IT’S not that long ago that James Kirkland was one of the hottest prospects in world boxing. The light-middleweight was the archetypal unbeaten slugger; inflated muscles, lights out power, and an attitude so bad it made Sonny Liston look like Sonny Bono. But the rickety rails he was riding threw him off track (in 2009 he was sent to prison for two years after being caught with a firearm while on probation), and despite flashes of brilliance since, he is a huge underdog against Mexican hero Saul “Canelo” Alvarez.
Betway place the Texan southpaw – now 31 – as a 4-1 outsider for the 12-rounder in his (relatively) nearby Minute Maid Park in Houston. The reasons are clear. The comeback that followed his incarceration was expected to take him to world glory but in 2011 he was flattened inside a round by Nobuhiro Ishida – who had previously scored only seven stoppages in 30 outings – and his highly influential mentor, Ann Wolfe, was no longer in his corner. Since then, despite winning five straight, his form has been patchy.
He showed guts to haul himself off the canvas and batter Alfredo Angulo in November that year before emerging from a losing struggle with Carlos Molina with a highly controversial disqualification victory in March 2012. Eighteen months of inactivity followed before he returned to the ring to win a see-saw thriller with Glen Tapia. He hasn’t fought since.
Alvarez, meanwhile, has been operating at the top of the 154lb division since he defeated Austin Trout in 2013 over 12 rounds. A loss to Floyd Mayweather – no shame there – followed but the Mexican rebounded with a straightforward hammering of the aforementioned Angulo before tightly outscoring the brilliant Cuban, Erislandy Lara. It was far from a perfect showing against the slippery stylist but still, all things considered, it’s easy to see why Betway place Alvarez as the 17-100 favourite.
The redhead may have struggled against Mayweather and Lara – two of the slipperiest creatures on the boxing landscape – but the full-steam-ahead approach of Kirkland looks made to order for “Canelo”. And considering Kirkland has looked on the brink of defeat several times since being battered by Ishida in 2011, there is value to be found in Alvarez winning inside schedule at 8-13.
However, when one possesses the kind of power Kirkland packs into his mitts the upset is always inviting. And despite the factors leaning in Alvarez’s favour, those backing the underdog can point to the hometown Texas setting, the American’s strength, and inbuilt tenacity as reasons to lay some cash on the 11-2 odds favouring Kirkland to halt Saul.