THE BEST AND WORST OF THE SWEET SCIENCE, ALL IN ONE FIGHT (TO HELL AND BACK IN 3 MINUTES)

As a rule, I almost never miss an HBO Boxing telecast. Yeah, the big name fights get saved for Pay-Per-View, but the regular broadcasts usually feature most of the great fighters (and fights) the sport has to offer. When people talk about Boxing being dead, it’s only to be taken in the broadest sense of the word. Think of “Dead” in this case as a euphemism for ” far less financially successful than it once was”. It’s an easy (or lazy) way to inform the casual fans that Boxing isn’t what it once was. Those of us who pay closer attention will tell you otherwise, of course, and not merely out of loyalty. We’ll tell you that is has no shortage of great fighters and interesting stories, even if everyone but Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao are plying their trade in relative obscurity these days.

Point is, when HBO shills a fight the way they did with James Kirkland vs Alfredo Angulo, I’m inclined to take them at their word. They promised two championship caliber brawlers, both with reputations fierce enough to be ducked by most other sane fighters in their division, and both known to fight like the devil until the other guy is sleeping. Somebody was gonna announce themselves ready for the highest level of the game at the expense of the other, but not without being pushed to the limits of sanity.

Sure, I’d only vaguely heard of either guy, but the build-up had my full attention. Kirkland’s back story is compelling, to say the least. Molded into an unstoppable nightmare of a fighter by former female boxing champion Ann Wolfe and her “work-them-’til-they-drop, then-work-them-some-more” training style, then knocked off his path by being sent to jail for 18 months on a gun charge (after 3 years in prison for a 2003 Armed robbery conviction). Once released, Kirkland saw fit to leave his hometown of Austin, Texas and his trainer behind him, moving to Vegas and hooking up with famed trainer Kenny Adams. Within months, Kirkland was utterly decimated by a 35 year old, light-hitting journeyman named Nobuhiro Ishida in less than one round.

It wasn’t pretty.

Needless to say, Kirkland went running back to Wolfe in a hurry. If he was going to reclaim his reputation, he had no better choice. Two easy wins later, Kirkland agreed to fight Angulo and subject himself to a great professional risk, not to mention a whole new level of torture at the hands of his trainer, lest he be as unprepared as he was for Ishida.

As for the actual fight that took place between the two men nicknamed “Perro” and the “Mandingo Warrior” (Sounds like a horrible sitcom in waiting), the scene on Saturday night was many levels of bizarre, to put it mildly. First off, the live broadcast from Cancun was marred with technical problems, both on the audio and visual side, so much so that it gave the whole show an oddly voyeuristic feel, as if we were being afforded a sneak peek at something we shouldn’t be seeing. Poor Michael Buffer, forced to do his famed introductions with a broken microphone, was frustrated enough to stomp off instead of doing his part in the referee’s instructions. The end result was a fight that felt and looked like it took place in 1957, which if you are wondering, is a good thing.

Yeah, I could wax on with all the “fight of the year” and “best first round I’ve ever seen” platitudes without feeling like I’m exaggerating even a little bit. In fact, I think I just did. Nevermind what I say though, watch round one and draw your own conclusion.

To me, everything that has ever been said about the dramatic properties of fighting are on display in the first round alone, never mind the entire six rounds the fight lasted. What these two guys did to each other in that first three minutes is either incredibly dramatic and unforgettable or completely horrifying, depending on your perspective. For those who love this sport, nothing compares to a fight like this. Rallying your football team from 20 points down is a neat trick, but nothing like attempting to regain the senses another has literally beaten out of you, all while said attacker is still attempting to finish the job. The fact that Kirkland survived that onslaught with a still-scrambled sense of where he was is brave and astonishing and all manner of other things you won’t see in a game of Tennis or Basketball or anything else. Yeah, Angulo made it easier by punching himself out in a desperate, determined attempt to put Kirkland’s lights out, but the majority of those punches bounced of James’ head, so it was by no means an easy road to recovery.

When all was said and done it had taken almost six rounds to decide the winner, but it was a foregone conclusion by the time the bell rang to end the first. Of course, that didn’t stop Perro giving it his best and though he came up short, Angulo was every bit as game as the winner. This is a guy who lasted another five rounds after Roy Jones essentially proclaimed him finished and all but demanded the fight be stopped. Heroic to the point of folly, but courageous as hell any way you slice it.

Not much else to say about it other than this: While that might has been among the greatest, most dramatic fights I’ve ever seen, I hardly wish to see too many more like it. Much like some great, heart-wrenching movie that you loved but can’t bring yourself to watch again (“Breaking the Waves” and “Sling Blade” come to mind), this kind of fight is not the kind you want to see over and over again.  Fights like this are simply too brutal to be enjoyed without thinking of the toll it exacts on the men involved. More often than not, a fighter in Angulo’s position would be lucky to be the same fighter he was before he got in the ring with Kirkland. One can only hope.

And while the legacy of this fight will likely endure for years to come, let’s hope the same can be said for the two men that gave it every bit of what they had. Being remembered for having taken place in such an epic battle is nice. Being of sound enough mind to recall it vividly is even better.

-JOHN HATHWELL

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