It isn't often we get free fights on television anymore; and when we do, it is usually some up and coming prospects in either boxing or MMA that just don't deliver. From the days of closed circuit TV in boxing to pay-per-view events now in both sports, it's all about the Benjamin's these days. However, Saturday night we got the rare double in boxing and MMA, that was not only free, but delivered big excitement as well.
A journalist friend of mine once told me, that I should never write about boxing and MMA in the same column. Well today, I'm bucking that advice and doing it because the two fights Saturday night were so good and so similar in fashion; they earned equal billing in my book. In MMA, it was the main event of UFC 138 between Chris 'The Crippler' Leben (22-8, 12 KO's 5 subs) and Mark 'The Filipino Wrecking Machine' Munoz (12-2, 6 KO's 1 sub) that capped off an exciting card from Birmingham, England.
The mix of Leben, the veteran mixed martial artist with the heavy left hand and Munoz, the All-American wrestler with the vicious ground and pound, was a recipe for fireworks and it went off with a bang. Right from the start, the two were throwing bombs at each other whether it was standing or on the ground. Not surprisingly, Munoz got the first take down; but what was surprising was Leben got up and got the second and third take downs on the decorated wrestler Munoz.
The result was a back and forth first round that had both announcers Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan exclaiming, "Wow, what a round!" The difference though was Munoz looked fresh and ready to go for the second, while Leben looked gassed as he was breathing heavy and looking weary. Tell tale sign or not, they came out and picked up right where they left off; only this time, the damage would be too much.
Sensing Leben was too weak to fend off his take down attempts, Munoz shot in on 'The Crippler' repeatedly. However, to Leben's credit, as tired as he was, he kept fighting back with submission attempts off his back, punches to the head and body and working his way back up to his feet. Yet, it was Munoz who delivered the most telling blow as during some of his patented ground and pound attack, he cut Leben over his left eye that caused a lot of bleeding.
It also caused the referee to stop the action during the second round, to have the doctor look at it. Ultimately, he let the fight go on, but while sitting on the stool between the second and third rounds, Leben told his corner he could not see and they decided to stop the fight giving Munoz an all important win in the middleweight (185 lbs.) division. Munoz is still a little green around the MMA edges, but you can see his all-around game continuing to improve every time out.
Luckily, the timing was perfect because as that fight ended, the boxing match on HBO between light-middleweight (154 lbs.) contenders Alfredo 'El Perro' Angulo (20-2, 17 KO's) and James 'Mandingo Warrior' Kirkland (30-1, 27 KO's) was about to start; thank God and HBO for 'Boxing after Dark'. In what was projected to be a can't miss/don't blink affair, the fight lived up to the hype and then some. Unfortunately for Angulo, who was fighting in his home country of Mexico, it was the tale of two halves.
The two halves came in the first round where both fighters, known for coming forward, did just that; testing each others chin to see who can withstand the other's power. Within the first minute, it looked as though the winner would be Angulo as during an exchange, he caught Kirkland flush with an overhand right to the face that dropped the American challenger to the canvas. With Angulo living up to his nickname, which translates to 'The Dog', he went on the attack as he threw everything he had at Kirkland during the second minute.
Problem was, Kirkland withstood the onslaught and Angulo ended up punching himself out; credit to the referee for not stopping the fight too early. Thus, in the third minute of the round, it was Kirkland who cleared the cobwebs and came on with his own vicious straight forward onslaught of combinations, which included a left uppercut that found the mark on Angulo more than once. The result was Angulo went down before the end of the round and barely survived as Kirkland came back off the canvas to win the round.
How good was that first round? Analyst Max Kellerman said, "That is a round people will be talking about for years to come." From that point on it was all James Kirkland, who recently reunited with his former trainer Ann Wolfe, yes a female and it paid dividends. Wolfe's no-nonsense boot camp style training had Kirkland ready for the long haul.
Angulo wasn't expecting to go that haul and it showed as Kirkland wore him down over the next four rounds, ultimately forcing the referee to step in @ 2:01 of the sixth round and save 'El Perro' from himself. For Kirkland, he's back after a stint in jail and an unexpected loss three fights ago. This was a WBC semi-final eliminator for the title and the 'Mandingo Warrior' looks like he's primed, ready and most importantly hungry.
As for the UFC vs. Boxing on the same night, this was just a precursor of things to come as next Saturday, the UFC premieres on the Fox network with the heavyweight championship of the world between champ Cain Velasquez and challenger Junior Dos Santos. However, they're going head up with one of boxing's two biggest draws, Manny 'Pac-Man' Pacquiao as he takes on Juan Manuel Marquez for the third time. Luckily for us, the UFC fight should be done by the time the boxing main event comes on; thus, the rivalry continues.