Although Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s showdown with Manny Pacquiao last week probably didn’t convert many new fans to boxing, the sport has much more to offer after that unsatisfying meeting between its two biggest stars.
Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and James Kirkland get the first chance to put on a show.
The crowd-pleasing punchers both return from lengthy ring absences for a 154-pound meeting Saturday night at Houston’s Minute Maid Park, where 40,000 eager fans and an HBO audience will watch the Mexican champion and his Texan challenger.
“The fans want to go see action, and these are the kind of fights where the people will leave happy,” Alvarez said through a translator.
The 24-year-old Alvarez (44-1-1, 31 KOs) already is among the biggest stars in boxing for his skills and fearless style, and his return from a 10-month break pits him against one of the biggest sluggers in the sport. The matchup appears to be tailor-made for entertainment, and neither fighter has avoided those expectations during the week after Mayweather’s defensive dominance of an injured Pacquiao.
“This is one of the opportunities I’ve been wanting,” Kirkland said. “This is a fight that I know the fans want to see, a fight that I’m truly prepared for.”
Canelo hasn’t fought since winning an awkward decision over Erislandy Lara in July. An ankle injury sidelined him in the winter, but Alvarez kept training in his new home in San Diego until he inked a meeting with Kirkland, whose legal troubles and training upheaval have overshadowed his once-promising career.
Kirkland (32-1, 28 KOs) hasn’t fought since December 2013 and has just two fights in the previous 3 1/2 years. At least his current absence wasn’t due to incarceration, but Kirkland also split again with longtime trainer Ann Wolfe in a quest to become “a more complete” fighter.
Kirkland became a dominant boxer under Wolfe’s demanding tutelage. He split with her before his only career defeat against Nobuhiro Ishida in 2011, but reunited and won five more fights.
He’ll be in Houston with a little-known team in his corner, but likely the same punching power and bravado that have consistently led to excitement. Kirkland hasn’t been in a fight that went the distance since June 2007, 14 bouts ago.
“Canelo brings a lot to the game, got a great team backing him, and pretty much knows the sport,” Kirkland said. “But there’s a little something that goes deeper than that that I believe I possess. So at the end of the day I’m … going to let the hands do the talking.”
If Alvarez wins, he is widely expected to challenge Miguel Cotto in a pay-per-view fight that could be the biggest event of the fall. Canelo has refused to look beyond Kirkland, realizing the danger in his opponent’s fists.
“A lot of people are counting on Canelo to carry boxing on his shoulders for many years to come,” said his promoter, Oscar De La Hoya.
Right before the main event, the Houston crowd would have seen an enticing junior welterweight matchup between Frankie Gomez and Humberto Soto, but Gomez weighed in six pounds over the 141-pound limit Friday, forcing promoter Golden Boy to cancel the bout.
The fight was a prime opportunity for Gomez (18-0, 13 KOs), who was slated to take the ring immediately after HBO replayed the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight on its broadcast.
The card still features featherweight prospect Joseph Diaz Jr., former Pacquiao challenger Joshua Clottey and 7-foot Chinese heavyweight Taishan Dong.
AP Sports Writer Kristie Rieken in Houston contributed to this report.
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