By Keith Idec
NEW YORK — James Kirkland isn’t worried about his 20-month layoff or his young, hungry, unbeaten opponent.
With so many questions to answer in his first fight since March 2012, the powerful southpaw from Austin, Texas, is anxious to prove against Glen Tapia on Saturday night in Atlantic City that he remains one of the best junior middleweights in boxing.
“I’m not really concerned about it,” Kirkland told BoxingScene.com regarding his long layoff. “I just know we put in the work. I’ve been training since the layoff. I’m prepared, ready to get it in and I want to see what he’s going to bring to the table.”
Legal and promotional issues mostly have prevented Kirkland from competing since he defeated Chicago’s Carlos Molina by disqualification 20 months ago in Houston. But after rekindling his on-again, off-again partnership with trainer Ann Wolfe during training camp for the Tapia fight, Kirkland (31-1, 27 KOs) is confident he’ll re-establish himself in the 154-pound division.
His 10-round fight against Tapia (20-0, 12 KOs), of Passaic, N.J., will be one of three televised by HBO from the Adrian Phillips Ballroom inside Boardwalk Hall.
“I understand he’s never been stopped,” Kirkland said. “But I know he’s never been in that type of deep water against a fighter like me. He’s trying to raise his stock up. He’ll get to see why I’m James Kirkland. I’m definitely ready.”
Kirkland’s pulverizing power, defensive flaws and questionable chin have made him one of boxing’s most unpredictable, fascinating fighters.
He got dropped three times and stopped in the first round of what was supposed to be a tune-up fight against light-punching Japanese veteran Nobuhiro Ishida (25-9-2, 10 KOs) in April 2011. In his next fight, Kirkland displayed remarkable resolve by surviving a first-round knockdown and stopping Mexican brawler Alfredo Angulo (22-3, 18 KOs) in the sixth round of a November 2011 slugfest in Cancun.
The 29-year-old Kirkland expects comparable drama against the tough, talented Tapia, who hasn’t faced an opponent as dangerous or accomplished as Kirkland during his five-year pro career.
“I believe this is going to be one of those fights that’s definitely going to be a crowd-pleaser,” said Kirkland, who’ll fight for the first time Saturday night since signing with rapper 50 Cent’s SMS Promotions. “Everybody’s going to be up and everybody’s going to be on the edge of their chairs. He throws combinations, I throw combinations, I throw hurtful shots. I do it all. So I’m definitely going to want to show the boxing world that Kirkland’s still here and I’m here to stay.”
Kirkland respects Tapia, who’ll turn 24 next week, but doesn’t think the fan-friendly contender will withstand his power.
“Tapia does it all,” Kirkland said. “He boxes, he can bang, he can move. But he’s never fought a left-hander like me and he’s never been touched with this type of power. I believe that my skills, my power and my determination is going to override everything.”
The Kirkland-Tapia fight will be the second of three HBO bouts Saturday night. The telecast is set to start at 9:45 p.m. ET/PT with a 10-round middleweight match that’ll send England’s Matthew Macklin (29-5, 20 KOs) against Lamar Russ (14-0, 7 KOs), of Wilmington, N.C. In the main event, unbeaten Cuban southpaw Guillermo Rigondeaux (12-0, 8 KOs) will defend his WBA and WBO super bantamweight championships against Ghana’s Joseph Agbeko (29-4, 22 KOs).
Keith Idec covers boxing for The Record and Herald News, of Woodland Park, N.J., and BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.