Canelo blasts out Kirkland - Boxing report from Ringside
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Canelo blasts out Kirkland - Boxing report from Ringside
By Vikram Birring at ringside, Doghouse Boxing (May 12, 2015)

L-R: Kirkland, Canelo
L-R: Kirkland, Canelo
On a balmy Houston summer night, two steam locomotives collided head-on at the old Union Station.

What a difference a week makes.

In a cruel twist of Shakespearian irony, seven days after the intolerably underwhelming “Fight of the Century,” the possible fight of the millennium erased all lingering memories, but to only the sliver of the world that stuck around to give the sport (yet another) chance.

To understand the significance of the occasion, one must know the history of the venue.

Minute Maid Park is a baseball stadium on the location of the historic Union Station. How its footprint ended up on a building that was named to the National Register of Historic Places and not two blocks away is tale of smoke-filled rooms and underhanded political maneuvering. In short, a story perfect for boxing.

Union Station was proposed in 1909 and constructed in 1911. For sixty-seven years, it was the passenger railroad hub of Houston, and arguably of the entire region. In 1977, operations were shifted to the drab Amtrak Station, and Union Station remained as a relic of past glory; its significance enough to have it named to the National Register of Historic Places.

At the end of the 20th century, whispers began circulating that the owner of the Houston Astros, the local baseball team, would sell the team to a man from Virginia, if a new stadium was not built.

To the city’s sports fans, this was a kick when they were already down, having recently seeing their beloved football team, the Houston Oilers, move to Tennessee.

With the use of such emotional blackmail, studies began about constructing a baseball stadium downtown, on the site of Union Station.

To lifelong railroad men like Franklin Denson, this was great news. He had been running a local train called the Houston Limited from Houston to Galveston for a few years, with the hopes that Union Station would be revived into a central passenger terminal once again. With the stadium, the passenger load would increase dramatically, as fans could ride in to games on a train. The architects of the stadium, HOK, were on board with this plan as well.

This is when the shenanigans began.

The group was led by a group of men that would make Don King, Blinky Palermo, and Bob Arum blush.

Infamous convicted felon Ken Lay lead the group, along with notoriously anti-rail mayor Bob Lanier, who entrusted two crony county employees named Mike Surface and Jerry Eversole to destroy any hopes of rail service being tied into the stadium. Surface and Eversole were later convicted of bribery; both pleaded guilty. Lay was convicted of six counts of conspiracy and fraud, and another four counts of fraud for involvement in the collapse of Enron.

Also, a city council that heavily supported the idea of a stadium also serving as a train station suddenly changed its mind in a matter of days. One of those days, they met with the mayor.

And most surprisingly, the Greater Houston Preservation Alliance, who in theory supports preserving such historic landmarks, backed out of the plan as well. This all brings to mind the phrase, “I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse.”

So now, what could have been is instead simply a few salvaged pieces of history in a baseball stadium that few, if any, notice.

Of the two locomotives that met on this night in a boxing ring, one had a history of running into, and over others. His name is James Kirkland, a heavy-handed brawler from nearby Austin. His career has been an at times a straight line, with a few derivations off to wayward paths.

He turned professional in 2001, but did not fight from November 2003 until March 2006 due to a prison sentence for armed robbery. By early 2009, he was a sensation, a regular on HBO, only to be sent back to prison for attempting to purchase a gun while on parole. In 2011, he made his return. After two quick victories, he was stunningly knocked out in April of that year by unknown Nobuhiro Ishidia of Japan. He has not lost in the four years since.

His opponent was twenty-four year old Mexican sensation Saul “Canelo” Alvarez. Hailing from a family of boxing brothers (three are well-known professional boxers), he turned professional at age fifteen, and walked through his first 43 opponents. Then he met the virtuoso named Floyd Mayweather Jr., who taught the young man a lesson about the craft of boxing.

If Alvarez was discouraged by the defeat, he did not show any symptoms, as he pounded fellow Mexican Alfredo Angulo in his return, and won a tactical decision against the skillful Cuban Erislandy Lara.

Somewhat similar to the fight the week before, this bout was also years in the making. Three years ago, the fight was originally proposed. However, a Kirkland shoulder injury led to a cancellation. The injury was later questioned, as Kirkland stated he would still go through with the event on a later date, but only if his purse was increased to $2.5 million. Alvarez proceeded to select Paul Williams as an opponent instead, who in the midst of training was involved in a debilitating motorcycle accident which left him paralyzed. In the end, Alvarez pounded undersized Josesito Lopez of southern California on the date, while Kirkland faced tough opponents on their home ground in their next three bouts.

Finally, after negotiations between Alvarez and middleweight champion Miguel Cotto broke down earlier this year, Alvarez quickly made a fight with Kirkland, first for May 2 in San Antonio, but was later shifted due to the mega-event of May 2. San Antonio’s Alamodome was no longer available due to a graduation ceremony on May 9, so the new venue was Minute Maid Park in Houston, a stadium which had never hosted any boxing previously.

The first bout began in the morning, just before lunch, but the only audience were a few boxing lifers and media members. As the afternoon progressed into the evening, the clouds grew cloudy and 30,000 fans filtered in.

The weather was not as hot as predicted earlier, so the stadium’s retractable roof was briefly opened. Unfortunately, a brief rain shower erupted, and a portion of fans were drenched until the roof could be closed again. The roof opening was surprising, as days earlier promoter Mike Battah claimed the roof would not be opened under any circumstances.

The main event began early, as the undercard bout between prospect Frankie Gomez and Mexican veteran Humberto Soto was called off due to Gomez being severely overweight. Gomez fell ill earlier in the week but failed to notify anyone, and the authorities decided it was in the best interest of both the boxers’ health to not proceed with their scheduled bout.

Kirkland, though a Texas native, walked into hostile territory on his way to the ring, cascaded with a chorus of boos. One may have felt as if he was in Guadalajara, as red, white, and green flags draped the stands, and the lingua franca of the night was Spanish.

Canelo waltzed in as the hero to his adoring fans. Michael Buffer, voice intact after a frightening performance the week before, introduced the combatants, and the stallions were off to the races.

Kirkland (32-2, 28 KO) rammed straight forward, bulling Alvarez (45-1-1, 32 KO) and throwing a windmill of shots. The hiring of new trainer Gerald Tucker, a one-time amateur sensation, did not affect his style or strategy whatsoever. Alvarez was unable to throw, as Kirkland kept the bout in close quarters and wailed away. Finally, at the end of the round Alvarez opened up, and a right hand dropped Kirkland. Alvarez attempted to finish Kirkland off, but by the slimmest of margins, Kirkland survived the round.

In the second round, Alvarez and Kirkland traded shots, as Kirkland came forward much of the round, but Alvarez also had success with his longer punches which seemed to have more leverage.

In the third round, it was more of the same, as the two traded punches. This astute observer stated to his neighbor early in the round that an uppercut would be the perfect antidote to Kirkland’s smothering style. Through some sort of telepathic osmosis, Alvarez heeded these words, and nailed Kirkland with a perfectly circular right uppercut that sent him sprawling to the canvas. Kirkland rose to his feet, convinced the skeptical referee Jon Schorle that he was okay, but suffered a terrible fate as Alvarez knocked Kirkland unconscious with a right hook.

Instead of the usual bombastic celebration one sees from boxers, Alvarez stood over Kirkland with concern, until he was assured that Kirkland was not dead and reasonably okay. It was the type of genuine action that makes Alvarez an endearing figure among his fans.

The result of this generation’s Hagler-Hearns is a possible mouthwatering clash between Alvarez and the aforementioned Miguel Cotto, if terms can be agreed on, a big if with Cotto’s recent negotiating tactics. As for Kirkland, one hopes he recovers to full health and returns to the trainer that brings the best out of him, Ann Wolfe, to salvage what is left of his roller coaster career.

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