If there is anything that the year 2020 has taught us it should be that it has been far from the normal year both in terms of the circumstances created by the ongoing global COVID-19 epidemic and how those circumstances have caused differences from the normal routines not just in everyday life, but also in sports as a whole. While it is not uncommon to see Boxing events held on a daily basis internationally and in particular on Boxing Day, a holiday that is not widely observed here in the United States, it is rare to see Boxing cards stateside held during the period of time between the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. In part due to the ongoing crisis, this changed at least as far as 2020 was concerned as the Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) group of promoters held a card at the Shrine Exposition Center in Los Angeles, CA.
This card, which was televised nationally here in the United States on the national Fox Network, featured two fights with interesting storylines going in. The first of those bouts featured former longtime Jr. Middleweight contender James Kirkland, who was attempting to rekindle his career. Kirkland, who had returned to the ring in August 2019 following a four year hiatus after suffering a brutal knockout loss at the hands of Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, had scored two knockout wins in his comeback over veterans Colby Courter and Jas Phipps. Now competing in his third fight as a Middleweight, Kirkland looking to continue building momentum faced off with rising contender Juan Macias Montiel. Although Montiel had suffered four losses in twenty-seven previous professional bouts, what was notable was every one of his twenty-one career victories came via knockout.
Despite being at a disadvantage in terms of experience compared to Kirkland, Montiel’s growing reputation as a power puncher made this an intriguing bout as Kirkland, a fighter also known for his ability to end fights quickly only knows one direction and that is to come forward and try to impose his will on opponents. Montiel would show however, that he had no intention of being a foot note on Kirkland’s comeback trail as he quickly dropped him with a short left hook to the jaw, this was followed by a follow-up barrage that sent Kirkland down for a second time. Kirkland struggled following the second knockdown, but did manage to get to his feet. Although the fight was allowed to continue, Kirkland could not stop Montiel’s assault and following a third knockdown, the fight was halted at 1:56 of the first round.
This fight immediately brought back memories for this observer of a first round knockout loss Kirkland suffered back in April 2011 at the hands of Nobuhiro Ishida. Much like this fight, Ishida was able to drop Kirkland early and Kirkland was put in a position where he was never able to recover and the bout was quickly stopped. A significant difference between that fight nearly a decade ago and this bout beyond Kirkland now being thirty-six years old was, I noticed that Kirkland’s stance coming out of the corner for this fight against Montiel was not good in that it was a wide stance that seemed to make him susceptible to being caught off balance. What was also clear in my eyes though the two knockout losses have similarities, is once Montiel scored the first knockdown of Kirkland with the short left hook, Kirkland seemingly had no punch resistance and this made the outcome academic.
While this observer has long said it is not my place or others who cover the sport to tell a fighter when they should consider retirement, James Kirkland has been through many wars and with his ability to take a punch seemingly compromised, it is something that he and those close to him may want to consider as you never want to see a fighter take one punch too many. Even though some would argue that anyone can get caught and that is indeed true, having seen and covered the type of knockouts James Kirkland has suffered in his career and also knowing he has been through many battles does concern yours truly as to his long-term well-being.
The second bout that took place on December 26th, was one in the 168lb. Super-Middleweight division that featured unbeaten contender David Morrell squaring off against veteran Mike Gavronski. Morrell, a former Cuban national champion as an amateur has largely benefited from the status he earned during his amateur career as a professional in that in just three previous professional bouts, he had already earned a position holding interim/regular champion status in the World Boxing Association (WBA) Super-Middleweight ratings, which theoretically puts him in line for a potential challenge of recently crowned WBA/WBC world champion Saul “Canelo” Alvarez. While it is rare to see fighters which such limited experience in the professional ranks, fighters who have significant pedigrees as amateurs have been able to skyrocket up the ranks with the opportunities that they are given out of the gate with success.
Although the idea of highly regarded amateur boxers being elevated to potentially challenge for a world championship is one that will likely continue to be a subject of skepticism due to countless other fighters, who may not have had the benefit of significant amateur backgrounds, but who may have more experience on the professional level of the sport not being offered the same opportunities, it will likely be something that should be viewed on a case by case basis. After all, not every fighter’s backstory and subsequent journey into Boxing is exactly the same and as such, it is not something that can be generalized, though it is understandable how critics can point out what they might view as flaws in pushing a fighter so quickly.
In the case of David Morrell however, he has made the most of the opportunities he has received thus far and his encounter with the more experienced Mike Gavronski was no exception. Morrell battered Gavronski relentlessly scoring a knockdown in the first round and continued an onslaught of punishment until the fight was stopped in the third round.
Naturally, questions regarding whether David Morrell is ready to compete against the top Super-Middleweights will likely continue to be asked because though Mike Gavronski was quite “Game “ and tried to hold up against the punishment, he was not able to provide Morrell with a test. If there is an argument for pushing amateur standouts into contention almost immediately upon turning pro that might satisfy some critics of such practices, it might be that amateurs who have the background similar to that of Morrell’s have such expectations placed upon them based on what they were able to accomplish on the amateur level of the sport that it theoretically eliminates the possibility of giving a fighter an opportunity to spend the initial stages of their professional career fighting against boxers that are not viewed in high regard and thus the potential to pad their record a bit before facing a legitimate test.
While again, not every fighter’s journey is the same and some do reach world title contention and even are able to win world championships before others are able to earn their opportunity to do the same, it should remain a case by case basis. Although this fight did little as far as answering questions about David Morrell, it remains to be seen as to where his particular case will fall on the argument of whether accomplished amateur boxers should be pushed up the ranks so quickly.
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