Prospect Watch: James Kirkland

March 6, 2009

The sport of boxing is, in many ways, a throwback sport. Since the inception of The Marquess of Queensberry rules over 200 years ago, little has changed in the fight game.

Fighters enter the ring wearing no uniform or jersey, and no protective gear save for a foul protector shielding the groin. For safety, fighters are allowed a mouthpiece to cushion the brain stem and protect the mouth, as well as gloves for their fists. Finally, the two combatants square off in the true definiton of a "mano-a-mano" battle.

That much has never changed.

Nevertheless, one need only listen to a discussion between fighters and trainers, or hear a veteran scribe wax poetic about the epic wars of yesteryear, to know that many things have in fact changed about the "Sweet Science."

We have often heard the familiar refrain from fighters, writers, and fans alike, who rightfully complain about how there are too many title belts in each weight class. We have also heard these groups justifiably decry the lack of true fighters gutsy enough to take risks and put their record and reputation on the line by challenging the top fighters in their division.

More often than not, financial considerations, sanctioning bodies, cable networks, and promotional entities with controlling interests in their fighters careers actually determine just who gets a coveted shot at a title, and when.

Despite the fact that the fight game in its current state barely resembles past eras such as the 1950's and '60s, most would agree with legendary trainer Eddie Futch's claim that "the nitty-gritty of the fight game ain't gonna never change, its the business of boxing that ain't the same."

However, for all these complaints, every so often there comes along a fighter who can make all fight fans, whether young or old, forget all these complaints.

Somebody like James Kirkland.

For those unfamiliar with Kirkland (aka The Mandingo Warrior), he is an undefeated junior middleweight prospect (24-0, 21 KO) from Austin, Texas, who will be taking his next step toward earning a title shot when he battles Colombian Joel Julio tomorrow in San Jose, California.

A true throwback boxer, Kirkland embodies that rare breed of fighter treasured by fans: the exciting, all-action warrior.

Kirkland's crowd-pleasing southpaw style consists of a combination of frightening knockout power in each hand (87% KO rate, with 19 of 21 KOs in 4 rounds or less), a go-for-broke slugging style (only 2 fights of 8 rounds or more), and a ferocious temperament remniscent of a certain gentleman from Brownsville, Brooklyn who terrorized heavyweights during the 1980's.

In short, Kirkland provides what even the most casual fight fans want to see: an exciting fighter whose publicly stated goal is to inflict as much pain on his opponent as he can, before knocking him out.

To witness Kirkland absolutely demolish his opposition is to understand that Kirkland has a style his trainer Ann Wolfe likens to "a shark in blood-infested waters."

The fact that Kirkland -- one of the most promising, exciting, and brutally powerful presences in the sport today -- is trained by a woman is just the one of the countless curious aspects of this man's fascinating story.

Kirkland was first introduced to the sport at the tender age of six by Austin trainer Donald "Pops" Billingsley, a local legend of the Texas PAL and amateur boxing circuit. In Billingsley (a man Larry Merchant once referred to as being "straight out of central casting"), Kirkland found a genuine, humorous, harsh, and engaging old man, who has became the closest thing to a father figure in Kirkland's young life.

Among the many unusual training methods employed by Wolfe and Pops, Kirkland regularly whales away at one of three heavy bags that are installed and suspended like a crane from the front and rear of Pops' pick-up truck, while simultaneously running his miles of roadwork. He is also regularly forced to do exercises, and even spar, while carrying another of his stablemates around his massive neck, back, and shoulders.

Wolfe herself is a former four-division world champion, who arguably was the most feared female fighter on the planet at one time. Even Laila Ali refused to acknowledge the prospect of a middleweight title defense against Wolfe, despite Wolfe being her most logical opponent.

Wolfe admits that while some of her training methods may be unusual, she prefers to look at them as old school.

Explained Wolfe in one interview, "it is old school. By that I mean, they used to be so strong and in great shape, and that's all that we're doing. You have to be strong from head to toe -- mind, body and spirit."

She later predicted, "if James keeps up training, he's got the power, skill and determination, that he'll be sure to do great things."

This is the unanimous belief of all in Kirkland's camp. In fact, they will claim that had his career not been interrupted by a roughly 30-month jail sentence for armed robbery, Kirkland would already be an established junior middleweight champion, with an eye toward moving up to the middleweight ranks.

Far from the prototypical slick and skilled lefty boxer, Kirkland is a slugger in the truest sense of the word. Having been described by awed observers as everything from "Manny Pacquaio on steroids" to "a quicker, smaller, left-handed version of Earnie Shavers," Kirkland is just the kind of throwback fighter that disillusioned boxing fans have sought for years.

Never the bashful type, Kirkland has the chutzpah to proclaim that he is "better than Mike Tyson," as well as the machismo to then back up those assertions by knocking his opponents.

So to all frustrated fight fans who think that boxing's best days ended with the retirements of Hagler, Leonard, Duran, and Hearns, please do yourself a favor and watch "The Mandingo Warrior." You may just see a true crowd-pleasing, gladiator-type fighter who will do his best to make good on his pre-fight promise to "hurt this man the way he has never been hurt before." Ouch.

One thing is for sure, if it is a fight involving James Kirkland, you will be entertained.

By Kweku Turkson
Staff Reporter for


  1. kirkland is the real deal. if he can beat the rap, he and paul williams will eventually collide down the line at 154.

  2. the only persyn that can defeat james is james himself


We encourage all intelligent, passionate comments. Please refrain from any ignorant, racist, or offensive rants.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...