Saturday night at Centro de Cancun in Cancun, Mexico, Alfredo Angulo and James Kirkland will lock horns in a clash that was highly anticipated two years ago. Today, it’s still a violent fight that could end at any moment, but both men have serious question marks largely due to circumstances outside of the ring.
Angulo, 20-1 with 17 knockouts, hasn’t broken a sweat in over a year and a half, when he had a tough scrap against a bouncy Joel Julio in April 2010. A one round blowout of Joachim Alcine followed before a convoluted set of immigration – and subsequently, managerial- issues kept him out of the ring for a year. Still unable to fight in the US, Angulo faced Joseph Gomez in August, another one-round venture in which we learned nothing about how prepared he is for adversity within his new circumstances. We know little about how much rust he has to shake off in Cancun, or whether he’ll be the same tornado we saw when he wrecked skittish opponents.
But Angulo is nearly a 3 to 1 favorite for a reason. Kirkland, 29-1 with 26 knockouts, went from iffy durability before his year-and-a-half stint in jail, to nakedly exposed brittle after. While a comprehensive beating of Joel Julio in 2009 washed away memories of Kirkland getting rocked by the likes of Allen Conyers, seven months ago Nobuhiro Ishida and his eight knockouts in 31 fights recorded the sole first round KO of his career against the “Mandingo Warrior.” That, of course, begs the question of what happens when Kirkland’s dubious whiskers are touched by a lead-fisted “Perro.”
The Mexican slugger will be ecstatic to be in the ring against someone who isn’t running from him. Not since Cosme Rivera in February 2009 has a fighter met him in the middle of the ring, forcing him to use feet anchored by Phoenician stone through his last six fights. Although he stopped Gabriel Rosado, Harry Joe Yorgey, and Alcine within three rounds, he struggled to find Julio and lost a decision to Kermit Cintron while suffering from a stomach bug. Kirkland, a relentless southpaw, has the far quicker feet, but he won’t be moving them to circle away from danger, and the less Angulo has to move, the more comfortable he is.
Both men have a porous defense with openings accompanied by billboards and flashing arrows. Kirkland, Austin, Texas, has clear athletic advantages, but unclear application of those advantages. Swift feet mean nothing if he leaves his chin floating in the air for a devastating right hand. He rarely shows the discipline necessary to deal with an opponent as heavy-handed as Angulo, and while a return to trainer Ann Wolfe is encouraging, it’s doubtful he’s developed enough head movement to avoid the crushing salvos that will counter his aggression.
Angulo’s durability, shaken by Richard Gutierrez and Cintron, is far from Hagleresque itself. As the most explosive opponent he’s faced, Kirkland, armed with a sharp right hook and strong left uppercut, might have the power to overwhelm Angulo if things get dicey. But Angulo clearly takes a better punch, and between fighters similarly susceptible defensively, the man with the steadier chin generally comes out on top.
Not surprisingly, a fight between face-first brawlers comes down to who can take what for how long. Between these two, that used to be a question few would be able to answer with any real conviction. Now, Alfredo Angulo looks to be capable of making very quick work of a suddenly vulnerable Kirkland.
Still, the viewing advice remains what it would have been years ago: keep the bathroom breaks short.
Read about the turbulent life and strange career of 1950s welterweight champion Don Jordan, who ran with street gangs as a kid, partied with mobsters, and carried a bow and arrow with him through the streets of Los Angeles. The Catastrophist: The Troubled World of Don Jordan.