Sunday November 6th, 2011

James Kirkland has plenty of intriguing options for his next fight. (Scott Heavey/Getty Images)

Three quick thoughts on James Kirkland’s explosive sixth round knockout of Alfredo Angulo on Saturday night:

Round 1: The 2011 Round of the Year. With similar, bull in a china shop fighting styles, Angulo-Kirkland was expected to be a war. But this was Armageddon. In the first round, Kirkland had Angulo backed into a corner. But a short right hand from Angulo dropped Kirkland and a flurry of almost uncountable combinations had everyone wondering if Kirkland would survive the round. But Angulo punched himself out midway through the round and a fresh, well-trained Kirkland (thank longtime trainer Ann Wolf for that) rallied to drop Angulo and never looked back. Over the next five rounds Kirkland rearranged Angulo’s face until the referee mercifully stepped in toward the end of the sixth round and stopped the fight. This was not the same James Kirkland who was dropped three times by Nobuhiro Ishida. This was the Kirkland who appeared to be a rising star before legal problems derailed his career.

This is an Ann Wolf kind of fight. Those words, spoken by HBO analyst Max Kellerman, were dead on. Wolf -- who had a falling out with Kirkland and left his corner after he was sent to prison for a parole violation in 2009 but returned after Kirkland’s loss to Ishida -- prepares fighters for just this kind of fight. The ring Kirkland spars in is a small, ten-foot by ten-foot box in Austin,Texas, about half the size of a normal ring, has made Kirkland comfortable fighting in close quarters. And for most of the fight on Saturday,Kirkland and Angulo were separated by only a few inches.Kirkland created space when he needed to and landed bomb after bomb that only Angulo’s granite chin was able to save him from. Kirkland and Wolf clearly have a chemistry, with Wolf seemingly knowing exactly how to push his buttons. This reunion is precisely what Kirkland needed to get back on track.

Bring on… anyone. Skeptics will say Kirkland still has a lot to prove, that beating up on the defensively challenged Angulo -- who has fought twice in the last 16 months -- doesn’t elevate Kirkland to contender status. And they may be right. But Kirkland certainly has become a hot commodity. He’s a hard-hitting American with a very television-friendly style. There are any number of matchups that come to mind:

- Saul Alvarez: A very makeable fight (both are with Golden Boy Promotions) that would be another unbelievable brawl. The question is, will Richard Schaefer and Oscar De La Hoya be willing to risk the company’s money maker against a suddenly fearsome foe in Kirkland

- Miguel Cotto: Unlikely -- can’t see Bob Arum agreeing to this -- but Cotto is the top dog at 154-pounds and it would be interesting to see if his skills could counter Kirkland’s muscle.

- Sergio Martinez: Martinez’s name came up frequently after Kirklandwas released from prison but lost steam after his loss to Ishida. Kirkland might need another couple of fights before he is ready forMartinez, who blends power and skill as well as anyone between 154 and 160 pounds. But there aren’t a lot of high profile opponents willing to fight Martinez. Kirkland could be it.

-- Chris Mannix

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.