This year, in what has been a dry no mans land of spectacular match ups on paper delivering withering returns in real life, if you listen to the kinetic buzz batting between fans and boxing professionals alike, Canelo Alvarez (44-1-1, 31KOs) vs. James Kirkland (32-1, 28KOs) might be just the type of watershed fight that can actually deliver and change the trend. Set to take place this Saturday, May 9, 2015 at Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas and broadcast live on HBO at 9pm E.T./P.T., it would seem to have fallen into the position of being the last hope for fight of the year amongst combatants of a certain caliber. While all of the other highly anticipated fights, Lucas Matthysse (37-3, 34KOs) vs. Ruslan Provodnikov (24-4, 17KOs), Floyd Mayweather Jr. (48-0, 26KOs) vs. Manny Pacquiao (57-6-2, 38KOs) have gone down like fallen soldiers, bereft of the true drama needed to warrant the fight of the year moniker or something less ordinary, Alvarez vs. Kirkland could actually prove to be the sole as advertised clash of well matched technicians in the ring. At the very least, it would appear that Golden Boy Promotions, in association with Canelo Promotions, Rapper 50 cent’s SMS Promotions and Leija*Battah Promotions got it right with regard to the venue as the projected turnout is just what the doctor ordered vis a vis authentic fan turnout. As Peter Nelson, HBO Sports Vice President of Programming put it best: “ more people are going to see this event than anything since Muhammad Ali fought here in Texas.” With regards to the actual event in the ring, Nelson remained equally optimistic stating, “I think that this is one of the signature events HBO will have this year. These are the stars of today, Canelo Alvarez and James Kirkland.” Indeed, after a lackluster projected fight of the year with Matthysse vs. Provodnikov and the so called fight of the century with Mayweather vs. Pacquiao that fell flat to the tune of a possible $5 million dollar class action lawsuit, Alvarez vs. Kirkland, formerly the less beautiful sister held back in the shadows in favor of her elder flashier siblings might now emerge as the fairest of them all and rightfully claim that fight of the year glass slipper.
Continuing with the theme of the undervalued, Kirkland is the questioned underdog going into this match up for most. He is bereft of a fan base as substantial as Canelo Fever, despite the fact that Texas is Kirkland’s own backyard. Kirkland is also coming off of a longer period outside of the ring – supposedly at his own choosing - with his win over Glen Tapia (23-1, 15KOs) in 2013 being his last bout. In addition, by his own doing he is no longer with the trainer with whom he has always won, the indefatigable Ann Wolfe. While many fans and boxing pundits have questioned the sagacity of jettisoning Wolfe, not to mention the time away from the ring, for Kirkland both occurrences have been explained as new career strategy of a level that we haven’t seen previously from Kirkland or perhaps guessed that he had. That is to say outwardly Kirkland has always presented as a highly effective physical action fighter without the frills of an overly complicated mental game or fight philosophy. However, perhaps if that was true then, it is different now. On the subject of his time away from the ring, Kirkland is surprisingly unperturbed:“ I was just getting prepared for an opportunity like this, “ said Kirkland favorably of that factored in prep time. “ The things that I have learned… it was actually a positive thing,” revealed Kirkland adding, “ I wanted to learn a lot…about boxing that I didn’t know.” Hopefully the results of his new more thoughtful Kirkland prove positive against the likes of Canelo.
On the subject of his split from Wolfe, Kirkland is equally circumspect. To Kirkland’s credit, it has been proven rather starkly quite recently that one needs more than just brute aggression and punching power to stay viable and enjoy the highest consideration with regards to match ups and money in the sport. Provodnikov has been derailed rather seriously in this regard due to his inability or unwillingness to evolve past his terrific work ethic and rock like demeanor in the ring. First exposed in 2014 by Chris Algieri (20-1, 8KOs) as a strong but quite survivable fighter with the aid of accurate punching and fast footwork, this year Provodnikov was beaten again but more soundly by Matthysse using the same game plan with the aid of more firepower. As a result, Provodnikov, formerly a white-hot contender is now stalled out due to an inability to adapt beyond his offensive skills. Kirkland and his new trainer Rick Morones would seem to suggest that Kirkland in leaving Wolfe is looking precisely to avoid that one-dimensional trap. Kirkland, in enumerating his respect for Wolfe all but spelled it out: “ I take nothing from Ann Wolfe. She’s an awesome strength and conditioning coach. She knows the things that she knows but there are certain things that I want to add,” revealed Kirkland, pointing out that “ Heart, determination and will… you can’t take that away from me.” Morones, while naturally unwilling to reveal those certain strategic “ things to add” was on the same page in what he brings to Kirkland as Wolfe’s replacement: “ We all know (Kirkland) can fight…the little things he was looking for as skills, assets to boxing, his defense… that’s kind of what we are trying to bring to the table to make him more of a complete fighter, “ concluded Morones. Hopefully for Kirkland, the new training and strategy mix does just that for him, as it will make for a real feast for the future of boxing as well as tomorrow’s battle.
As for Canelo, surely he is no one’s underdog in this firefight but harkening back to Nelson and many others, this is his chance to definitively show that he is the new guard of boxing whereas all others before him such as the Mayweathers and the Pacquiaos are soon to be past. In this regard, Canelo seems more than eager to get things going. “ I’m very excited. I can’t wait for the fight,” shared Canelo earlier during fight week. “I wish it was already today or tomorrow to get in the ring already,” stated Canelo in a virtual frenzy for battle. The response from the fans and Kirkland included? Game on and wish granted - the time is now and ripe for the taking.
Canelo vs Kirland: The Future of Underdogs
Written by Kylie Krabbe
Photos by Golden Boy Promotions
May 9th 2015