Canelo vs. Kirkland: Is the Mandingo Warrior ready to take the Cinnamon Challenge?

This Saturday night Saul “Canelo” Alvarez takes on James Kirkland live on HBO from Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas. The matchup has been delayed over the last few years but the time has come to see if the Mandingo Warrior is ready take the cinnamon challenge. Unlike the Mayweather vs. Pacquiao PPV, which by the way will be replayed during Saturdays broadcast, the odds are in the fans favor of a two-way action fight!

Back in 2012, all systems seemed a go in terms of the likelihood for making Canelo vs. Kirkland a reality. Inter-turmoil on the James Kirkland’s side stopped this bout from being made, robbing fans of yet another potentially fun and meaningful matchup. Fast forward to late 2014, it took another super fight in Canelo vs. Cotto to fall thru in order to secure James Kirkland a date with destiny.

The back room business of boxing works in mysteries ways. As disappointed as the fans were by missing out on a Cotto/Canelo scrap, it was short-lived when the Mayweather/Pacquiao fight was made and to a lesser extent the moment Kirkland was named as the backup plan for Canelo.

After his September 2013 loss to Floyd Mayweather, Canelo Alvarez went back to the drawing board. His inexperience showed against Mayweather as he was routinely got pushed back by the smaller and older fighter, at times missing so badly he would connect with the top rope causing Floyd to pause for a moment in celebratory fashion.

Canelo strapped up his boots and marched on to a spring fight against Alfredo Angulo, who had come off a great performance despite a loss versus Erislandy Lara. As it turns out that Lara fight and many like it, had sapped Angulo of his normal fighter spirit. Canelo jumped on him from the start and never let up all the way until the TKO stoppage in the 10th round. Canelo than challenged a fighter in Erislandy Lara who many believed Alvarez would never step foot in the ring with. It was far from a thing of beauty with a very debatable outcome but regardless #CaneloMania continued to prosper as fans of the sport geared up for what was the more likely PPV fight to be made (Canelo vs. Cotto) at the time.

There was talk of both Cotto and Canelo taking tune-ups on HBO to help create more buzz and keep both sharp for their May 2nd showdown. The issue of a fighters worth reared its ugly head resulting in plan B for Canelo. Plan B is not how most of us would expect James Kirkland to be seen as now-a-days if we were travel back 7-ish years ago and see how much buzz was behind Kirkland amongst hardcore and some casual fans.

Coulda, shoulda, if he woulda done this or not done that is a dumb-downed way to describe lots of fighters in the history of boxing including the Mandingo Warrior. The all-action brawler gave us tons to talk about in a short amount of time around the mid to late 2000’s. HBO was grooming him to be the middleweight version of Mike Tyson. I will spar you the details of his well documented transgressions outside of the ring. At this point in Kirkland’s career fans are hoping for him to show up in fighters shape.

Speculation based off pictures and his appearance in the opening presser resulted in rumors of Kirkland having a weight-loss camp without Trainer Ann Wolfe, who has proven to bring the best out of James. In fact much of the anticipation for this bout is governed a tad, mostly hinging-off how good of shape he will be in making a prediction for this fight very difficult as we weigh all the different variables. When Kirkland is both mentally and physically in shape he is an absolute monster, fact. When James is not prepared correctly he is a train wreck at best, fact. So I guess either way we should be in for a good’ ole scrap, it’s just a matter of how long it will keep producing a competitive contest. Take it for what it’s worth but Kirkland did look pretty good on the scales today, hopefully that translates into the ring.

Will Canelo jump on James from the first bell the way he did against Alfredo Angulo? It’s a good question that I feel will come to fruition, how early and often will be the interesting part. I do see Canelo coming out quickly with smart, busy boxing. Alvarez will use his solid jab and an occasional combination mixed with subtle lateral movement in an attempt to tame his opponent early. Although Kirkland has been stopped and hurt early on several occasions I still think Canelo will use his brain before brawn.

By the third or fourth round we should get a better picture of Kirkland’s current form. Both fighters have been out of the ring for a long time. An injury to Canelo’s ankle has kept him on the shelf since last July and James hasn’t stepped through those ropes dating all the way back to December 2013. Canelo depends on his skill set much more, so it would behoove him to be sharper. It should be mentioned that both men have gassed and faded in several times in the past which means either guy could tire naturally or thru extreme workrate.

Floyd Mayweather was able to push the pace at times against Saul. A pressure fighter like Kirkland will be licking his chops watching the playback. Canelo can’t get pressed to the ropes or it will be a long or short night, depending on how his chin holds up. Maybe the best way to state it is, this fight is an arms race and whoever wins the race to hurt his opponent first will likely get his hand raised. Yes, Kirkland has come back against Alfredo Angulo and somewhat more recently against Glen Tapia. The difference will be that Canelo is a headier fighter unlike the stereotypical face-first, reckless Mexican fighters that the sport owes many thanks to.

Their will be some rough-spots and it won’t be a one-sided fight until the mid-to-late rounds. Kirkland is a sucker for the jab because he doesn’t move his head or upper body enough to dodge or deflect it. James also has a bad habit of reaching with his punches resulting in him being off balanced and out of position. Body punching, activity and left hooks to the head will open up overhand-right power-punches for Kirkland. The only problem is will he have the patience to deliver this upset. Kirkland is defiantly a live underdog at 8-1 and it would be worth taking a flyer out on him. James Kirkland will need a KO to win this style-matchup. Activity and lack of consistent opposition will be a factor in what should be a very entertaining and in spots, explosive main event on HBO.

My official prediction is Canelo Alvarez by late KO or Unanimous Decision.

Side Note: Unfortunately the live HBO co-feature between Frankie Gomez and Humberto Soto has been cancelled due to weight issues. Also, keep an eye out for the PBC on CBS co-feature Kameda vs. McDonnell. CBS’s afternoon main event could be an example of exciting matchmaking as well with the younger, fresher Omar Figueroa taking on the way-past-his-prime Ricky Burns, who was able to last 12 rounds with Terrence Crawford about 15 months ago.

Written by Chris Carlson Owner & Host of Rope A Dope Radio

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