With two of the most aggressive fighters in the sport facing off, expectations for all-out war became reality Saturday night soon after the opening bell.
Pugilistic purgatory, or in other words fighting hell, was a journey that James "Mandingo Warrior" Kirkland (29-1, 27 KOs) and Alfredo "El Perro" Angulo (20-2, 17 KOs) both proved willing to give and take in their scheduled 12-round junior middleweight bout from Cancun, Mexico on HBO's Boxing After Dark.
Kirkland, who was knocked down just 30 seconds into the fight but regrouped moments later to score a knockdown of his own, eventually took advantage of Angulo's fatigue and was hammering away at the defenseless Mexican fighter when referee John Callas stepped in to stop the fight, earning Kirkland the victory by technical knockout at 1:03 of the sixth round.
"Training hard, that's what just happened,'' said Kirkland, giving credit to his trainer Ann Wolfe for his excellent conditioning that allowed him to weather the storm against an opponent that was equally willing to absorb and dish out punishment.
"I can't take nothing away from Angulo. He's a true champion, he's strong and he's a warrior. But I put everything on the line when I step in the ring. And if the fans want to see a good fight, I say let's give them a good fight."
Angulo declined comment after the fight, but never regained his strength after apparently punching himself out in the first round in a futile attempt to take out Kirkland when he had him hurt.
The extraordinary suspense and dramatics of the first round alone qualified the long-anticipated matchup as a "Fight of the Year" candidate as both fighters scored knockdowns that seemed at the time to be the beginning of the end.
The first devastating punch came seemingly out of nowhere as Angulo, under pressure and backing up for one of the few times in his career, landed a right hand that stopped Kirkland in his tracks and sent the Austin, Texas slugger to the canvas just 30 seconds into the fight.
Kirkland got up but refused to hold on. Instead, he took punch after punch from Angulo but he stayed mobile and just busy enough to buy some time.
Not only didn't he wilt, but Kirkland turned the tables with a minute left in the first round when he landed a series of combinations that sent Angulo reeling to the ropes where a vicious left and a right dropped him. It was the first time Angulo has been down in his career.
The difference in the fight was Kirkland's amazing ability to recover from near disaster, compared to Angulo, whose will to fight to the finish was stronger than the energy left in his body.
"This was the James Kirkland that trained super hard,'' Kirkland said. "Me and Ann Wolfe stayed up night and day preparing for this. We know that Angulo is a true champion, that he goes to the body and the head and he keeps coming. But we were willing to do whatever it takes to stop him in his tracks."
In the other bout on the HBO B.A.D. telecast, unbeaten middleweight Peter Quillen (26-0, 20 KOs), who fights out of Brooklyn, N.Y., scored a TKO at 2:23 of the sixth round against Craig McEwan (18-2, 10 KOs), from Edinborough, Scotland.