“I know James can be a world champion. All he has to do is, number one, get into condition and, number two, show he knows how to box, and he knows how to box.  The main thing is that he is a condition fighter, a left-handed power-punching fighter who needs to be 75% aggression and 25% of boxing skills. At the moment, James is 95% aggression and 5% boxing.”

That was Ann Wolfe, the trainer of the Texan southpaw, the “Mandingo Warrior” James Kirkland in a recent interview with Boxing Monthly (January 2012). But it has only been in recent months that Kirkland and Wolfe have been reunited, professionally and personally. The reason for their split is associated with past events in Kirkland’s life dating back to 2003 and his brushes with the law between then and then again on the 19th April 2009, the latter seeing the Texan arrested on suspicion of armed robbery. Placed on probation he would go on to lose three years of his fight career.

The fight prior to incarceration would arrive in August 2003 against Russell Jordan and resulted in a first round TKO victory for Kirkland. Re-entering the fight scene in 2006 the first fight on his comeback trail would be against Manny Castillo in the April, a fight which Kirkland would go on to win courtesy of a sixth round TKO. With this success the Mandingo Warrior’s undefeated streak was stretched to 12-0.

By the time Kirkland faced the Colombian Joel Julio in March 2009 that undefeated streak would be stretched to 25-0 courtesy of another sixth round TKO at the HBO Boxing After Dark event in San Jose. However, he would again be seen to fall foul of the law and this came with jail time. As Kirkland was due to face Michael Walker at the Vegas MGM Grand on the undercard of the Pacquiao-Hatton fight in May the Texan would find himself arrested during a traffic stop in his hometown of Austin, Texas and was charged with a 3rd degree felony “unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon”. He was convicted and sentenced to two years in prison. He was released ahead of schedule on September 30, 2010 and spent the remainder of his time in a half-way house in Texas.

Finding himself on the comeback trail and under the guidance of a new trainer in Kenny Adams, Kirkland would find himself back in the ring, this time against Ahsandi Gibbs in March 2011, defeating his compatriot with a first round KO. The following month and Kirkland would be faced with his biggest, professional challenge at that time. At the MGM Grand Kirkland would oppose Japanese boxer Nobuhiro Ishadi in what was supposed to be a stay-busy fight for the American. However, the (29 – 7) newcomer seemingly had other ideas and, having just made the step up to the middleweight division, Ishadi would upset the odds with a shocking first round TKO and dealt Kirkland’s first defeat as a professional fighter. Afterwards Kirkland would part ways with Adams and later reunite with Wolfe.

Kirkland’s remaining three fights of 2011 were all victories for the reformed Kirkland-Wolfe combination when defeating first Dennis Sharpe in June (first round KO; 28-1), then Alexis Hloros was beaten in the July (second round TKO; 29-1) before finally participating in one of Boxing Fights of the Year candidates in Centro de Cancun, Mexico against hometown favourite Alfredo Angulo. This was in November of 2011 and was a WBC Light-Middleweight title eliminator. Kirkland would enter the fight with superior ammunition than his opponent and a fight was witnessed. Kirkland was to be floored in the opening 30 seconds of Round One before he would return the favour and floored Angulo towards the end of the same round. By the time the sixth round was reached though and with Kirkland in complete control of the fight, the referee would have to intervene as Angulo was now on the ropes and the Texan southpaw would claim a TKO victory. This extended Kirkland’s record to 30-1 (27 KO) since his 2001 debut against a fellow debutant in Michael Chalmers.

Next up for the 27 year old James Kirkland is a March 2012 date with Carlos Molina in the semi-final of the WBC Light-Middleweight eliminators. Victory here would see Kirkland go on to face Vanes Martiseryan for what would not only be the title, but also some possible redemption and even closure. A career which is coming full circle and with Kirkland having overcome several detrimental obstacles along the way. Only time will tell.

Real Combat Media and it’s writers chose James Kirkland for Comeback Fighter of the Year because of all the adversity he faced in 2011. The reader’s of Real Combat Media also chose James Kirkland as Comeback 2011 Fighter of the Year in our year end fan’s award poll.