It had to have been nightmarishly familiar for James Kirkland to find himself on the deck in the 1st round of his long-anticipated junior middleweight fight against Alfredo Angulo. Kirkland — a kind of Great Black Hope who had once exhibited the potential to reenergize black boxing fans with his Mike Tyson-esque qualities in the ring — months prior to the Angulo fight wandered out of a jail stint and right into a shocking 1st round knockout loss to the completely unknown Nobuhiro Ishida.
So here this deja vu was, creeping up on him again. There were those who expected something like this, maybe even his promoter, Golden Boy Promotions. The theory coming in was that GBP recognized that Kirkland wasn't ever going to get back to the beast he once was, so they might as well feed him to Angulo, himself in the pipeline to become the next beloved Mexican action fighter. And fans had wanted the fight for so long that they figured, even if it was over quickly because Kirkland was a spent force, it would be fun for a couple rounds.
It looked as though it would be just one round. Angulo and Kirkland weren't about to play footsie in there. It didn't take long (30 seconds) for Kirkland to walk into a big punch, which, judging by the track record, was one of his favorite things to do. He was hurt by that counter right, too; it wasn't a flash knockdown.
But a couple things saved him. One, he had reunited with old trainer Ann Wolfe, whose bizarre training habits — I heard she makes him wrestle a bear, a tiger and a giraffe simultaneously to prepare him for fights — had clearly given him the stamina to survive the follow-on onslaught. And that follow-on onslaught by Angulo? Boy, was it airheaded. After about a minute, it became clear to anyone watching that Kirkland had more or less recovered from the knockdown. It was clear even to HBO's Roy Jones, Jr. — who hasn't had a good year behind the mic or in the ring being on the wrong end of Knockout of the Year candidates — that Angulo was in danger of punching himself out.
Punching himself out is exactly what Angulo did. And that gave Kirkland his own chance to punch out Angulo, too. Slowly, Kirkland began the uphill climb back into the fight. In a fight filled with echoes, with 30 seconds to go, Kirkland reached the top of the hill. A combination finished by a straight left hurt Angulo badly, and a few moments later, Angulo was on the ground from another combination.
Suddenly, the echoes of the past had stopped haunting Kirkland, and he was the one making the noise, halting Angulo in the 6th. In so doing, he completed his comeback from jail; he completed his comeback from the Ishida fight; he completed his comeback from the 1st round knockdown by Angulo. And it was Angulo, not Kirkland, who looked as though he was the spent force.
In the end, Kirkland-Angulo was neither the ritual sacrifice some feared nor the Fight of the Year that some expected. But for one round, it was everything we could have wanted.