Advertisement: IBO Boxing

Now a Happy Warrior, Kirkland Continues Middleweight Career Reboot


Remember everything you’ve forgotten about James Kirkland.

He was a snarling, menacing whirlwind of a junior middleweight, with an equally intimidating trainer and a penchant for producing thrilling – if not exactly fundamental – fights.

The “Mandingo Warrior” was last seen by a significant audience five years ago, looking up at the lights at Houston’s Minute Maid Park after a highlight-reel KO by Canelo Alvarez.

In his previous three fights, though, he’d gotten off the deck to stop Alfredo Angulo, rallied from the brink of scorecard defeat to drop Carlos Molina and brutalized then-unbeaten Glen Tapia to a point where more than a few HBO viewers feared for the beaten man’s safety.

Now, go ahead and forget everything you remembered.

Because the persona offered by Kirkland 2.0 – just 16 days before birthday No. 36 – bears such little resemblance to its version from half a decade past that it’s hard to believe he could be the same guy whose lengthy legal history includes a prison stint for armed robbery.

The bully is gone, apparently replaced by a contented father anxious to acknowledge past misdeeds while promising to correct the decision-making flaws that prompted them.

Most of all, he wants you to know he’s happy. And comfortable in his own skin.

“A lot of times when you get older you start learning you don’t have to be the bad guy all the time. You don’t have to have a negative energy,” he said. “You don’t have to be what everybody tries to make you out to be. If you’re a humble person, be humble. Be happy for being humble. Be happy for being happy.

“I like to laugh. I have a great time when I get around people that continue to keep that spirit alive.

“I am truly happy about a lot of things that I have in my life at this particular time. All I’m doing is continuing to move forward.”

Still, lest anyone think Kirkland has gone completely the way of a new-age guru, think again.

He’s preparing for the third step in an incremental ring return, this time a scheduled 10-rounder with 20-something middleweight Marcos Hernandez, whose resume includes 14 wins in 18 fights – a tangible uptick from the 13-14 and 10-7-2 fodder that Kirkland was fed in comeback steps one and two.

Those fights lasted a combined 8 minutes, 44 seconds. This one, which will be featured atop an FS1 broadcast from the MGM National Harbor just outside Washington, D.C.


Kirkland continues the trek without the training services of Ann Wolfe, who was alongside him for the peak moments before the two parted ways prior to the devastating loss to Alvarez.

Some outlets have reported an imminent working reunion for the two, but the fighter said it hasn’t happened and likely won’t – though he refused to place Wolfe in the permanent ex category just yet.

“There’s always a chance. We’re always looking forward and going forward,” he said. “We’ve already got a relationship as friends. We’ll never change that. But beyond that, anything can happen.”

But, without Wolfe and without the apparent lust for chaos, can Kirkland still be, well … Kirkland?  

He says yes.

“I can see where people would have that theory or that thinking, because a lot of fighters who’ve been put down and been knocked down, they don’t have that pizazz anymore the way they used to,” he said. “But for me, nothing’s truly changed. I took the time off and elevated everything in my life besides boxing. I’d never really taken a break from boxing since I was 6 years old.

“I put the work in and the work will speak for itself.”

And as for work outside the ring – in the life skills department – he’s hoping it’ll have an impact far beyond his career’s final bell, as he balances regret with perspective as a parent.

“Certain decisions that I made were only based on what I felt like doing at the time. It doesn’t mean it was right. It doesn’t mean it was completely wrong. OK, a lot of what I did was wrong,” he said. “I look back on my decisions and say ‘Why did I make that move?’ I could’ve found a way better way.

“I could’ve done things in a way that wouldn’t have caused me to go to jail.

“But a lot of the things that I wish I wouldn’t have done, with having kids I can bring it to the table and say this is the way you don’t do something and these are the things you don’t want to get involved with because these are the consequences that come behind it.”

* * * * * * * * * *

This week’s title-fight schedule:

WBA minimum title – Nakhon Sawan, Thailand
Thammanoon Niyomtrong (champion/No. 1 IWBR) vs. Norihito Tanaka (No. 10 WBA/No. 14 IWBR)
Niyomtrong (20-0, 7 KO): Eighth title defense; One KO/TKO in eight title fights, six in 12 non-title bouts
Tanaka (19-7, 10 KO): First title fight; Two wins in four fights scheduled beyond eight rounds (2-2, 1 KO)
Fitzbitz says: The challenger is 35, with zero experience on the championship level and only middling success against fighters one tier down. Sounds like an easy title defense. Niyomtrong by decision (99/1)

Last week's picks: 2-0 (WIN: Gonzalez, Martinez)
2020 picks record: 13-3 (81.3 percent)
Overall picks record: 1,129-368 (75.4 percent)

NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.

Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.

User Comments and Feedback
Comment by KidDinamita on 03-11-2020

[QUOTE=Citizen Koba;20439634]I think that's where the popular idea that he needed Wolfe to succeed came from, yeah, and he was making up for lost time as you say. Either way, tremendously exciting machine of destruction but also an incredibly flawed…

Comment by cashdon on 03-03-2020

My only question before reading the article was Anne Wolfe back training him. Got my answer glad that he's at peace with himself but as a contender it's on to the next....

Comment by BigZ44 on 03-03-2020

I need to see Kirkland vs Curtis Stevens before I die

Comment by BlakBread904 on 03-03-2020

Kirkland was signed to fight Cotto a few years ago but IIRC Kirkland pulled out due to injury

Comment by anonymous2.0 on 03-03-2020

[QUOTE=el***;20439622]I thought he was be 40 or something, im like I havent heard that name in forever. Look him up hes 35 now but he didnt fight from 2015 until last August. Did he have some major injuries after Canelo…

Top Headlines
Thurman: My Biggest Mistake In 2019 Was My Weight Management Ryan Garcia: They're Gonna Say Linares Was Old, Has No Chin When I Catch Him Daily Bread Mailbag: Mayweather-Ortiz, Canelo, Plant, More Ivan Golub on Training With Lomachenko, Targeting Big Names at 147 Junior Younan Inks Managerial Pact With Peter Kahn Fortuna's Promoter Will Not Allow Haney-Campbell Clash To Come Off Arum on Fury-Wilder: Investors in Macau Ready To Put Up The Money Curtis Cokes: 'Boxing Has Been My Life' Berchelt's Trainer: Lomachenko is The One We Want To Beat! Felix Verdejo Improving His Skills in Training, Says Salas Deontay Wilder Breaks His Silence, Speaks On Black Lives Matter Movement Erickson Lubin's Coach: We Accept Gausha's Challenge Manager: Salamov, Vlasov Waiting To Hear From Top Rank For Fight Date Toka Kahn Clary Pulls Out of ESPN Co-Feature Against Abraham Nova Hatton: I Would've Beaten Anyone Night I Fought Tszyu, Including Mayweather Jerry Forrest Inks Promotional Pact With Lou DiBella Tom Schwarz Could Be Facing Charges For Alleged Assault on Woman Stevenson: Mayweather Comparisons Feel Good, But I'm Gonna Surpass Floyd Golden Boy Pleased With WBC Restoring Crews-Dezurn's Title Reign Devin Haney vs. Luke Campbell Eyed For August or September Nonito Donaire: I Know After Inoue Fight I Have A Lot Of Gas In My Tank Crawford: Garcia No Joke For Spence; Sturdier, Punches Harder Than Porter Arum Explains How "The Bubble" Will Work at Upcoming Top Rank Events Ellerbe: Badou Jack's Number One Option Is Rematch With Jean Pascal Melissa Oddessa Turns Pro, Will Be Guided By Andre Rozier Chisora Sees No Issue With More Boxing in Saudi Arabia - Explains Why Golden Boy Prez: Canelo Has 5 or 6 Options - GGG is Not One! News: Mitchell Barton, Quinton Randall, Jonathan Walsh Caraballo: If Stevenson Thinks I'm Easy, It’s Gonna Be A Long Night For Him Manny Pacquiao Might Fight Golovkin, Freddie Roach Says Holyfield Breaks Down His Strategy in Upset of Mike Tyson Ryan Garcia Return Still on Track For July 4, Says Golden Boy Prez Eleider Alvarez Expects Fireworks With Dangerous Joe Smith Arum: We Didn't Feel UFC Testing Protocols In Florida Were Adequate Boxer-Turned-Nurse Kim Clavel To Receive Pat Tillman Award At ESPYS Barrera Concerned: I Hope Kovalev is Not Back on The Vodka Whyte Slams Fury, Erupts Over Arum's Talk of Delaying Mandatory Shot Julio Cesar Martinez Hoping To Fight in July and September Johnny Garton Announces Retirement From Boxing Claressa Shields Wants 3-Minute Rounds, Equality In Women's Boxing
Latest Forum Threads