The kind of brutal punching power supplied by James Kirkland is so rarely seen. For all the glory that goes with putting your opponent into a concussive state, very few are able to muster the kind of strength required to do so
No, while he has been gifted with sledgehammers for fists, Kirkland possesses another problem entirely, a problem which has nearly seen his career slip away twice so far. One would think if it were to happen again, that would be it. At 29 he’s fast running out of time and chances.
There’s always those that would be more than willing to pay to see someone like Kirkland fight. He’s not defensively gifted in the least, unless possessing the kind of chin that lets you get hammered by Alfredo Angulo and withstand it can be considered defense.
The flip side of this coin is of course the mental instability he seems to be dealing with everyday. The sort of instability that can be the end for any prizefighter. The sort of instability that leads to a far from hard hitting opponent like Nobuhiro Ishida close the show on you in the first round.
It’s the duality that puzzles fans. How does one go to war with the likes of Angulo and come out the victory, while losing to Ishida. The answer lies with one person: Ann Wolfe.
To say Ann Wolfe is a physically imposing presence would be an understatement of the highest order. A smile rarely graces her face, her voice a constant growl while whipping Kirkland into shape.
She herself is a former fighter, at one time holding titles in four weight classes simultaneously. No mean feat, man or woman. Although not possessing the kind of power Kirkland does, she boasted a pretty impressive KO percentage nonetheless.
One gets the feeling she understands the constant battle to stay out of trouble that seems to make up so much of James Kirkland’s life. It certainly seems to be a precarious battle, one mistake away from it all going south in dramatic fashion.
Wolfe was not present for the loss of Ishida, being temporarily replaced for one bout by Kenny Adams. A stay busy bout for Kirkland quickly became one in which he looked like the downward spiral was going to lead him out of the ring.
He needs to be drilled, requiring constant supervision to make it through the brutal training regime Wolfe runs him through. Whereas the Floyd Mayweather’s of the world love to be in the gym, honing their craft, a guy like Kirkland never had to so much rely on technique. Move through the punches and hit the other guy. Easy.
When he doesn’t have Wolfe around, he loses perspective. The perspective that his gift makes it possible for him to reach the pinnacle of his sport. When you have the power that Kirkland does, anything is possible.
He’s almost lost everything twice. He lost two and a half years to a armed robbery charge, spending premium years in a young fighters life inside prison. In 2009 he went back in, this time for one year, once again stopping what was becoming a promising career.
It seemed like the chances were running out when he made the bizarre decision to drop Wolfe again, let his contract with Golden Boy Promotions run out and got himself arrested for assault during the last self imposed sabattical from the ring.
Now at 29 he stands in the last chance saloon, watching the time run out on a career that could have led to so much more. Glen Tapia was his first step to getting back on track. He did so in a decidedly Kirkland fashion, going toe to toe with Tapia before knocking him out on his feet in the split second before Steve Smoger stepped in to stop the brutality.
In the performance we saw the Kirkland that everyone pays to see, the Kirkland that has the potential to do great things. Most importantly we saw the single mindedness required of him. Ann Wolfe was in the corner, barking instructions. James Kirkland was in the ring, delivering destruction one power shot after another.
Kirkland can’t afford to let it all slip away again. This is it for him and he decides his legacy now, for better or for worse. We’ll all keep watching though, because he brings that level of uncertainty that we all crave.
Two years from now he could be in the middle of a winning streak, brutalizing anyone who stands in his way. He could have been knocked out in a stay busy fight, while looking ahead to a bigger payday that’s never coming. Ann Wolfe may or may not be by his side. He could be in prison.