HOUSTON — On the night that Saul "Canelo" Alvarez knocked out James Kirkland, the Mexican star spent almost as much time talking about Miguel Cotto as he did his opponent.
Alvarez knocked out Kirkland with a sweeping right at 2:19 of the third round in their 154-pound fight Saturday night at Minute Maid Park.
When he faced the media to discuss the victory, many of the questions focused on whether he'll fight Cotto next. If the two meet, the expected pay-per-view fight could come in the fall. Cotto will face Daniel Geale on June 6 at the Barclays Center.
"It's a fight that's a natural and of course I would fight him," Alvarez said. "I'm ready to fight the best. I'm willing to fight anybody."
Moments after getting off the canvas after being decked with a flurry of punches, Kirkland took the devastating knockout punch and collapsed to the floor on his back.
"I did not see the punch coming that knocked me out," Kirkland said.
Alvarez celebrated for a moment before realizing Kirkland was still down and going to check on him.
"At the end of the day you don't want him to be injured badly," Alvarez said. "I was a little worried about him and as soon as I found out that he was OK I started celebrating again."
Kirkland was taken to a hospital for a CT scan. Bernard Hopkins, helping promote the fight, said Kirkland was responsive and OK.
Alvarez (45-1-1, 32 KOs) returned from a 10-month break to beat Kirkland (32-2, 28 KOs), who was back in the ring after a 17-month layoff.
Alvarez threw 150 punches — 47 fewer than Kirkland — but he connected on 87 to just 42 by Kirkland.
The 24-year-old Alvarez got to Kirkland early and often, knocking him down the first time with about 1 1/2 minutes left in the first round. Kirkland got up quickly that time, despite the right hand to the face that left his nose bleeding heavily.
"Once I dropped him the first time I knew I had him," Alvarez said.
He kept at him in the second, once using a left that landed to the side of his face.
"I just got a little bit surprised because of his style," Alvarez said of the early moments of the fight. "He had a little bit of a herky-jerky style ... but with time I was able to figure him out."
A week after fans complained about the fight where Floyd Mayweather Jr. beat an injured Manny Pacquiao by unanimous decision, they got an exciting show in Houston in front of more than 31,000 at the stadium where the Houston Astros play.
"Last weekend was the past and now we've witnessed the future," said Oscar De La Hoya, the promoter of the fight. "This event, this fight couldn't have come out any better. It was action-packed. It was dramatic."
The crowd was very pro-Alvarez, with many fans wearing shirts with his likeness on them and waving ribbons with the colors of the Mexican flag.
Canelo didn't miss a beat in his first fight since a decision over Erislandy Lara in July. He was slowed by an ankle injury this winter before recovering to train to face Kirkland.
The 31-year-old Kirkland was once an up-and-comer in the sport, but legal troubles, time in prison and upheaval with his trainer have sullied his career.
Kirkland was fighting for the first time since 2013 and wasn't trained by longtime trainer Ann Wolfe for the first time since 2011. Wolfe led him to success before he dropped her the first time and suffered his only defeat before Saturday night against Nobuhiro Ishida in 2011.
"He's a great champion," Kirkland said about Alvarez. "I'd like to fight him again somewhere down the line."
On the undercard, Joshua Clottey (39-4, 22 KOs) beat Jorge Silva (19-9-2, 15 KOs) by unanimous decision in a super welterweight fight. It was the fourth straight win for the 38-year-old since he lost consecutive bouts to Cotto and Pacquiao.
The most anticipated undercard bout, which was to be just before the main event, was canceled Friday when Frankie Gomez weighed in six points over the 141-pound limit for his junior welterweight matchup with Humberto Soto.
Joseph Diaz, Jr., a 2012 U.S. Olympian, remained undefeated with a unanimous decision over Giovanni Delgado in a featherweight bout.
Also, 7-foot Chinese heavyweight Taishan Dong got a majority decision over Jamal Woods in his fourth professional fight.