With Kirkland returning this year to a sport he had been absent from for two years following a prison stint, naturally, there are questions as to whether or not he can return to form.
“Oh, yes. Yes, he can,” insisted Wolfe. “It has nothing to do with age. It has nothing to do with prison. The only thing it has to do with is more work.”
Kirkland’s work ethic had dropped off a lot since his return to the ring. Under a new trainer, he no longer was subjected to Wolfe’s rough (putting it mildly) training sessions back in Austin, Texas. Now he seems to be back on track and just as eager to work hard.
“For the first time after the Dallas fight, we fought that Friday and Monday he was back in the gym,” said Wolfe. “I told him; I said, ‘Listen, James, there is no substitute for hard work. There is no way you can like, make a mistake and get in shape. You have to train. There is only one way to do it.’ Being a boxer and in good shape and good conditioning is like being born. There’s only one way…you can have a C-section but you know what I’m saying? There is only one way to get here. That is how boxing is. If you try to take any shortcuts, any of this and that it will catch up with you, eventually.”
Wolfe explained that no matter if this person beats that guy or if a man has a lot of wins or losses, what happens in the ring is chaos. If you are not prepared for it, you will fail.
“I tell James, boxing is like a whole bunch of rings,” she said. “You got thousands of rings. You might know how to get around this ring easy but then you have a ring that everybody can get around but you don’t. When you are in a fight, you never can study because each individual is different, so it’s almost like you never can conquer boxing. One guy does good but the other doesn’t do good and this guy doesn’t have the heart but this guy does. This guy has a chin and this one don’t and this one has some big arms and this one don’t. So it’s like you want to be prepared to change at any given moment in boxing.”
For the Sharpe fight, Wolfe requested from the Golden Boy matchmakers a fighter who did not resemble the tall southpaw Ishida. Kirkland himself is a southpaw and training him for one would take time. Right now, she is focused on getting his confidence back and more importantly, his conditioning. Tough styles will come in time.
“The only thing I didn’t want- and we’re just keeping it real- I didn’t want any real tall guys and I didn’t want a left-handed guy because for right now, I wasn’t trying to say, ‘This guy is tall and he is going to pull back and we have to focus on this.’ I didn’t want a left-handed guy. It brings a challenge because anybody can fight but those are different types of looks that I don’t want to look at right then and there. I didn’t care if they brought somebody hard that was 30-0 with 30 KOs. I just didn’t want him to be 6’6” or 6’5” and I didn’t want him to be left-handed because those are things that after you go through this fight, you need to work on with James. ‘This guy is tall so we need to double that jab up and really move your head and use your angles because a tall guy is going to pull back because he don’t want to get hit. When he pulls back a half a step, that’s two steps for you and that causes a lot of distance so you have to be in top shape.’ You know what I’m saying? So I didn’t want to deal with that. James sees everything from coming from the right side.”
Wolfe went further, questioning why in the world after getting knocked out in the second round (not TKO’d like Kirkland but straight out cold), did Paul Williams’ team put him in with a crafty lefty in Erislandy Lara in “The Punisher’s” comeback fight.
“I didn’t want to deal with no left-handed guy coming in there. That’s the mistake that Paul Williams made,” said Wolfe. “He’s not dead. He’s not shot. Why in the living hell would you go back in a left-handed fight? Get you a right-hander. I think Paul Williams has the ability to beat any right-hander on planet Earth. Why would you go and get someone that is kind of difficult for you? He’s a warrior. He’s a soldier. He’s like us. He’s a soldier. How you going to let him fight a left-hander? James just got stopped by some tall-ass dude. Why would I let him go back and do that? We want to go through that and accomplish that but I’m not going to do that with his first fight back. You have to be intelligent in this game.”
I asked Wolfe to break down Hloras and his style. Instead, she broke down what he is fighting for and why that makes him dangerous.
“All I know is he has two hands like we have. He has two feet like James got and he is coming to fight,” said Wolfe. “These people say, ‘Well, he’s not this. He’s not that.’ That’s how I got my career started. Nobody knew who I was. Now James understands you have to be prepared for anybody. He has to work on himself and understand that this is serious. You better train for that guy like you fighting for a belt. Times are so bad. Times are so hard. People have nothing to lose and everything to gain. This guy beats you, he is on top of the world. He done boosted his career times ten. That man is coming to whoop your ass. He coming to get you. Don’t think you can take this for granted that you’re going to whoop this man. For every fight I am on him, ‘Don’t take no one for granted.’”
Now that James has lost, that image of a take-no-prisoners, walk-through-Hell-to-get-you fighter is a bit dented if not shattered. Wolfe welcomes the change. Now her fighter has to be 100% ready for anything and anyone. Now fighters will come at them instead of backing off and that makes her job a little easier. From the sound of her voice, that also makes her job a little more fun. Most importantly, the little bit of self-doubt Kirkland might have will keep him sharp and aware of the dangers ahead.
“I am happy that people think they can just walk over him. A lot of times, people think he is wide and wild and you think you can open up the kitchen; he is going to catch a lot of people,” said Wolfe. “James Kirkland was 100% not in shape for Ishida and James Kirkland is a condition fighter. What I mean by ‘condition fighter’ is he has decent skills, yes, but we grew up sparring every day. We grew up training every day. We grew up getting hit every day. So if you take something and you are hitting it every day, bam, bam, bam, one year, two years, four years, and then you don’t hit it for years…if you stand there and let someone slap the sh*t out of you for a whole year, once you become immune to being slapped, then don’t get slapped for a long time and then don’t get ready to start getting slapped, you are going to let a lady slap you a couple of times, OK? So what is going to happen when a grown man slap the hell out of you? It’s going to hurt like hell. And that’s how he was. He is still not back 100% but you watch and see. Guess what? He is getting punched in the gym. He is getting cracked on the head and everywhere. He is still going through that rigorous training. I tell people that you take a condition fighter like James, where you pushing this or pushing that and training in 110 degrees and you take him and put him in a regular gym and don’t want to give him no sparring and you take him and put him with a guy from Japan. They have it worse than us in some of those places. He is saying, ‘This is my opportunity’ and he in condition. He is going to kick your ass.
“You cannot fool that ring,” Wolfe continued. “You can’t fool that ring. You can’t fool that scale and you can’t fool yourself. That is what I tell all my fighters. That ring is going to find out if you’re a punk. That ring going to find out if you’re scary. That ring going to find out if you are in condition. That ring going to find out if you love your mama. It’s going to find out if you love Jesus. It’s going to find if you’re a man or woman. When you get in mortal combat, hand-to-hand, everything is exposed. Everything. Habitually, it is going to be exposed. So if you don’t condition, it’s going to be exposed. If they pump your head with a bunch of bullsh*t and say this and that and that and you start believing it and nobody telling you that the ring is your truth teller, you going to find out the hard way. And that is point blank how it is. I think Ishida whooped James Kirkland’s ass fair and square. Now [Kirkland] is in good shape. He is not 100% back where he is but damn near and I want everybody to come and try to whoop his ass because that is how point blank how it is. Boxing is just like being in court, innocent until proven guilty. That ring will prove your ass guilty. If you really did it, that ring is going to expose your ass.”
For this fight, Wolfe had wanted top contenders. Names like Sergio Mora and Ishe Smith were considered. Instead, with just a short five-week span to get an opponent and prepare, Hloras was brought in. Regardless, Wolfe feels not only confident Kirkland can return to where he was, she welcomes the challenge for her fighter and the chance for him to prove himself.
“I asked for somebody good. I asked for somebody that is a firecracker and this guy might be a firecracker. Who knows?” she wondered. “After this, let [Kirkland] fight somebody in the top five. Give him somebody. Let them talk sh*t. What pisses me off more than anything, I don’t get on blogs or none of that stuff but when I do get on there all they be saying crazy sh*t like, ‘James don’t have a chin’ and this and that. He might not have a chin but when you sitting behind grenades like he got, he won’t need a chin. And I still think he got a chin but I just think that James is a condition fighter that has to be in top shape to show what he got and that’s just all there is to it. I say give him somebody and let him…because for the first time in his career, he has to prove to somebody that he is worthy of them. Then again, in a way, he don’t have to prove that is worthy of nothing because everybody that we grew up with is in prison or dead. So by James going to fight this fight, he has won the battle. He just got to win the war with the fans because from his community, nobody has done half of what he has done. They still in prison.”
As the conversation winded down, Wolfe told me that her goal is not to build better fighters but better people. The kids she takes from the streets and builds into fighters will not be successful in the ring, long term, unless they change as people outside of it. That is her hope for not only James Kirkland but everyone she trains.
“I told James it isn’t about being good. It is about becoming better,” she explained. “And showing the young kids that you can become a better man and if James becomes a better man? Boxing is going to be easy. The boxing part? He will become world champion. It’s the man part and he is trying to do it.”
You can email Gabriel at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/gabriel_montoya and catch him on each Monday’s episode of “The Next Round” with Steve Kim or tune into hear him live on Thursdays at 5-8 PM PST when he co-hosts the BlogTalk radio show Leave-It-In-The-Ring.com. Gabriel is a full member of the Boxing Writers Association of America.