Kirkland, Ortiz Pass Big Tests

On a boxing tripleheader designed to showcase some of HBO’s young hopefuls, James Kirkland and Victor Ortiz got the biggest wins of their careers and now look forward to title shots in the near future.

KIRKLAND PUTS THE HURT ON JULIO

In the main event, undefeated junior middleweight James Kirkland faced the toughest test of his career but was more than impressive in stopping Joel Julio in what turned out to be a fantastic slugfest at times.

The southpaw Kirkland, whose style is characterized as seek and destroy, tried to swarm Julio from the start and didn’t let up, even after tasting a big right hand from the backtracking Julio. Kirkland scored often with straight left hands and right hooks to the head whenever he trapped Julio on the ropes, and Julio left the round with a cut over his right eye from one of Kirkland’s bombs.

Before round two began, Kirkland was in his corner, mouthing to Julio that he was coming for him. Rather than offer a verbal reply, Julio had an answer for him in the form of a hard straight right hand to the head in the center of the ring. Kirkland won the round, however, by beating Julio to the body and into the ropes and corners on more than one occasion.

In what will go down as a candidate for Round of the Year, the third started off at an incredible rate with both men landing huge power shots on one another. Kirkland got the best of the first exchange when he drilled Julio against the ropes with a pair of straight lefts, followed by a big right hook. But, just as quickly, Julio blasted Kirkland with a monster of a left hand. The action died down for about a minute until Julio popped Kirkland with four unanswered straight rights in the middle of the ring. They traded hooks, and Julio scored with a right hand that buckled Kirkland’s knees. The heavy handed Julio swung for the fences, but Kirkland answered back with a one-two that snapped his foe’s head up. Kirkland followed that with a left-right combination to the head of his attacker, and Julio began pawing at the cut over his eye, which had been reopened. Just when it looked like he was backing down, Julio clipped Kirkland with a sweeping right that knocked his head up. He played to the crowd afterward, having earned the right to call the round his.

Referee Raul Caíz Jr. interjected himself into the bout early in the fourth by warning Kirkland for a rabbit punch and then allowing Kirkland to hit Julio on a break, which also resulted in a warning but no point deduction. While Caíz did order the fighters to continue prior to the shot, Julio had been offering to touch gloves with Kirkland when it happened, which turned a clean blow into something to frown on. Julio went on to slip in some nice straight rights but spent the majority of the round taking punishment from the pressing Kirkland.

The durability of Kirkland’s chin was firmly established in the fifth round when, after landing a straight left, he took a hellacious right hand from Julio and remained not only on his feet but also largely unfazed. With the blood starting to bother him, Julio began winging power shots, hoping to catch Kirkland with another bomb, but, with Kirkland’s chin being so strong, a stoppage didn’t seem likely. After eating some left hands, Julio began holding more frequently and looking to survive.

Julio wasn’t ready to give it up yet though and fought a great sixth round, landing most of the clean punches, including the straight right that seemingly couldn’t miss its target, but he never felt comfortable enough to plant his feet and really let one fly on Kirkland. Kirkland managed to steal the round in the waning seconds with a rally of left hands to Julio’s head, and Julio ended the round clinching after getting buzzed.

While visiting Julio’s corner to examine the eye, Caíz wasted almost no time in calling the fight off, and the saddened Julio offered no complaint, perhaps having even requesting the stoppage. He looked in bad shape and was likely going to become a knockout victim within another round or two anyway.

With the best win of his career under his belt, Kirkland may want to start taking aim at the big dogs at 154 pounds. To be accurate, there are almost no big names at junior middleweight but plenty of titlists. Kirkland’s aggressive style isn’t likely to change at this point, so his best move would be to pick one of the titlists who will give him the brawling fight he wants and see if he can take advantage of that opportunity. A good boxer is certain to give Kirkland problems, but he seems to be in the perfect division for his style as long as he stays away from Sergio Martinez, Vernon Forrest and maybe even Daniel Santos, at least for the time being.

ORTIZ ANNIHILATES ARNAOUTIS

Junior welterweight Victor Ortiz also got arguably the biggest win of his career when he knocked out Mike Arnaoutis on the undercard.

Ortiz initiated all of the action between the fellow southpaws in the first round and thus landed all of the meaningful punches as Arnaoutis fought timid. Between rounds, a ringside commission representative requested Arnaoutis have the laces of his boots taped to prevent any slips, telling trainer Buddy McGirt it would be fine to do so after the next round.

But Arnaoutis would never have that opportunity because Ortiz finished him off less than two minutes later. Ortiz came over a jab with a huge left hand across Arnaoutis’ face that rocked him and sent him staggering sideways into the ropes on rubbery legs. Ortiz rushed in for the kill, slamming home stiff uppercuts and hooks to the head of the covering Arnaoutis until Referee Ray Balewicz appropriately waved it off.

Arnaoutis acted confused moments after the stoppage as though he hadn’t been aware of what was happening. That’s a testament to how hard Ortiz hits, and it was a great win given that Arnaoutis is a legitimate contender at junior welterweight, having gone the distance in losing efforts against former WBO Champion Ricardo Torres and current WBO Champion Kendall Holt and earned a draw against current IBF Champion Juan Urango.

Ortiz only has one loss on his resume – a disqualification to Corey Alarcon in 2005 for scoring a knockout on what Referee David Denkin deemed a hit on a break. He should no longer be considered a prospect now that he has scored knockouts over the durable Carlos Maussa and Arnaoutis and might find himself in a title fight in 2009 against one of the four titleholders.

NO CONTEST ENDS GUERRERO’S NIGHT EARLY

Junior lightweight Robert Guerrero wasn’t able to showcase his talent to the same degree as Kirkland and Ortiz when his bout against the undefeated Daud Yordan was ruled a no contest after Guerrero suffered a headbutt in the second round that rendered him unable to see and unable to continue.

The first round was competitive, with Guerrero shooting more shots and trying to outwork his opponent, but it was Yordan who deserved to win the round after scoring with the four best punches of the round, including a huge right-left combination to the head that buckled Guerrero’s knees and wobbled him for a moment.

Yordan appeared to be edging the second round as well until the fighters banged heads, and it was Guerrero who got the worst of it as blood began pouring from a cut over his right eye. Referee Jon Schorle called it accidental and allowed the fight to continue, but Guerrero wiped at the cut and commented to Schorle about it, clearly wanting the action stopped. Schorle gave in after Yordan got in some more good shots, and Guerrero promptly told the ringside doctor he couldn’t see due to blood pouring into his eye. The doctor sounded skeptical, but Schorle had to stop the fight based on Guerrero’s word. The fight ended in a no contest since four rounds had not been completed.

The outcome was particularly unfortunate because Guerrero was fighting close to his hometown of Gilroy, and most of the fans in attendance had come to see him. They booed the no contest, but it wasn’t clear whether they thought Guerrero had quit or, being unaware of the rules, were afraid he would lose. As it stands, neither fighter suffered a loss and should rematch one another whenever Guerrero’s eye heals.

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