(Kirkland defeats Tapia)
ALL PHOTOS © Chris Farina - Top Rank
Report written by Gabriel Montoya
The reunion of trainer and former world champion Ann Wolfe and her prodigal warrior, James “Mandingo Warrior” Kirkland, 32-1, (28), bred a vicious victory once again Saturday night. Facing the previously unbeaten Glen “Jersey Boy” Tapia, 20-1 (12), Kirkland found himself at a crossroads. Lose to Tapia and become a toxic asset for promoter 50 Cent. Win and the world would once again open up to him live on HBO.
With Wolfe and five weeks of “hard, hard work” behind him, Kirkland walked toward Tapia and into a one-two that would end most comebacks. Shaking off a 20 month layoff by eating every punch Tapia has ever learned within the first minute and a half of the fight, the Austin, Texas southpaw never stopped closing the distance. He ate two punches flush. Then three. In first minute and a half, Kirkland took shots like a thirty drunk at spring break and kept coming forward like a boxer nightmare.
Early on, it seemed after as if Tapia would overwhelm Kirkland. He stepped on the gas and had Kirkland going a bit. But just as he had in the first minute and a half versus Alfredo Angulo and against Allan Conyers, his first knockdown years ago, Kirkland was a relentless pressure fighting machine.
The pace appeared too hot to sustain. And by round three, following a second round rally by Kirkland, Tapia’s legs began to agree. No longer was he snapping out shots while moving. Now as each round started, the fighting would begin closer and closer to Tapia’s corner; Kirkland leaping across the ring after getting yelled at by Ann Wolfe.
Wolfe tried to guide Kirkland through this fast-paced hell fight. She once told me that she had to work Kirkland hard in the locker room to tire him out because he gets too excited heading in. After the second, she told him to calm down. And in a sense he did.
While Tapia tried to find his spots to rest and punch in the third and fourth, Kirkland kept working. Windmill uppercuts at half speed, punches constantly touching Tapia about the guard and body, changing pace and ripping then tapping then ripping again. Kirkland never allowed Tapia to rest.
After the fourth, which felt so one-sided it could have been a 10-8 round for Kirkland, the ringside physician and referee Steve Smoger looked over Tapia. His corner argued he was fine and there was some delay. His corner asked that Tapia fight back or it was over.
He opened the fifth by firing at Kirkland like a man fighting for his career. Tapia showed tremendous heart landing right hands that seemed to wobble Kirkland, who kept firing back to the head and body. But the effort ultimately proved to be the final struggle of a prideful fighter.
After five rounds of furious violence such as Tapia had never seen, his body gave out. His corner did not and they sent him out once more. Wolfe implored, to put it mildly, to finish off Tapia. And so he did, ripping into his body and bullying him to the ropes. The ending blows were a left uppercut to the jaw that knocked out Tapia upright. His body stiffened as Smoger stpped in and Kirkland landed a straight left that appeared to knock Tapia out on his feet. Smoger held Tapia as Kirkland exulted with Wolfe, tasting victory once again after so long away from what he does best.
Kirkland said afterward that he was going to remain with Wolfe from here on out in his career. Together, they remain unbeaten. How long he can walk through fire in his fights remains to be seen. But for now, he can enjoy giving fight fans looking for an action fight exactly what they wanted for Christmas.
In the main event, super bantamweight champion Guillermo Rigondeaux extended his unbeaten streak to 13-0 (8) against Joseph King Kong Agbeko, 29-5 (22). It was a dull affair after the first few rounds as Rigo opened fire and seemed to land at will early on. Agbeko never got going and Rigo stopped pressing for a stoppage win. And they cruised to the twelfth like that.
Afterward he told Vasyl Lomachenko and Nonito Donaire they could both get it if they wanted it.
“I’m number one,” Rigo said.
Mathew Macklin, 30-5, (20) showed professional experience versus Lamar Russ, 14-1 (7) who lost his 0 to Macklin after a game start.
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