By Sean Reed
By now, the boxing world has undergone a collective state of shock, courtesy of James Kirkland's stunning first round knockout loss to the unheralded Nobuhiro Ishida (23-6-2, 8 KO’).
Televised live on the undercard of the Erik Morales vs. Marcos Maidana HBO pay-per-view broadcast, Kirkland (now 27-1, 24 KO), a highly ranked super welterweight contender, was unmercifully bounced off the canvas three times before referee, Joe Cortez, intervened.
Since that fateful evening, a myriad of opinions have been bandied about, in trying to explain the shocking derailing of Kirkland's career; from the ill effects of his jail stint, a change in trainers and even the kneejerk reaction that Kirkland was never quite that good to begin with.
Perhaps the most sought after assessment on the matter was that of Ann Wolfe, Kirkland's former trainer. A certified badass in the realm of women's boxing (24-1, 16 KO as a pro), Wolfe quickly earned respect from the male side of the equation with her unconventional, hardcore methods, working as a chief second.
The idea of a female manning a dude's corner may have seemed avant-garde, but Wolfe's approach was undeniably old-school, given her unapologetically demanding, no nonsense stance on conditioning and preparation.
Up until March of 2009, Wolfe and Kirkland appeared to be on the fast track to a world title shot. Not long afterwards, Kirkland was jailed on a gun possession charge and forced to take a two year hiatus from the sport.
The impetus for Kirkland's post-prison decision to switch trainers is still a mystery, but there appears to be no hard feelings whatsoever, from Wolfe's perspective. She was equal parts guarded and candid, as BoxingScene.com asked for her thoughts on James Kirkland's first loss.
On the loss itself:
"It bothered me to see James down like that. Me and him go way back and it was bigger than just boxing with us. Our backgrounds are similar and we both came up in Pops’ gym together. So on a personal level, I was really hurt to see James down like that."
On the effects of the layoff:
"That's just an excuse that people are using. James had to go away (to prison) for a minute when I was training him too, but when he got out he came right back and didn't miss a beat. It's not like James was getting beat up when he was away."
On the quality of Kirkland's chin:
"I can't really explain how a guy with only 7 KO's stopped James, but for people to all of a sudden say he doesn't have a chin is bullshit. James walked thru much better puncher's than this last guy. Joel Julio could punch, but James walked right thru his shots. (Brian) Vera could punch and James walked thru his best shit too. Even (Mohammad) Said could punch pretty good, but he couldn't faze James either."
To her credit, Wolfe flat out refused to get into whether Kirkland was better or worse off with her at the helm, but it’s obvious she’s content with the results she got out of him. She’s also still openly rooting for him, regardless of what role she does or doesn’t play in the remainder of his career.