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Preview: Saul Alvarez vs. James Kirkland

Dan Hunter in Boxing 9 May 2015

Mexican idol Saul “Canelo” Alvarez takes on big-punching American James “Mandingo Warrior” Kirkland tonight in what should be a “Fight of the Year” contender in Texas.

Dan Hunter’s Pick: Saul Alvarez to win by TKO in nine

For anyone still suffering from a post Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao hangover, this weekend’s upcoming brawl between Canelo Alvarez and James Kirkland should be the perfect antidote. Alvarez, the flame-haired, baby-faced Mexican warrior seen by many as the heir apparent to the ageing duo of Mayweather and Pacquiao will tackle the very dangerous American knockout artist James Kirkland at the 35,000-seater Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas in the early hours of Sunday morning.

Who is Canelo Alvarez and why is he so popular?

Canelo Alvarez (Denis Poroy/Getty Images)
The great Oscar De La Hoya once said that Canelo “looks like an Irishman, acts like an American and fights like a Mexican”, and that statement pretty much sums up the appeal of the 24-year-old boxer puncher. Alvarez (44-1-1, 31 KOs) is box-office dynamite both in his native Mexico and also among much of the vast Hispanic contingent in the US.

With his pale skin and red hair he is instantly recognizable against the rank-and-file of stereotypically swarthy Mexican fighters, but he bears all the hallmarks of his countries legends; a granite jaw, knockout power in both hands, solid boxing skills, patience in the ring and a savage will to win.

Incredibly, Alvarez has already been a professional fighter for 10 years having turned pro in 2005 when aged just 14.

With his hard-hitting, stalking, body-punching style reminiscent of Mexican legend Julio Cesar Chavez Sr, it wasn’t long before Canelo attracted the attention of De La Hoya and his Golden Boy promotional company who signed him up to a long-term deal.

By 2011, Alvarez was a world champion, defeating Britain’s Matthew Hatton for the vacant WBC super welterweight title, a belt he defended successfully six times before losing on points to the vastly more experienced Floyd Mayweather in 2013 in what was at the time the most lucrative fight in boxing history.

Some critics claimed that De La Hoya was wrong for putting Canelo in with the pound-for-pound no.1 so early in his career, but from the point of view of both the promoter and the fighter it was a win-win situation as Mayweather lacked the power to hand him a severe beating, and even if a loser on the night – which he clearly was - Alvarez could only learn from the experience.

That seems to have been the case, and certainly Alvarez has looked excellent in his two victories since losing to Mayweather. He stopped the dangerous but fading Alfredo Angulo in 10 rounds last March, and followed that up with a split decision win over the much avoided Cuban stylist Erislandy Lara last July.

Who is James Kirkland and why is he so feared?

James Kirkland with on-off trainer Ann Wolfe (Scott Heavey/Getty Images)
Few hardcore boxing fans would argue that no other fighter in recent years has wasted his talent quite like 31-year-old Texan slugger James Kirkland (32-1, 28 KOs).

So impressive was Kirkland in his early years that many boxing scribes believed they were witnessing the second coming of Mike Tyson.

However it soon became apparent that Kirkland had a propensity for getting into trouble that was on a par with his talent in the ring. Kirkland had a solid amateur career, winning 134 of 146 bouts. He was a four-time Silver Gloves champion (the Golden Gloves for under 16s) and a National Golden Gloves finalist.

He turned professional in 2001 and by 2003 his record stood at 11-0 with 9 KOs, but he was about to make the first of several major mistakes in his young life: late in 2003 Kirkland was convicted of armed robbery and served two years in prison plus six months on house arrest before being paroled in 2006.

He returned to the ring that year, and was soon back on track, taking his ledger to 25-0 before falling foul of the law a second time in 2009. Still on probation for his armed robbery conviction, Kirkland was arrested during a routine traffic stop in his hometown of Austin, Texas after it was discovered he was carrying a gun. As a convicted felon, he was subsequently sentenced to two years in prison, although he was released early in September 2010.

Then in 2011, just when Kirkland seemed to have both his life and boxing career in harmony (he was ranked no.1 light middleweight contender by the WBC) disaster struck. In a “stay busy fight” while awaiting a title shot, Kirkland was floored three times and stopped in the first round by light punching 36-year-old Japanese veteran Nobuhiro Ishida. It was a stunning setback for the slugger and suddenly his aura of invincibility was shattered.

James Kirkland stops tough Brian Vera back in 2008 (John Gichigi/Getty Images)
Kirkland would reunite with his former trainer Ann Wolfe, herself an ex-professional fighter, and under her guidance he would make a solid comeback, winning five fights over the next two years including a thrilling come from behind TKO over Alfredo Angulo in 2011, and after another 18-month ring absence (including another jail stretch, this time for assault), he scored a sixth round stoppage over unbeaten prospect Glen Tapia in a December 2013 thriller, Kirkland’s last ring appearance.

Since then, Kirkland has been inactive, turning down a lucrative offer to fight Gabe Rosado last year. He has once again parted company with trainer Ann Wolfe, and left Golden Boy to be promoted by Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson. 

What Canelo must do to win

Alvarez must be cautious of Kirkland’s power in the early rounds, box cagily, bide his time and come on strong in the second half of the fight.
What Kirkland must do to win

This may well be Kirkland’s last roll of the dice, and he must carry on where he left off in his war with Glen Tapia, i.e. stay in close to Canelo and wing away with massive shots to the head and body. 


Both men stand 5’9’’ and have similar muscular builds. Kirkland might have the greater one-punch power, but Alvarez has the edge in boxing skill, durability and ring generalship. The first round KO loss to Ishida seems something of an anomaly as Kirkland holds a shot well and showed great durability in absorbing plenty of punishment from both Alfredo Angulo and Glen Tapia before emerging victorious. 

Alvarez is far better defensive fighter than he is given credit for, and is adept at slipping and blocking blows, rarely finishing a fight with facial damage. Thus far, his chin when tested has looked excellent, although he hasn’t faced anyone with the power of Kirkland. 

It all points to a win for Alvarez in an exciting, action packed fight – the polar opposite of last weekend’s Mayweather Pacquiao stinker. By the eighth round Kirkland will be taking a pounding, and the referee will jump in any time after that. 

Saul Alvarez to win by kayo, TKO or disqualification is 1/4, while a points win for Alvarez is 4/9. James Kirkland to win by kayo, TKO or disqualification is 7/2, while a points win for Kirkland is 7/2 (both Betfair).

Best bet - Saul Alvarez to defeat James Kirkland via a ninth round TKO or stoppage (1/4 Betfair)

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Preview: Saul Alvarez vs. James Kirkland

Mexican idol Saul “Canelo” Alvarez takes on big-punching American James “Mandingo Warrior” Kirkland tonight in what should be a “Fight of the Year” contender in Texas.

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