By Ishe Smith
BoxingScene.com was able to catch up with former professional prizefighter Ann Wolfe, who owns her own gym in Austin, Texas and does a lot of work with troubled youth. Once a fighter herself, Ann has now turned her attention into becoming the first female head trainer to guide a male fighter to a world championship.
Wolfe’s dream almost came true last year James Kirkland was on the verge of fighting for a world championship. Kirkland was one of boxing’s hottest commodity’s at the time, but his run was cut short when he was abruptly sent to prison for violating his parole in connection with a firearm purchase.
The incident has neither detoured nor devastated Ann one bit. She still puts in vast hours with countless kids and is on the verge of promoting a show in Austin on March 6th, at the Austin Music Hall with the proceeds going to her gym. Ann compiled a fantastic record of 24-1 with 16KOs. Many have wondered why a fight with Laila Ali never happened. Keep reading to get some insight into her goals, missions, and her pupil James Kirkland:
BOXINGSCENE.COM: What can you tell us about this Pro-Am boxing show you’re promoting on March 6th at the Austin Music Hall?
ANN WOLFE: It’s not like I am a promoter myself. I have a board and a bunch of people that are coming together, working with a lot of inner city kids who have a lot of problems. When I was moving James Kirkland, myself and Pops didn’t know how to get him fights. We had to go straight to somebody else. I got a lot of up and coming kids and I don’t want to have to go to somebody else. A lot these kids I have trained since they were eight to twelve years old, and now that they are twenty years old. I am not like a lot of coaches that find fighters as it is. The majority of the fighters that I have, I breed them since they were eight years old.
I was in the gym with Kirkland since he was twelve years old. Then I have to go out and take that fighter that I have been around or been with for 10 years and give them to somebody else. I figured at least I can do is get these people together and say let me show what I have done and what I got, before I take them to someone else and give them a bigger percentage than I have, when I am the one who took care of the kids, I fed them, take care of them, give them a place to stay, take them to school, and when it is time to move them I got to give them twenty or thirty percent because they know how to move them. I need to learn part of how to do that.
BOXINGSCENE.COM: Is this something you decided to do because of the ongoing politics in boxing, as far as promoting, and helping these kids out?
ANN WOLFE: Yea, I got one kid that I am getting ready to turn pro. He has like thirty amateur fights and ranked number three by USA boxing. He will become better in the pros. When we took Kirkland to the first person he was sixteen, seventeen years old, the promoter took him out from underneath me and pops, after that he didn’t do well for 3-5 years. I want to show the kids and show the big promoters that hey this kid is 5-0 look what this kid has did, so don’t com here telling me you need twenty percent or another manager saying they need thirty percent of the kid, in order for them to help me move the kid. I get so sick and tired of boxing that when you first start boxing you got pigeons and then you got real fighters. You have to go through fifteen pigeons and if you get one loss your career is almost over. That is so sad to me that in the boxing community if you have three losses they look at you like you’re nothing. That’s why I like Glen Johnson so much, he has thirteen losses, but he is number three in the world and keeps fighting like a champion. Its like you cannot have a loss, no one wants to touch, you become a journeyman - that’s crazy to me.
BOXINGSCENE.COM: Being that you were probably the best female fighter in the sport of boxing, how frustrated were you that you weren’t able to secure a fight with Laila Ali, the biggest female name in the sport?
ANN WOLFE: For me that wasn’t frustrating at all, not one bit, because when I started boxing, I boxed so I wouldn’t go to prison, I boxed to stay off the streets. I needed something to do to guide me as far as keeping me off the streets. I liked to fight anyway because after both my parents died, I really needed something to keep me occupied. So my goal was never to win a title. My goal was never to become the best. I don’t even consider myself the best.
I wanted to do what I can do the best way I knew how to do it, so when I put them gloves on I did it my best, my mother always told me, whatever you do, I don’t care what it is, whatever it is you choose to do you try to do it the best that you can do, so that is what I did. Sometimes being a world champion and you know this as a fighter; you’re not always the best, I rather be the best than to be known like Laila. For instance Laila can keep the recognition, I’d rather be known as one of the toughest. I will take that because I still have that street in me, that old school mentality; I’d rather die with my soul, than to sell my soul to the devil and live like a king. So in all honesty it didn’t frustrate me at all, I think she is more frustrated because she never got to fulfill what people knew she was incapable of.
I would have beaten the living hell out of Laila, and I think she knows that.
Now somebody said Laila mentioned that I was scared, and I had my tail between my legs, all I can say is that people who know me, knows there is nothing about me having my tail between my legs. Right now I am almost forty years old, why didn’t you fight me when I was thirty, why didn’t you fight me when I was twenty-five, what people don’t know is that I am in this gym every single day for two-three hours a day for over fifteen years. When you were here training that is how we train all the time. My body cant take that no more. I would say my prime is out the window, I want to fight some exhibitions to raise some money for my gym.
Right now my ability is to change lives, not to win a belt, and God put something inside me to really truly want to save these kids. It’s not about boxing for me; it’s not about winning titles for me, that’s why they wonder how I can train the way that I can because when I go to tournaments I take fifteen kids and come back with thirteen gold. Why? Not because I am a woman trainer, but because the kids can look in my eyes and can tell I want them to do the best that they can possible do, not just in boxing, but in school, in living, in life, in everything they do; what the hell does it mean to be a world champion but be a assh**e, or be a dummy and no one likes you or cares about you and you never get to fulfill your life. How many children has Laila helped? I am not talking about that superstar BS. I am talking about getting in the streets, getting in the grind. Laila wasn’t willing to trade that dancing with the stars, jumping over the moon to fight Joe gorilla like me, and she wasn’t going to give that up to fight a dog like me.
BOXINGSCENE.COM: How is life as a trainer? Which do you like better, being a professional boxer, or being a boxing trainer?
ANN WOLFE: It’s kind of bitter sweet on both ends, because I have grown as a boxer, but you can see better as a trainer because you’re not in there getting hit, you want the kids do something so bad but they wont do it, so you have to come up with all different kind of ways to get that kid to do it. As a boxer I would just be able to do it. As a trainer I can’t; but there is a fulfilling you get as a fighter when you win that you don’t get as a trainer. As a trainer it’s like the fighter is driving the car but he is blind folded, and you’re telling him turn this way and turn that way, keep straight, so as a trainer it is more frustrating at times.
BOXINGSCENE.COM: What can you tell us about James Kirkland and how he is doing right now?
ANN WOLFE: I think James is doing decent, the bible says what a man sows, so shall he reap, I told James to do the time they gave to you, get that part out of the way and focus on being a man first and a boxer second. I think if James Kirkland put the focus on being a man first and a father he is going to come out and win a world championship. He was trying to become a world champion and still in the streets; learn how to be a man and a father first, this is going to help him to be able to settle down. James understands what he did was wrong, he knows he has a lot of people in his corner and he let a lot of people down, a lot of them. I haven’t dealt with a lot of promoters, and most who know me knows I tell it like it is, and I can honestly say that Oscar De La Hoya and Golden Boy Promotions went above and beyond for James.
Oscar came down here and testified to do everything in his power to help James, they don’t know if he is going to come out and be the same, but they did everything in their power to help. Right know it’s up to James Kirkland; myself, Michael Miller, Cameron. We have done all we can. I cannot sit here and say what I think, I can say what I think he should do, I can’t tell you what I think he is going to do, cause I didn’t think he was going to do that, but I think he has learned his lesson.
BOXINGSCENE.COM: Were you disappointed when everything happened?
ANN WOLFE: To tell the truth, I wasn’t disappointed. I was disappointed when my mother and father died. What James done was life. It was like damn! We were so close, it was no more disappointing than if my daughter didn’t go to college and started acting crazy. My daughter is ranked number one right now by USA boxing. Sometimes in life you have disappointments, but sometimes its just life itself. I live my life for life, I was more disappointed in the decisions James made as a human being, even if it wasn’t any world titles or him going for any world titles, I would have been just as disappointed as if it was one of my amateurs, James is no different in my heart than any one of my amateurs who have more losses than they got wins. My heart goes out to them the same.
It was more hurting to the gym as a whole because he was part of a way for us to make it. He had the baton, it wasn’t like he was going to keep it, but right then and there he had it and dropped it, the whole crowd was like - he was right at the finish line and dropped the damn baton. That’s how I feel, you know you were capable of winning the race and you only lost because you dropped the baton - that’s what it felt like. I know that as a trainer I was capable of being the first female to take a male to a world title, as the head trainer, and I still know I am capable of doing that, I think everyone in the boxing world knows that I am capable of doing that.
BOXINGSCENE.COM: How often do you talk to him, what type of encouragement do you give him?
ANN WOLFE: Yea we communicate, I tell him he has to do his time; he is like any other man who is locked up, sometimes he is bitter, he knows he made a mistake and he has to do that time. I tell him to try to keep his weight down. He might be out in June and let’s pick up from there; I got some other fighters I am trying to move as well, James understands he can get out and make it.
BOXINGSCENE.COM: If he gets out with that same hunger and determination, do you think he can regain his top form and become a force at either 154 or 160:
ANN WOLFE: I say 154; one thing I think people don’t know about me, him, and us is that you got a lot of James Kirkland’s in my gym. The reason there is a lot of them in my gym is because we don’t spar, we fight, and you are going to start seeing them, we trim the fat, the majority of people leave because they can’t take that. James is always going to have that determination, if you see any of us, my daughter, myself, James, we all do, and that’s why we fight like that. There is something about James; he isn’t going to just let you beat him, and me being his coach, I am always thinking we are going to go tear their ass up.
Sometimes I would forget about the money, I’d be thinking about getting in your ass, and I know that is how he is because that is how Pops made all of us. In my gym if you get your ass whopped in sparring you’re going to get talked about until the next sparring session, it’s been like that since day one, so James is always going to have that determination regardless, anybody you see me in the corner with is going to be like that. It’s breaded inside his soul. If he settles down as a man, there is no doubt in my mind he is going to be a world champion.
BOXINGSCENE.COM: What would you like to say to the fans in closing before we get out of here and the possibility of a fight with yourself and Laila finally happening?
ANN WOLFE: I want to clear one thing up, Laila is the reason that we never fought, it was not because of me, and I want everyone to know that. Now with the injuries and surgeries, I am not the type of solider that would go to war with a knife and my opponent has a gun, I would be a fool to do that. In saying that I gave all that I had, and everyone who knows me knows I am not afraid of sh**; I am not scared of anyone. I could probably go in there the way I am now and knock Laila flat out on her ass. I believe Laila is physically scared of me, I have been around her, I don’t care what you say with your mouth. Laila is scared to lose, that’s why we never fought, so don’t think ever in your wildest dreams that Ann Wolfe is scared, I am not scared of nothing in this world, my greatest fear has already came to pass, my mother is dead.
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