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Thursday, May 31, 2012
James Kirkland to fight Saul Alvarez

By Dan Rafael
ESPN.com

James Kirkland will replace Paul Williams, who suffered a career-ending injury on Sunday, and challenge junior middleweight titlist Saul "Canelo" Alvarez on Sept. 15, Golden Boy chief executive Richard Schaefer told ESPN.com on Thursday.

Mexico's 21-year-old Alvarez was due to make his fifth title defense against Williams in the main event of a pay-per-view card at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. However, just days after signing for the fight, former two-time welterweight titlist Williams was paralyzed from the waist down in a motorcycle crash early Sunday in Atlanta on his way to his brother's home on the day of another brother's wedding.

George Peterson, Williams' manager, trainer and father figure, said Williams' doctors said Williams never would walk again and that his career is over. With the 30-year-old Williams (41-2, 27 KOs) awaiting surgery on Friday to stabilize the portion of his spinal cord that remains intact, Golden Boy had little choice but to move on and replace him, and turned to Kirkland.

"That's not the way you want to get the fight, but it wasn't like James wasn't in the running in the first place," Schaefer said. "You have to deal with injuries and setbacks even as severe and tragic as this one is for Paul."

Kirkland (31-1, 27 KOs) was the original opponent that Golden Boy looked to match Alvarez with before it even signed Williams for the fight. However, Kirkland, 28, of Austin, Texas, suffered two tears in his right shoulder during a March 24 fight against Carlos Molina in Houston and later underwent arthroscopic surgery.

Kirkland was outclassed by Molina and appeared to be on his way to a clear decision loss. But he was awarded a controversial 10th-round disqualification victory after one of Molina's cornermen entered the ring after the bell rang to end the round before referee Jon Schorle had completed a count after Molina had been knocked down. The cornerman easily beat the count, but Molina promoter Leon Margules' protest to Texas regulators has not been ruled on yet.

The original diagnosis for Kirkland's shoulder was that it would not be ready in time for him to fight by mid-September, which is why Golden Boy signed Williams to face Alvarez.

"James Kirkland was always on the short list of potential opponents for Canelo Alvarez and it came down to two names, guys which are exciting and are known, and that was Paul Williams and James Kirkland," Schaefer said. "When we were told James couldn't fight until the end of September, that eliminated him as a potential opponent because it was important for Canelo and for us for the fight to be on Sept. 15, the Mexican Independence Day weekend, which is traditionally reserved for the biggest Mexican stars to fight on."

However, according to Schaefer, Kirkland's progress recovering from the shoulder injury was good enough that his doctor cleared him to begin training last week.

"About a week ago, I was informed by (Kirkland co-manager) Michael Miller that James had made tremendous progress and that he could fight sooner than we originally thought," Schaefer said. "But there was nothing I could do because we had already agreed to a Williams fight.

"When the tragedy happened with Paul Williams, I called Michael to see if James had been medically cleared and he was and he very much wanted the fight. It was a matter of working out the numbers, which we did in the last few days. I'm excited because it is one of those fights where you can leave the judges at home. I would bet anyone this will end in a knockout, one way or the other. This is not going to the scorecards, and that's what fight fans like."

Schaefer said the card will be called "Knockout Kings" -- which he said he got clearance to use even though that it is the name of a popular boxing video game series -- figuring that Alvarez-Kirkland and the potentially explosive co-feature -- a featherweight title bout between Mexican countrymen Jhonny Gonzalez (52-7, 45 KOs) and former junior featherweight titleholder Daniel Ponce De Leon (43-4, 35 KOs) -- would end in stoppages.

"Gonzalez-Ponce De Leon is another barnburner where you can leave the judges at home because you know it will end up in a knockout," Schaefer said. "We will look to add other fights to the card that we think will end in knockouts."

Gonzalez, 30, a former bantamweight titlist, will be making his fourth featherweight title defense. Ponce De Leon, 31, has won two fights in a row after back-to-back losses to Adrien Broner (a controversial decision at junior lightweight) and an eighth-round technical decision loss to featherweight star Yuriorkis Gamboa in a nontitle bout.

Alvarez (40-0-1, 29 KOs), one of boxing's youngest titleholders, is coming off a virtual shutout of faded former champion Shane Mosley on the May 5 Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Miguel Cotto pay-per-view undercard. Now, Alvarez will headline his first pay-per-view. Schaefer said although Alvarez is excited about headlining his own pay-per-view, he was also upset about Williams' situation.

"Canelo was very saddened," Schaefer said. "He couldn't believe it and was in shock. God-permitting and health-permitting Canelo told me he would like to invite Paul to be ringside but we don't know if it is going to be feasible. But Canelo was really shaken up. He was speechless. We had to explain what happened a couple of times. It was a nice gesture for him to offer to fly Paul and his family out for the fight. Canelo believes Paul will always be fighter and a champion and he told me he is going to dedicate the fight to Paul Williams."