japanese challenger would have been seen by few beyond their countrymen.
But in this Internet era, word of mouth can be a wonderful thing.
Five years ago, a fight in France between 122-pounders Mahyar Monshipour and Somsak Sithchatchawal became “Fight of the Year” thanks to YouTube and the “You have GOT to see this” mentality of boxing’s most fervent followers.
That’s the case with Porpramook-Yaegashi, which I’d never have known about if not for guys like Cliff Rold and Corey Erdman, among others.
If you’ve not yet seen it, then set aside half an hour and watch. Enjoy. And then spread the word.
2. Promoter Bob Arum of Top Rank chafed at reporters asking questions last week about performance-enhancing drugs, particularly about Juan Manuel Marquez’s association with a conditioning coach who’d been involved in doping with Olympic athletes in the past.
But while Arum argued that “the steroid problem is fading into the past,” as “things that existed five or 10 years ago that are not currently being used,” the fact of the matter is that we simply don’t know.
The firestorm began last week with comments from Victor Conte, the disgraced former steroid supplier who has since said he’s gone legit in his work with athletes, including boxers Nonito Donaire and Andre Berto.
Conte noted that Marquez’s conditioning coach, Angel Heredia, is the same man who’d testified about supplying performance-enhancing drugs to athletes, including Marion Jones, whom Conte had also worked with.
That brought hard questions, and deservingly so: Did Marquez know about Heredia’s past? Why would Marquez bring in someone with such a controversial history?
These questions needed to be asked. Heredia, like Conte, can have a second chance, but, like Conte, there has to be additional scrutiny that comes with it.
Arum argued that these trainers “are the least to be involved in steroids, since they have learned their lesson.” This is perhaps true – if you’ve been caught before and know you’re being watched, it’s better to be on the proverbial straight and narrow. But there are re-offenders out there, and there’s a reason why other sports ban disgraced trainers and coaches from ever again being involved with their athletes.
Still, we can’t simply assume that athletes working with Conte and Heredia are guilty of using performance-enhancing drugs. We’re centuries past hunting witches. Suspicion is one thing. Proof is another.
And for every conditioning coach who has been caught, there is another unknown trainer or pharmacist who is out there supplying.
The use of performance-enhancing drugs is a cat and mouse game, with manufacturers and suppliers trying to stay steps ahead of the leagues and drug testers. And the ability to beat such lax testing in the major sports remains a test of one’s IQ; some get caught, while many others have admitted to beating the system and getting away with it.
But anyone who thinks that doping is a thing of the past doesn’t follow the Tour de France…
On a side note, I don’t know why Conte was given carte blanche to bash someone else, particularly given his own scandalous past, and especially given that conditioning coaches in boxing seem to be calling each other out with increasing frequency as a way of positioning themselves as the best in the business.
Conte has a history of being proven correct in naming the athletes to whom he provided performance-enhancing drugs. While he has a personal knowledge of steroids, anything he says about others whom he’s never worked with is nothing but allegations without actual evidence.
As many a journalist has pointed out over the years, everyone who talks to the media does so for a reason. Everyone has an agenda.
Compounding things was that we never heard any comment from Heredia defending himself until this past Saturday’s episode of “24/7 Pacquiao/Marquez.” If Heredia wasn’t speaking to press, then reporters at least should have told readers that they were unable to reach him…
3. Promoters can have such thin skin when it comes to tough questions. One boxing writer, Gabriel Montoya of MaxBoxing.com, was booted off a media conference call at the order of Bob Arum. This came after Montoya brought up the irony of comments from Manny Pacquiao’s team about Marquez’s trainer, considering Pacquiao’s team’s many positions on drug testing during the failed negotiations for a fight with Floyd Mayweather Jr.
(Arum had bristled at talk of Heredia and steroids earlier that day during a conference call with Manny Pacquiao. His anger apparently boiled over later that day when the topic came back up during the call with Marquez.)
I understand that promoters want to keep attention on the fights. But if you don’t want the press to do their jobs, don’t hold a conference call. (Curiously, the exchange was expunged from a transcript of the call sent out to reporters and websites.)
I was reminded of Gary Shaw excoriating another reporter on a September conference call in advance of the Bernard Hopkins-Chad Dawson pay-per-view. The reporter’s sin? Asking undercard fighters Kendall Holt and Danny Garcia whether they’d prefer their fight to take place on a regular television broadcast rather than in front of what was expected to be a very small pay-per-view audience.
“What’s the point is why would you get on the conference call?” Shaw said. “What’s the point of that question? You’re asking two guys that are on the undercard of a main event that is on pay-per-view that didn’t have a choice. Both are grateful for being on TV.”
Sure, but maybe the fighters would be more grateful if their audience was seen live in hundreds of thousands of homes rather than in tens of thousands…
4. It’s unfortunate that James Toney appeared to suffer a leg injury midway through the second round of his Nov. 4 cruiserweight title against Denis Lebedev – not just because it made Toney even less mobile and allowed for him to take a 12-round beating, but also because it gives him an out for the defeat and a reason for him to keep on fighting.
Toney is 43, has been in 85 fights and has taken a lot of punches over the years. He’s exceptionally tough, but he need not prove that to anyone anymore.
There is a time in which old fighters can still capitalize on nostalgia. And then there’s a time when it ain’t worth it any longer.
5. At a different point on the spectrum is Glen Johnson.
It’s been five years since we could even say Toney looked good in defeat against a notable opponent – his controversial split decision loss to heavyweight Samuel Peter in their first fight.
It’s been just five months since we could say that about Johnson, dating back to his majority decision loss to Carl Froch.
Johnson didn’t look good this past Saturday, dropping a one-sided decision to Lucian Bute. He cited an injury following the fight, and there did indeed appear to be swelling around his right elbow.
“I thought I won the fight,” Johnson said afterward, a line that has gone from completely reasonable in post-fight interviews in years past to completely unbelievable after losses these days.
“I hit him a lot more than he hit me,” Johnson said.
“Not even close,” responded interviewer Jim Gray.
Johnson has said that making super middleweight is no problem for him, even as he approaches 43 years old and even though he spent the past decade at light heavyweight. And it’s true: Johnson has come in comfortably below the 168-pound limit for his fights with Allan Green, Froch and Bute.
But one has to wonder if the combination of making weight and age finally catching up to him has made Glen Johnson less mobile. He is no longer able to apply the kind of pressure that caused Chad Dawson problems in their first fight. His punches have slowed down, too. At times, Froch and Bute were simply able to duck or back away from Johnson’s shots
There is no shame in losing to Froch or Bute. And it is completely understandable that Johnson wants to keep competing in the deep pool of talent that is super middleweight. He no longer belongs with the top tier, though.
6. It isn’t Lucian Bute’s fault that he wasn’t part of Showtime’s “Super Six” super middleweight tournament – but that might prove to his benefit.
Bute hasn’t been hurting for money in these past two years, not with five of his six fights taking place in Montreal and Quebec City, where he is hugely popular (the other fight took place in his native Romania). Two of his fights aired on HBO and two on Showtime.
And he has taken none of the punishment that the other top 168-pounders sustained over the course of the tournament. Andre Ward also hasn’t taken a beating at all in his four tournament fights, though Carl Froch will try to change that in December.
7. I don’t know what’s funnier:
- That cruiserweight flameout Bobby Gunn decided to take up bare-knuckle boxing and is now getting more publicity than he ever would’ve otherwise and has a much more organized publicity campaign than other, more accomplished pro boxers have.
- That news releases actually refer to an upcoming fight between Gunn, the, ahem, “current world heavyweight bare-knuckle champion,” and some dude named James Quinn as “two of the most revered bare-knuckle fighters of our time.”
- That Gunn decided to call out Tank Abbott, the 46-year-old mixed martial artist who has won two sanctioned fights in the past 13 years.
- That the news release said Abbott was offered a cut of pay-per-view revenue and ticket sales, which was hilariously termed “a generous offer.”
- That Gunn hasn’t called out the last guy to beat Abbott – and the true claimant to being the most revered bare-knuckle fighter of this era – Kimbo Slice.
Can’t knock the hustle. But the PR is shameless in its delusion, in particular the claim that Gunn is a “former seven-time cruiserweight champion.”
Gunn never even came close to winning a major sanctioning belt title. And even if you add up the four minor belts listed on his BoxRec page – the vacant International Boxing Association title, the vacant International Boxing Council intercontinental title, the vacant WBC USNBC title and the vacant NABA cruiserweight title – then those claims remain emptier than the so-called titles were before Gunn fought for them.
It’s like a pro w restling gimmick. And like “Brawl for All,” it’d be perfect for B utterbean to step forward and put it to rest.
8. What I’d give to hear Michael Buffer announce that this Saturday’s pay-per-view main event is brought to us by Manny Pacquiao’s two newest product endorsements: Manny Pacquiao Broccoli and Hennessy cognac.
Only in the surreal world of Manny Pacquiao would we have this bit of dialogue take place on a conference call:
Question: “I see you signed a deal with Hennessy and was curious as to whether you drink it or not.”
Pacquiao: “I have tasted it, but drink responsibly.”
9. Just how much was Omar Narvaez paid for his putridly defensive performance last month against Nonito Donaire? Like the greatest of urban myths, the legend only grows with time…
Oct. 27, 2011, RingTV.com: “… the boxers’ contracted purse, which, for Narvaez, was $50,000 …”
Oct. 28, 2011, MaxBoxing.com: “… Narvaez around $125,000 …”
Nov. 1, 2011, ESPN.com: “Narvaez’s side was paid … in excess of $250,000 for the non-effort.”
Narvaez should hold off on getting paid. With this rate of interest, his unanimous decision loss might be worth millions by the end of the week…
10. My father has insisted for months that Juan Manuel Marquez will defeat Manny Pacquiao.
I promise that next week’s column won’t be 1,000 words of me gloating – or him doing the same thing…
David P. Greisman is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. His weekly column, “Fighting Words,” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com.
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