Commentary

2011 round of year: Kirkland-Angulo

Updated: December 28, 2011, 4:12 PM ET
By Dan Rafael | ESPN.com

You've heard the term "bull in a china shop," right? Now imagine if two bulls were actually let loose at the same time in said china shop.

The ensuing destruction would probably look pretty much like the first round of the James Kirkland-Alfredo Angulo fight. Wild, with heavy-duty contact. Violent. Total chaos in a small area. Easily the 2011 ESPN.com round of the year.

No three-minute segment was filled with more sheer excitement -- not to mention a knockdown and a gargantuan momentum swing -- than the opening frame of this junior middleweight collision Nov. 5 on HBO in Cancun, Mexico.

Since 2008, when both fighters were becoming regulars on HBO, boxing fans looked forward to the day Kirkland and Angulo -- two of boxing's most exciting fighters and explosive punchers -- would someday meet. However, they both had issues that kept them out of the ring for long stretches. Kirkland went to prison for 18 months and Angulo was jammed up with promotional and immigration problems. But when they finally were back on track, Golden Boy, which had just signed Angulo, threw caution to the wind and matched them.

Kirkland was the clear underdog because he was going to Angulo's home country and still trying to rebuild himself after what had happened to him seven months earlier.

After Kirkland was released from prison, he won two quick fights in March and then was given a showcase fight against unheralded Nobuhiro Ishida on the Marcos Maidana-Erik Morales HBO PPV undercard. Ishida delivered a shocking first-round knockout when he dropped Kirkland three times in the biggest upset of the year.

Kirkland then reunited with trainer Ann Wolfe, from whom he had split after exiting prison, before winning two nothing fights and being thrown in with Angulo.

After so much anticipation, it appeared the fight might be over in nearly an instant. The fighters came out bombing right away, and Kirkland did the unthinkable: He forced Angulo, who probably had never taken a backward step in his career, into retreat and had him cornered. But Angulo freed himself and, just 30 seconds into the fight, landed a ferocious right hand dead on Kirkland's chin. Kirkland crumpled to his backside, and suddenly memories of the Ishida fight came flooding back. Would he make it out of the round?

But Wolfe had Kirkland in phenomenal condition. He was up quickly, calmly took the count from referee John Callas and was ready to wade into battle again.

Angulo was ready and continued to press the attack. He went hard after the knockout. For more than a minute, he teed off on Kirkland with thudding left hooks and searing right hands. Kirkland absorbed the shots and stayed on his feet, but although he was throwing back, he simply had no answers to deter the free-swinging Angulo.

With about a minute left in the round, Angulo looked exhausted after throwing so many punches in relentless pursuit of the knockout following the knockdown. While Angulo was losing steam, Kirkland surprisingly looked fresh, despite the battering he had taken to that point.

[+] EnlargeAngulo/Kirkland
Roberto Fernandez/Hoganphotos/Golden Boy PromotionsAlfredo Angulo had James Kirkland in trouble almost from the start in their Nov. 5 bout, but Kirkland rallied and launched a brutal assault in a violent first round.

They were unloading on each other with punch after punch, prompting HBO announcer Jim Lampley to express sympathy for the punch counters at ringside.

"What a CompuBox punch festival here," he exclaimed.

With 45 seconds left, Kirkland (30-1, 27 KOs) landed a hard straight left hand that sent Angulo (20-2, 17 KOs) backward into the ropes. During the ensuing flurry, Kirkland landed two flush right hands and a left that badly hurt Angulo.

"What an amazing comeback in this round," Lampley barked as Kirkland had clearly turned the fight around and gained momentum.

Kirkland continued the assault, raining down more than a dozen punches, including some heavy right hands, until Angulo dropped to the canvas on his rear end. It was the first time he had been down in his career. Although a bit unsteady, a woozy Angulo, with the help of the ropes to steady himself, scrambled to his feet before Callas could even begin his count.

There were only a few seconds remaining, and the round ended before either man could get off another good shot, but what an amazing battle it had already been.

"What an incredible round," Lampley bellowed as the bell sounded.

And then HBO analyst Max Kellerman said what many of us were surely thinking: "They'll be talking about this round for years!"

Other scorchers:

[+] EnlargeAkira Yaegashi
AP Photo/Shizuo KambayashiStrawweights Akira Yaegashi and Pornsawon Porpramook provided big action throughout their October title bout, but the eighth round was especially breathtaking.

Akira Yaegashi-Pornsawon Porpramook (eighth): Really, you could pick any of a number of rounds from this epic fight as a candidate for the year's best. You want to go with the seventh? Cool. The 10th? No sweat. And there are others that were terrific, but we'll take the eighth round of this all-action strawweight title bout from Japan. The scene was just ridiculous as these little guys plowed into each other (again) at an inhuman pace right from the bell to start the round. They met at the center of the ring and began firing missiles. Yaegashi caught Porpramook with a left uppercut that blunted his progression and forced him back into the ropes, prompting Porpramook to motion for his rival to come and get him. Yaegashi took him up on the offer and began teeing off on the wide-open Porpramook with uppercuts and right hands. Porpramook's defense at this point amounted to using his face to block punches. Yaegashi landed an absolutely brutal right hand, and Porpramook barely flinched. But Yaegashi kept swinging away in violent fashion. With two minutes still to go, Porpramook already had taken probably a few rounds of punishment. But out of nowhere he rallied, landing a blistering right hand that buckled the knees of Yaegashi, who barely stayed upright. At this point, the fighters were in the middle of the ring simply trading shots, the action resembling a video game or a "Rocky" movie, while the crowd went berserk. Porpramook refused to hold his hands up, and Yaegashi continued to plant right hands on his face while Porpramook also got in his own brutal shots to the head and body. The incredible round was like an entire fight rolled into three minutes -- that's how utterly barbaric it was.

Hernan "Tyson" Marquez-Luis Concepcion I (first): The opening round, during which Marquez and Concepcion exchanged knockdowns, set the tone for this fabulous flyweight title fight. There was no feeling-out process as the fireworks began erupting in the first 30 seconds, the fighters trading blows. Concepcion, a bit more of the aggressor, broke through with a right hand that sent Marquez down against the ropes as Concepcion's hometown fans in Panama City, Panama, went wild. Marquez made it to his feet by eight, but he looked hurt and there were still 80 seconds to go in the round. Concepcion rushed to him, and the battle was back in full swing immediately. Concepcion was throwing with abandon. Marquez was throwing back while trying to stay on his feet. He then landed a huge overhand left that sent Concepcion reeling toward the ropes, swinging the momentum. Then it changed again when Concepcion nailed Marquez with two right hands and a body shot as the round wound down. But then it changed yet again as Marquez came off the ropes and smashed Concepcion with a left hook that landed on the chin and dropped him with two seconds left in an absolutely fantastic round of what would prove to be a classic fight.

[+] EnlargeVictor Ortiz, Andre Berto
Marty Rosengarten/RingsidePhotos.comAndre Berto and Victor Ortiz exchanged vicious blows and knockdowns in the best round of their April fight of the year candidate.

Victor Ortiz-Andre Berto (sixth): Just before the sixth round of this terrific slugfest between young welterweight stars began, HBO's Lampley offered an overview: "If you've just tuned in, it's been blazing and thrilling so far," he said. Both fighters had already been knocked down once each, but as good as the first five rounds were, the action elevated to another level in the dramatic sixth round. To be honest, the first two minutes were fairly slow compared to what had already taken place. But that last minute? Whoa. Berto landed a perfect right hand to the chin and Ortiz went down for the second time in the fight. He got up quickly, but his legs were shaky and saliva was dripping from his mouth. After Ortiz took the count from referee Michael Ortega, Berto went for the knockout. Ortiz's legs still weren't all there, and after eating a flush right hand, he grabbed on to Berto, who continued to chase him and land punches. Out of nowhere, Ortiz cracked Berto on the chin with a clean left hand that sent him to the canvas with five seconds left in the round. HBO analyst Emanuel Steward lost it: "Ohhhhhh, maaaaaah gawwwwwwd," he shrieked. The round came to an end before either fighter could land another solid punch, but holy moly, what a round. "Unbelievable! What a fight! George Foreman and Ron Lyle, stand aside. We've got an amazing slugfest in Connecticut," exclaimed Lampley, referring to the all-time great heavyweight slobberknocker. How good was the round, or at least the final minute? Even Floyd Mayweather Jr. -- who sat ringside and would go on to face Ortiz (who claimed a title from Berto) -- was smiling and cheering.

Delvin Rodriguez-Pawel Wolak I (ninth): You could pick one of several rounds from this "Friday Night Fights" instant-classic main event, but the ninth round was just enthralling. Part of the reason was the overall action, which was nonstop, and part was because of the incredible courage Wolak showed to keep fighting through the pain of a massive hematoma over his right eye. It was very badly swollen, but with the fight seemingly dead even, he wouldn't submit, even as Rodriguez's corner was telling its fighter to target the eye before the round began. When it did begin, Wolak buried his head in Rodriguez's chest and tried to manhandle him on the inside. It worked briefly, until Rodriguez exploded a combination to get Wolak off of him. Rodriguez was having a big round, but the perseverance Wolak showed was awe-inspiring, and the crowd was on its feet and cheering wildly for both guys. Rodriguez landed a fast three-punch combination on Wolak's face and then hammered the right eye with a left hook that Wolak could not possibly have seen out of the sealed-shut eye. But Wolak simply shook off the blow and ripped off punch after punch in an exhausting round that hurt to watch.

Antonio DeMarco-Jorge Linares (11th): In a fight for a vacant lightweight belt, Linares was dominating DeMarco through 10 rounds despite having suffered some bad facial cuts. DeMarco's trainer, Romulo Quirarte, knew it and told his man after the 10th round that he needed a knockout to win. So what did DeMarco do? He gave his corner exactly that, as he launched a rally for the ages. It began subtly enough, with DeMarco taking control when he landed a straight left that forced Linares to the ropes. At that point you could sense the momentum of the fight changing, as DeMarco pressured a fading Linares and cracked him with a left-right combination midway through the round, the blood flowing freely from the nasty cut on the bridge of Linares' nose. Another cut was bleeding into Linares' right eye as DeMarco continued to attack, including landing a clean right hand that rattled his rival. But Linares wouldn't go easily. While DeMarco continued to hammer him, Linares was throwing back, and they exchanged in toe-to-toe fashion while the blood flew. "One of the best rounds you could see," HBO analyst Max Kellerman said just as Linares ate another straight left hand. Although Linares was badly hurt, he was fighting back. But DeMarco was relentless. He landed about eight more punches as the blood-soaked Linares retreated to the ropes and referee Raul Caiz Sr. stopped the fight with 28 seconds left in the tumultuous round.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Rios and Urbano Antillon
Chris Farina/Top RankBrandon Rios and Urbano Antillon seemed to drag their prefight enmity into the ring for their July bout, taking turns teeing off on each other from the opening bell.

Brandon Rios-Urbano Antillon (first): Expectations for an action fight were sky-high for this lightweight title bout between Southern California rivals. And, not surprisingly, that's what folks got -- especially in the thrilling opening round. The fighters had talked a lot of smack in the buildup, and they tried to back it up right away. Antillon began digging to the body and Rios was firing left hooks and uppercuts. After Rios stung Antillon with one of those uppercuts and appeared to gain the advantage, suddenly Antillon answered with his own uppercut. This round could have been fought in a phone booth as the fighters stood at close range and wailed away. The final 30 seconds were awesome as they went toe-to-toe and landed heavy shots on each other and whipped the crowd into a frenzy.

Brandon Rios-Miguel Acosta (ninth): This was the best round of a terrific fight as Rios, challenging for a lightweight belt, and Acosta traded with reckless abandon in pursuit of a knockout. Already, Acosta had been down in the sixth and eighth rounds and Rios had rallied from an early deficit as they continued to blast away at close range. Acosta, who was fading, showed huge heart to go punch for punch with Rios, who lives to pressure opponents. Rios stuck his head in Acosta's chest for long portions of the round and blasted away. He had Acosta pinned on the ropes and was firing with both hands and going to the body while Acosta, who had lost some steam on his shots, was nonetheless answering as best as he could. They traded punches on the ropes seemingly for an eternity, prompting Showtime's Steve Albert to cry, "No letup here! Nonstop action!" There were still 40 seconds left in the round at that point, and the fighters didn't disappoint as the rock 'em-sock 'em round came to an end the same way it had begun.

Carl Froch-Glen Johnson (eighth): When super middleweight titlist Froch met former light heavyweight champ Johnson in the semifinals of the Super Six World Boxing Classic, they produced an excellent fight, the second best of the tournament, behind Mikkel Kessler-Froch in 2010, whose 12th round was also the best of the tournament. But this round wasn't far behind, as Froch and Johnson banged away to the delight of the crowd. They started by digging hard shots at each other on the inside while standing in the middle of the ring. Johnson, who fought like a man a lot younger than his 42 years, hurt Froch with a flush right hand that backed him up. Froch was undeterred. He fired back. Johnson responded. And on and on it went. As they continued to trade, Showtime's Al Bernstein was on the money when he said, "You can press this round in your memory book. It's a good one!" Said excitable blow-by-blow man Gus Johnson: "What a round, this eighth round!"

Teon Kennedy-Jorge Diaz (sixth): It's a damn shame that this bout between undefeated junior featherweight prospects wasn't televised (although it was streamed on Top Rank's website), because it was sensational. And no round in the fight was more outstanding than No. 6. The pace was fast throughout the bout and continued into the sixth when, in the final minute, Kennedy landed a massive right hand to Diaz's head, sending him to his knees. Although he was hurt, Diaz -- who has a lot of Arturo Gatti in him -- showed a big heart and continued to fight hard even though Kennedy was hammering him. After another left hand rocked Diaz, referee Steve Smoger looked very closely at stopping the fight. Diaz wasn't badly dazed, but his legs were gone. Smoger, one of the best referees in the business, has an uncanny knack for knowing when to stop a fight and when not to. He let this one continue, and it was the right call as Diaz got himself together and grabbed on to Kennedy before they fell to the canvas as the wild round came to a close.

[+] EnlargeKhan/Peterson
Al Bello/Getty ImagesThe third round of Amir Khan-Lamont Peterson raised the stakes from quality action fight to classic.

Lamont Peterson-Amir Khan (third): The first two rounds of this junior welterweight title bout were really good, but you had an inkling that you were watching a truly memorable fight unfold during the fast-paced third round. Khan was on the attack early, nailing Peterson with fast punches and moving away. Although Peterson's punches weren't nearly as flashy as Khan's, he landed some hard right hands and digging body punches that Khan definitely felt. This was the epitome of a round between fast and skilled boxers who also liked to mix it up, delighting the crowd -- especially when the fighters traded power shots in the center of the ring. Every time Khan would land -- and he landed a lot -- Peterson was right there to return fire. Khan, after taking a body shot, was in retreat in the final 40 seconds. He went to the ropes, and Peterson followed and landed some stiff blows. But Khan came back immediately with a right and a left just before the round ended.

Manny Pacquiao-Juan Manuel Marquez III (ninth): Great rivals Pacquiao and Marquez have thrown down in many excellent rounds during the course of their all-time great trilogy, and this was one of the best of them. Late in their welterweight title bout, which was seemingly still hanging in the balance, they produced a terrific round of quality boxing and clean punching. Marquez caught Pacquiao early with a shot that strayed to the back of the head, but he also landed a couple of solid combinations that fired up the largely Mexican crowd. Then came some excellent exchanges, Pacquiao landing with his left, Marquez with his right. They continued to swap shots through the final minute, as Marquez cracked Pacquiao with an uppercut and Pacquiao returned fire to knock Marquez off-balance. There were fierce exchanges down the stretch in an incredibly close round in a typically close Pacquiao-Marquez fight. When the ninth was over, HBO's Jim Lampley knew it had been outstanding: "What a tremendous round! The crowd's on its feet. We've got a fight in Vegas!"

[+] EnlargeMayweather/Ortiz
John Gurzinski/AFP/Getty ImagesFloyd Mayweather Jr. stunned Victor Ortiz, referee Joe Cortez and viewers everywhere in a wild fourth round in the fighters' September title tussle.

Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Victor Ortiz (fourth): Mayweather, returning from a 16-month layoff, was a heavy favorite to beat Ortiz and reclaim a welterweight title. The fight had gone as expected through three rounds, with Mayweather in command. But things turned wild in the fourth round. Ortiz began to enjoy his best moments of the fight when he clipped Mayweather with a few stinging shots and bulled him into a corner. But rather than continue to throw punches, which were beginning to get through, Ortiz instead turned into a human battering ram and intentionally head-butted Mayweather in the face, busting open a cut on the inside and outside of his opponent's mouth. Later, Ortiz would admit that he was trying to break Mayweather's nose in retaliation for what he believed were purposeful elbows. After the head-butt, referee Joe Cortez called time and docked a point from Ortiz for the blatant foul. An apologetic Ortiz hugged and kissed Mayweather, who did not appear remotely interested in the goodwill gesture after being purposely bashed in the face by Ortiz's head. Cortez restarted the bout and motioned the fighters together and was looking away while Ortiz was trying to touch gloves with Mayweather yet again. Perhaps not realizing time was back in, Ortiz glanced over to Cortez, and Mayweather, fully aware the fight had restarted, blasted him with a left and right to knock out Ortiz and end a round that was crazy even by boxing's crazy standards.

Hank Lundy-David Diaz (fourth): The best round of this "Friday Night Fights" shootout featured tremendous action between the talented and slick Lundy and the slower (but fully determined) Diaz, a former lightweight titlist struggling to keep his career afloat. Lundy was in control when they got to the fourth round, but Diaz was still going after him when he landed a combination, including a booming right hand to the temple that sent Lundy staggering across the ring and down to the canvas. Diaz was all over him when the fight resumed, as they traded toe-to-toe in a brutal exchange, during which Diaz suffered a horrible cut over his right eye. The blood flowed like a faucet, but they continued to exchange with abandon for the rest of a frenetic frame. As ESPN's Joe Tessitore barked when the session ended, "What a round! Unbelievable action in round No. 4!"

Edgar Lopez-Felix Rivera (second): This one is for all those club fighters we've never heard of but who duke it out for our entertainment. Lopez was 1-0 when he faced fellow Puerto Rican Rivera, who was 0-2, in a junior lightweight filler bout on the undercard of a Telefutura "Solo Boxeo Tecate" telecast. Famous or not, these guys waged a sensational round and deserve their props. Rivera opened the round by going right after Lopez, eventually dropping him in a corner with a right hand to the jaw. Lopez was in huge trouble but dragged himself up with the help of the ropes. He managed to survive Rivera's onslaught of winging shots, many of which connected, and slowly got his head and legs together. He began to sink shots into Rivera's body and then came upstairs with a clean right hand that prompted Rivera to stick his tongue out. Rivera was hurt but continued to trade with Lopez in an exciting display. Finally, with 47 seconds left in the round, Lopez landed a flush right-left combination and knocked Rivera down and out, face first. He had to leave the ring on a stretcher.

Monday: Fighter of the year
Tuesday: Prospect of the year
Thursday: Knockout of the year
Friday: Fight of the year

Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter @danrafaelespn.