Trust, me it was a long 18 months.
Yes, Boxing has never had any shortage of compelling characters. In the present time, it's actually rather flush with them. Floyd Mayweather is still here, trolling fans into paying to see him take the beating that he as of yet hasn't succumbed to. Manny Pacquiao is back from the dead (or something close to it) to earn a couple more huge paydays and maybe, just maybe, give us that Pac/Mayweather showdown he always wanted, even if the intrigue is now somewhat diminished. Andre Ward is finally healthy enough again to resume the Boxing lessons he was doling out of the regular before he needed to repair his bum shoulder. Oh, and there's a whole new crop of killers on the loose, chief among them Adonis Stevenson and the nightmare russian Triumvirate of Ruslan Provodnikov, Sergei Kovalev and Gennady Golovkin, all three of them capable of separating you from your senses in such a manner that it's going to become increasingly difficult for them to find anyone with enough courage to face the proverbial firing squad. Ruslan's relentless attack, Kovalev's atomic bombs, Golovkin's frighteningly accurate weapons of destruction. Hard to say which is better or more fun to watch, but easy to say they are absolute appointment TV right now, regardless of the opponent.
It's a good time to be a Boxing fan, I'll tell ya.
And yet with that said, I've been feeling a strange void for quite some time now, like there was something missing from my life, in the fistic sense. I missed James Kirkland because James Kirkland is the fucking best. Not he the best boxer or puncher or even brawler mind you, but just the best, if you know what I mean.
James Kirkland is there to take your will and beat your ass, and as long as he's still standing he's a good bet to do just that. James Kirkland has knocked out 28 of the 32 men he's fought, and what can I say about those other four besides "it was their lucky night"?
Oh, and best of all, James Kirkland is trained by Ann Wolfe. Well, he is now. Again. You see, he was, and then he wasn't, then he was again, and if that all sounds a little weird, it is. You see, Ann Wolfe used to box herself. Well, that's not the whole story. Ann Wolfe used to knock women silly. Ann Wolfe almost decapitated Heavyweight Champion Vonda Ward with one punch, a punch Ward probably steel feels today. Ann Wolfe once held titles in four different weight classes. Simultaneously. Man or woman, you probably wouldn't fuck with Ann Wolfe unless you wanted a concussion or whatever. Not to say that makes her any more or less qualified to train fighters, just giving you a little context. There's another wrinkle. Ann Wolfe's training methods are a little different than anyone else's. She believes in training a man until he can't go any more, then going some more. Every day. For Weeks. The idea is simple enough: Whatever he might face in an actual fight couldn't possibly be any worse than what he faces in the gym on a daily basis.
Hey, you might laugh, you might think this lady is fucking nuts. Then again, you might think all of that prepared James Kirkland for anything and if you saw his fight with Alfredo Angulo, you have no doubts.
Kirkland's response to what happened to him at he start of the fight in not a normal one. It's response of a guy who has been in deeper water than that before, even if it wasn't in an actual ring. The fact that he was not only standing after the first round by was able to emerge the victor some rounds later is just not normal. Nothing about the Kirkland or Wolfe is, really.
Only 28 years old, James Kirkland has hady so much more adversity than his record (32-1) would suggest. After having his career stalled by a 2 year prison stint in 2009 and again by a puzzling one round knockout loss to a noted light puncher named Nobuhiro Ishida, Kirkland reunited with Wolfe and put together 4 consecutive impressive victories. Then, once more, his career was derailed, this time by promotional disputes. Not only that, Kirkland split from Wolfe for a second time, (the first split came as a result of his jail stint) ostensibly because he could no longer stomach Wolfe's insane training technique, successful as it had been.
Well, weeks before last's nights fight with undefeated Glenn Tapia, Kirkland found his way back to Wolfe's camp for a third time. After an almost 2 year lay-off and in danger of being forgotten, Kirkland likely decided it was now or never.
Honestly, I had no idea what Kirkland we were getting when him and Tapia went into the ring last night. After so many stops and starts, so much uncertainty surrounding his career, how could I? Kirkland at his best is a terrifying predator. A machine. And, all hyperbole aside, a killer. Kirkland at his worst is, slow, musclebound and uncommonly chinny.
I'll have to admit, I watched the first three rounds or so with one eye open. Even in the best of times Kirkland tends to start slowly, and since that isn't exactly a secret, Tapia came out from the first bell looking to take him out before he had a chance to break a sweat. As it turned out, Tapia hadn't enough in his gun to do anything but wobble Kirkland and by the time he had emptied both clips, James went to work. By the time the 4th round had rolled around, it was clear that the vintage James Kirkland had sown up on this night, not just to win, but to put a frightful beating on a fighter who hadn't yet tasted defeat in his pro career. By the time he was done, hooking, crossing, jabbing and pounding high and low, Tapia was a walking ghost, having foolishly been sent out for the 6th round despite having neither the strength to rally back nor the tools to fend of this positively savage attack. Less than a minute in to that round, it was all over, and by the time it was, Kirkland had collected another scalp the hard way, and Tapia had taken a beating he may or may not ever recover from.
Boxing offers allot of pleasures, some of which are harder to stomach for all but the most devout of followers. Some time later, in the evenings' main event, former amateur legend and current Bantamweight sensation Guillermo Rigondeaux would use his speed, skill and grace to soundly defeat his opponent without having so much as a hair on his head mussed. For the crowd in Atlantic City, it was a sight not worth even sticking around for, as most of them left in droves during the fight. For others, what Rigondeaux does in a boxing ring is a thing of beauty, the sweet science personified. Me? hey, I love them both, even if I prefer one over the other.
Look, it is what it is. Watching a fighter like Kirkland or a fight like the ones he always seems to end up in is something I find impossibly compelling, the way allot of writers and lovers of the sport always have. It's one man's will against another in a way that simply doesn't exist on other sporting planes. There are few fighters on earth quite like James Kirkland, and that is more than likely a good thing. What's more, I'm 100% certain there is but one Ann Wolfe on this earth, and I have zero doubt in my mind what a fortunate thing that is.
For one night at least, they were back. I can only hope they are here for a long, long time.
-John Hathwell's other work can be found at: thesonofsambowie.wordpress.com