By Kenneth Bouhairie
A look back at the best moments in the storied career of the popular slugger as he takes on Marcos Hernandez in a middleweight battle Saturday night on FS1.
The “Mandingo Warrior” is back! This Saturday, March 14, middleweight slugger James Kirklandreturns to television when he takes on the dangerous Marcos Hernandez at the MGM Grand Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland, live on FS1 PBC Fight Night (8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT).
Last August, Kirkland, 35, 34-2 (30 KOs), ended a four-year layoff with a first-round TKO of Colby Courter. He then followed that up with a second-round KO over Jas Phipps in November. At his best, Kirkland was a southpaw version of Mike Tyson, standing a stocky 5-foot-9 and bobbing and weaving his way in to unleash hell on opponents. The 26-year-old Hernandez (14-3-1, 3 KOs) represents his first major test since his return. But before the fisticuffs fly on Saturday night, let’s take a look at some of Kirkland’s greatest moments.
Date: November 30, 2007
Location: Chumash Casino, Santa Ynez
Records at the time: Kirkland 20-0 (17 KOs), Conyers 11-2 (9 KOs)
Result: Kirkland TKO 1
Summary: A 23-year-old Kirkland was back on Showtime’s ShoBox series, a developmental boxing program for up and coming pugilists. His opponent was the dangerous Conyers in a 154-pound bout expected to produce fireworks.
It did, indeed.
The two went to war almost as soon as the opening bell rang. Kirkland, per his style, drove Conyers to the ropes, where he unloaded his bombs. But Conyers fired back and the war was on. A straight right hand, followed by another, dropped a dazed Kirkland to the canvas. And this was just in the first 30 seconds. Conyers sought to finish when Kirkland arose but the Texas native wasn’t going anywhere. A big Kirkland left forced Conyers to hold. A second left sent him halfway through the ropes. Conyers got up but Kirkland battered the wobbled fighter until a right hook dropped him again, causing the bout’s stoppage at 2:56 of the first.
Date: November 22, 2008
Location: MGM Grand, Las Vegas
Records at the time: Kirkland 23-0 (20 KOs), Vera 16-1 (10 KOs)
Result: Kirkland TKO 8
Summary: The brawling Vera was coming off an impressive KO win over Andy Lee when he stepped through the ropes to face Kirkland. Against Kirkland, he was seriously outgunned. Vera landed several hard shots but Kirkland walked through them all.
A right-left dropped Vera moments into the second round. Another left floored Vera again with seconds remaining in the frame. Vera survived until round eight, when a Kirkland hook dropped him. The follow-up flurry convinced referee Vic Drakulich to step in and rescue the brave fighter.
Date: March 7, 2009
Location: HP Pavilion, San Jose
Records at the time: Kirkland 24-0 (21 KOs), Julio 34-2 (31 KOs)
Result: Kirkland TKO 6
Summary: Another fight, another war from which Kirkland emerged victorious. Julio gave it all but simply couldn’t slow Kirkland’s non-stop aggression. The Colombian had his moments, particularly in round three, when he landed several hard shots. Kirkland responded by motioning for more.
Round by round, Julio was broken down, until he was taking a beating in the sixth. He was a spent force at the end of the round, which induced the bout’s stoppage before the start of the seventh.
Date: November 5, 2011
Location: Centro de Cancun, Cancun
Records at the time: Kirkland 29-1 (26 KOs), Angulo 20-1 (17 KOs)
Result: Kirkland TKO 6
Summary: This battle of heavy hitters occurred on HBO’s famed “Boxing After Dark” series in Cancun, Mexico, Angulo’s native country. However, there was no homefield advantage here despite Angulo flooring Kirkland with a short right early in the first. Kirkland rose with his wits about him.
Once action resumed, Angulo went on the attack throwing combination after combination. But during the final minute of the stanza, it was Kirkland who came alive, fighting off the ropes with both hands and tearing into Angulo until he fell with seconds remaining in the round. Angulo made it to his feet and was saved by a bell that rang moments later.
He never threatened again, despite giving everything he had. Kirkland dominated, beating him down until the fight was called off at 2:01 of the sixth.
Date: December 7, 2013
Location: Boardwalk Hall, Atlantic City
Records at the time: Kirkland 31-1 (27 KOs), Tapia 20-0 (12 KOs)
Result: Many pundits expected the younger, confident Tapia to emerge victorious. Kirkland had other plans. Tapia landed his share of shots, swelling up Kirkland’s left eye with repeated rights. One of those shots stunned Kirkland in the third, but the southpaw wouldn’t be denied.
The momentum oscillated seemingly every second but, ultimately, Kirkland’s power shone through. A prolonged flurry on fading Tapia during the sixth was enough for referee Steve Smoger to end the bout at 0:38 of the round.