By Jake Donovan
Saul Alvarez heads back to HBO following a near three-year hiatus from the network that helped him develop into a boxing superstar. His homecoming takes place at Minute Maid Park in Houston, where he will face murderous punching James Kirkland in the evening's main event.
Upwards of 35,000 fans are expected to pack the ballpark, a testament to Alvarez' drawing power. At stake for the Mexican superstar is a fall showdown with reigning middleweight king Miguel Cotto, a fight that was originally targeted to take place this weekend.
It's perhaps fitting that he instead lands a showdown with Kirkland, since this fight was on the docket way back in September '12.
The matchup was budgeted as Alvarez' first appearance on Showtime. It was slated to headline a Pay-Per-View event that would've directly competed with HBO's coverage of countryman Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. in his middleweight championship bid versus then-lineal champ Sergio Martinez.
Instead, Kirkland became one of three potential Alvarez opponents to fall through, all dropping out for a variety of reasons. Alvarez instead fought Josesito Lopez on Showtime's flagship station, one of two fights on the network before making three consecutive headlining appearances on Showtime's PPV arm.
Chief among them was the lone loss of his career, a 12-round decision to Floyd Mayweather in - until May 2 - served as the most lucrative event in boxing history.
Kirkland himself had a few reasons for not taking the fight, first complaining of a shoulder injury and then claiming dissatisfaction with the payday offered. The southpaw slugger from Austin, Texas has only fought once since then, a savage knockout of Glen Tapia in Dec. '13.
Read on to see how the staff at BoxingScene.com believes the action will play out.
BOXINGSCENE.COM STAFF PREDICTIONS: SAUL ALVAREZ vs. JAMES KIRKLAND
Jake Donovan (No pick/ends in KO): I'll chicken out and just say it will end in knockout one way or another. The real test I want to see here is whether or not Alvarez can take a punch, especially from a sledgehammer like Kirkland. If so, the fight is his. If not...
Peter Lim (Alvarez KO6): This is truly a fire-and-ice match-up that pits a relentless brawler-banger against a cool, nerves-of-steel boxer-puncher, both of whom are rarely in a dull fight. Style-wise, Kirkland's weaknesses play more into Canelo's strengths than vice versa, but one need only look at Kirkland's 87.5 percent knockout rate to know that he is capable of separating anyone from his senses. Kirkland has other predicaments working against him - the absence of Anne Wolfe in his corner, his long layoff sans tuneup fight and his shocking three-knockdown stoppage loss to Ishida. But even if you discount those factors, the most tell-tale harbinger to the outcome of this fight is Carlos Molina. If a guy like Molina could befuddle the bejesus out of Kirkland (before losing a dubious final-round disqualification in 2012), imagine what Canelo will do to him. Kirkland will test Canelo's chin and resolve like no other fighter before, but Canelo will pass with flying colors and stop Kirkland in the sixth round.
John MacDonald (Alvarez KO mid rounds): Fights with Mayweather, Lara and Trout have shown that Canelo struggles with a certain type of fighter. Kirkland is not that kind of fighter. Kirkland will bring bullish aggression and make Canelo work during every round. Hand speed and accuracy will be the key for Alvarez as he wears down Kirkland at the midway point of an entertaining fight.
Takahiro Onaga (Alvarez KO8): Expect this one to be fun, but Alvarez is too good
Cliff Rold (Alvarez KO): If Kirkland can avoid being stopped fairly early, he has the stamina, volume, and power to scare the hell out of Alvarez. I think this is over before that happens.
Victor Salazar (Alvarez KO7): Kirkland minus Anne Wolfe made me skeptical of his chances in this fight. While the physique might be there, there are rumors out the camp that he’s slower than usual. To me this will be Canelo-Angulo over again. The fight be fun but one-sided and I’m sure the 35,000 fans in Houston won’t mind one bit.
Reynaldo Sanchez (Alvarez Split Dec.): Kirkland returns from injury and 14 months out of the ring. However, if Kirkland is healthy, it comes with hunger, desire to win, and has no problems making weight, we could see a very interesting fight. Canelo has in mind a fight against Cotto and this fight is the ticket to go to Cotto.
Alexey Sukachev (Alvarez KO10): Alvarez is a better-rounded, versatile fighter, who can punch and take a punch. Kirkland indeed can punch, but can he take one of his opponent's? I doubt it. Alvarez will be rocked several times in early rounds, survive the initial onslaught and then wear James down in later rounds with the fight up for grabs at the time of stoppage.
Alvarez - 7
No pick - 1
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox