COMMENTARY | There was a time when "Mandingo Warrior," James Kirkland was a truly fearsome ring presence and on a short list of boxing's best prospects. Not only was the Austin, Texas native winning fights, but he was tearing through the competition and steamrolling usually durable opposition such as Joel Julio, Brian Vera, Eromosele Albert, and Ricardo Cortes. Kirkland was on a destructive, dominant run that drew more than a few comparisons to prime Mike Tyson's time as the undisputed baddest man on the planet. Add Kirkland's odd, but effective relationship with unorthodox trainer, Ann Wolfe, to the back story and the junior middleweight contender seemed to be a no-brainer for superstar status.
But that was back in 2008-2009, when Kirkland had yet to self-destruct and turn a sure-fire goldmine into the shaft.
In 2009, Kirkland would bring his career to a grinding halt with one poor decision. The fighter, who was already on a clear path to a world title, would lose two years of his career after an utterly pointless attempt to purchase a firearm resulted in a parole violation and a subsequent prison sentence. It was the worst thing that could happen at the worst possible time and, as it's turning out, signaled the beginning of the end to Kirkland's wild ride to the top of the boxing world.
After his release from prison in 2011, Kirkland simply was not the same fighter. His loyalty to Ann Wolfe wavered during his time in prison and he never seemed to adapt well to other voices in his corner or in camp. He had also lost the spark that pushed him from aggressive power-puncher to an unstoppable force of nature who broke fighters down with a fierce will to win.
In his second fight after returning to the ring, Kirkland was legitimately buzzed by journeyman Jhon Berrio in a TKO 2 win and then stopped in one round by light-hitting Japanese fringe contender, Nobuhiro Ishida in his following bout.
There are a lot of possible reasons for Kirkland's rapid decline, but few could argue that Kirkland's star had fallen dramatically since his ring return. At 27, there was still time to save the sinking ship, but it had become abundantly clear that the USS Kirkland was taking water fast.
As things would turn out, though, Kirkland would be given a rare second chance at stardom when he met Alfredo Angulo in November of 2011. Reunited with trainer, Ann Wolfe, Kirkland would travel to Cancun, Mexico to meet his opponent in what amounted to a do or die career battle
Many saw the Kirkland-Angulo pairing as a last-ditch effort from Golden Boy to make something happen with two of their well-known, but rapidly declining fighters. Mexico's Angulo, who was suffering through ongoing immigration issues and had been forced to return to his home country, was considered the favorite coming into the contest and the freshest of the two battlers. And in the first thirty seconds of the bout, it seemed as though the end had, indeed, come for Kirkland.
Buzzed and sent to the canvas, Kirkland was seriously hurt and Angulo, still one of the sport's best finishers, was pouncing. But Kirkland's character, in the ring and away from the negative temptations of everyday life, has never been in question. The heavy-handed battler would withstand the barrage and eventually come back to stop Angulo in the sixth round.
The legend of James Kirkland seemed on its way to being reborn, or at the very least revamped, until the post-fight nastiness following his controversial DQ win over Carlos Molina in March of last year.
Kirkland, who looked flat throughout the contest, blamed his lackluster performance on black pills his team made him take prior to the fight. It was an odd conspiracy theory accusation aimed at his own people, followed up by a subsequent effort to separate himself from his current team.
Since then, an effort from Golden Boy to sign a bout between him and Saul Alvarez in September of last year fell apart due to either a lingering shoulder injury or an inability to come to financial terms, depending on who you ask. No matter what, though, Kirkland has been inactive for almost a full year now and little seems to be on the horizon.
Golden Boy has reportedly offered Kirkland a rematch with Angulo, but that may be little more than a token gesture to a fighter who, apparently, wants nothing to do with them anymore.
Meanwhile, Kirkland sits and waits, doing nothing while the magic of the prime, ferocious James Kirkland becomes more and more of a distant memory. After two chances at super-stardom, it appears as though Kirkland's toughest opponent is still himself.
Paul Magno was a licensed official in the state of Michoacan, Mexico and a close follower of the sport for more than thirty years. His work can also be found on Fox Sports and as Editor-in-Chief of The Boxing Tribune. In the past, Paul has done work for Inside Fights, The Queensberry Rules and Eastside Boxing. For breaking news, additional analysis, and assorted crazy commentary, follow him on Facebook, @TheBoxingTribune or on Twitter, @BoxingBTBC.
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