Sharkie’s Machine: James Kirkland Beats the Hell out of Joel Julio
By Frank Gonzalez Jr., exclusive to Doghouse Boxing (Mar 9, 2009) Photo © Will Hart /HBO Sports  
Middleweight prospect James Kirkland (25-0, 22 KO’s) is an interesting project. He’s physically rock solid, has good power and a huge will to dominate his opponents. He isn’t “charismatic” but he’s exactly what fans pay to see; a violent fighter who comes to rip his opponents to shreds. James is trained by Ann Wolfe, possibly the best woman boxer I’ve ever seen. (She was the one who Laila Ali avoided like the plague.) Wolf is as tough a human being as you can find and her training regimen for James is about as intense as she is. I’ve been critical of Kirkland ’s low level of opposition over the years and how quick referees are to wave his opponents out. Out of his 21 KO’s coming into this fight, only four were by actual KO, the rest were TKO’s. None of those prior mismatches proved anything except that Kirkland loves to fight. But Saturday night in San Jose , Kirkland finally faced a high quality contender in Joel Julio (34-3, 31 KO’s), who has fought better opposition compared to Kirkland and has demonstrated big power with over a 90% KO rate. Julio’s only two losses were to guys who went on to win major titles—for whatever that’s worth these days. Julio is a legit contender and in my view, this was the first true test for James Kirkland, who beat the hell out of Joel Julio.

As soon as the first bell sounded, Kirkland went to work, imposing his will on Julio with a vicious onslaught, pressuring him relentlessly and banging him at every turn. Julio, a bit overwhelmed, did what he could to find some kind of rhythm, so he could use his superior technical skills to try and break down the savage “Mandingo Warrior” with some shots to the body. A Kirkland left caused a nasty gash over Julio’s right eye. Kirkland ’s ultra aggressive, dominant first round looked like the beginning of the end for Julio, who was a bit rattled mentally and physically after the first three minutes in the ring with Kirkland .

In the second round, it was more of Kirkland chasing Julio down with non stop pressure and punches. Julio tried to box his way to the outside and managed to land a few clean shots between the constant barrages from Kirkland , who had calmed his pace a bit in the second round. Julio landed a clean left and Kirkland went after him with a multitude of punches, including a left hook to the body. Though Julio took some shots, he was starting to find some ground to set up his right counters. James Kirkland hardly noticed when Julio scored and Julio is a pretty good banger. Technically, Julio would have won that round for the cleaner punches but the fact is, he was being bullied the whole round and none of his best shots seemed to hurt Kirkland, who fought like he was trained to take a pounding going a full twelve rounds.

During the break, Wolf warned Kirkland about Julio trying to set up the counter right. In the third round, Kirkland doubled up on his jab and though he basically continued to chase Julio around the ring. Kirkland was jabbing and moving his head more, as Wolf had advised. Julio rallied at one point, landing his jab and following with combinations that tagged Kirkland flush. Kirkland just ignored those shots and kept forcing Julio to move backwards, which made his punches ever less potent. I thought Julio did the better punching in the third and even seemed to get Kirkland ’s attention after landing a huge right to the face. Another big left hook by Julio saw Kirkland clinch some. Kirkland threw a punch after the bell. That was Julio’s best round.

Julio’s corner was happy with his work and told him to keep his defense sharp. Wolf reminded Kirkland to move his head more, go to the body and double his jabs. In the fourth, the ref warned Kirkland for a hitting behind the head. Julio managed to land some pot shots from the outside but Kirkland showed a sturdy beard and kept coming forward. Kirkland was all over Julio and even when he wasn’t landing cleanly, he was always touching him with something and always imposing his will, despite their alleged disparity in skills.

The cut over Julio’s right eye was swelling shut as he entered the fifth round. It was desperation time. Julio had to find a way to change the momentum, put Kirkland down or something dramatic. Julio landed some of his best shots to the face and body but Kirkland took those shots like raindrops and kept coming forward, smothering Julio with a shower of punches that continued to break Julio down.

Before the start of the sixth, Julio’s corner asked, “How are you feeling?” Julio didn’t answer but if looks could speak… When the round started, Julio, still desperate to change the momentum, landed some solid shots that had no notable effect on Kirkland , who kept punishing him. Julio landed a nice body shot followed by a shot to the face. Kirkland answered with a flush left to the face, further opening the cut on Julio’s mashed up eye.

Julio’s corner elected not to come out of for the seventh. It was over. James Kirkland had won by TKO 6. During the post fight interview, Kirkland was asked if he felt the power of Joel Julio. “Not at all.” Kirkland said. When asked who he wants to fight next, he said he’d fight whoever Golden Boy Productions puts in front of him. No drama there.

Congratulations to James Kirkland, who proved that he has the will to win against a guy with better boxing skills and good power in Joel Julio. Kirkland ’s training has paid good dividends in terms of his stamina and ability to take punishment. With his fast and furious pressing style he can take opponents out of their game plans and force them to fight on his terms. That’s a tough proposition for any fighter. Though he’s still a work in progress, James Kirkland is the real deal.

The next logical opponent for Kirkland should be Alfredo Angulo, who like Kirkland , is a prospect with big time potential. Angulo fights a stoic, mature style of power boxing. Angulo was cut over his right eye in the first round of his last outing against Cosme Rivera. Angulo looked vulnerable against the spirited, cagey old veteran in that first round but came back and administered a beating for the next four rounds until a ringside official climbed into the ring and instructed the ref to stop the fight in the fifth. This would be a defining fight. The winner of Kirkland vs. Angulo would feel like a legit challenge for the vacated IBF title belt.

Other options include any of the top contenders in the division, like John Duddy, Julio Caesar Chavez Jr., Yuri Foreman and Ronald Hearns. If he were to beat any of those guys (which seems likely after what I saw Saturday night in San Jose), he’d be a legit challenge to any of the four titlists, Vernon Forrest (WBA), Sergeii Dzinziruk (WBO), Daniel Santos, traveling man tall Paul Williams (WBO) or even Sergio Martinez (WBA#1 contender), who recently beat Kermit Cintron but got a Draw from the crooked Judges. If Kirkland keeps fighting top level guys, this could be a very good year for boxing in the Jr. Middleweight division.

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