By Jake Donovan
From the moment he agreed to terms to face Alfredo Angulo this weekend in Cancun, Mexico, there was growing concern over the possibility that James Kirkland was being cashed out by his handlers.
Such line of thinking no doubt stemmed from his humiliating 1st round knockout loss at the hands of light-hitting and unheralded Nobuhiro Ishida this past April. Kirkland suffered three knockdowns before being stopped in the pay-per-view prelim, a fight that serves as his lone loss to date.
It was also viewed by many as the lone live opponent he’s faced since returning to the ring earlier this year following a prison stint due to a parole violation, thus further fueling speculation that he’s lost “it” as a fighter.
Kirkland himself questioned where his career was headed following that April night in Vegas, though it didn’t take long for the murderous punching southpaw to figure out what went wrong, as well as what – and more importantly, whom – was missing.
“I take nothing away from Kenny Adams but I’m a different fighter than when I was training with him,” Kirkland insists in reflecting on the training camp heading into that fight. “Anyone can go into camp and drop weight. But to have all of the right tools, you have to be in a camp with the right person. I wasn’t anywhere nearly prepared for that fight.
“People can say ‘Oh he doesn’t have a chin and this and that’ but I know the preparation wasn’t there. I didn’t have the right camp and spar different people with different strategies. My timing was off, nothing was prepared for the fight.”
Having since reunited with Wolfe, the 27-year old – who has won four of his five fights since returning in March – believes that old swagger is back. The feeling comes just in time, as he faces in Angulo by far his toughest challenge to date as a pro.
The difference can be heard in Kirkland’s voice and seen in his walk, as he once again resembles – in spirit, anyway – the explosive puncher that boxing fans fell in love with on his way up.
All of that begs the question of why he went with a different trainer in the first place.
“Ann and I had a personal matter. But we put that stuff to the side and got back together. When you go back to the table and say ‘Who pushes you to the limit, who motivates me, who’s going to challenge me,’ that answer is Ann Wolfe. Everything that I’ve been doing to prepare for this fight, I asked myself “How the hell am I going to get through training?” But I became super strong and prepared like no other. I’m back with the right trainer.”
His camps with Wolfe are best known for the former female-fighter-turned-trainer running a boot camp-style training camp. Fight until you’re exhausted and then fight some more. While Adams is known as a disciplinarian, Kirkland felt that was lacking in his camp was direction.
“When I first got back into boxing, I was given a coach, a trainer and a gym and it was like ‘Make it work.’ I decided to take it and see if it worked, and it didn’t go right. I made the wrong decision as far as going that route. I go back with Ann Wolfe and it’s a different type of motivation.”
Back to his old self, Kirkland believes he is as ready as he will ever be for this weekend’s fight, which airs live on HBO. If he loses, it’s not from a lack of preparation but because he simply lost to a better fighter that night.
That said, losing is the furthest thing from his mind. Credit for that mindset, he insists, goes to the only person he trusts in his corner.
“The difference in this camp is I’ve trained for this fighter, not train just to train. Angulo is an explosive fighter. We’ve trained for a brutal contact fight. I’ve had sparring partners that have flown in from all around the world. I’m very happy. When I started training camp, there were a lot of things that weren’t there. My team did a great job of knocking out all obstacles and getting me ready.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to [email protected].