There was a lot of noise coming out of my house in a quiet neighborhood in Austin, TX last night.
My fellow gym rat Ellen and I were screaming and dancing around as we watched our stable mate James “Mandingo Warrior” Kirkland destroy his opponent Joel Julio. Kirkland left a broken man where a knockout artist had been.
It was a beautiful thing to watch.
We both felt good after reading that Kirkland had "won" the weigh-in, looking cut and calm, and inciting fear in the heart of his opponent.
There is something truly scary about the sincerity with which James licks his chops for the blood of his opponent, and I think Julio knew that he was in over his head.
Trainer Ann Wolfe’s description of her fighter as a shark in bloody water seemed particularly apt. You could almost see Kirkland smelling the blood from his corner before the fight began.
Watching the fight, six rounds of punishment for Julio from Kirkland, I had the clear sense of predator and prey roles for the two fighters.
After tasting Kirkland’s power and the irritant of his constant pressure, Julio looked like a man wondering how much of this he would have to take. In his corner between rounds, he seemed speechless and on the verge of tears.
Before the fight, Kirkland acknowledged that he was aware that Julio was a step above his previous opponents, with significant power of his own. This realization led him to make an adjustment in the ring. As he put it in an interview with HBO before the fight, “I finally started listening to my trainers.”
Kirkland’s one disadvantage in the ring has always been the underbelly of his biggest advantage. He has so much natural talent and strength that he hasn’t had to integrate more advanced boxing skills into his repertoire.
In this fight, Kirkland was truly impressive as he combined his natural ferocity with some slick boxing maneuvers. He blocked shots with his elbows, slipped and countered, used his jab, and attacked the body to ensure that his prey wouldn’t be able to get away.
My prediction was off by one round. Julio made it through the sixth and wanted no more.
Of course, Kirkland can still work on using angles rather than going straight for his opponent, moving his head out of the way of straight right hand shots, and keeping his hands up more consistently by his jaw.
As Ann likes to say, however, everybody has weaknesses, it’s just a matter of who gets in first to take advantage. Kirkland’s future opponents, be warned: James is very good and getting even better at getting in on you first.