Ann’s method of training her fighters to their limits and beyond seems barbaric or over-the-top, to some. To Ann, after her fighters have grown up on the streets as she has, why should training be any less a struggle?
“What they don’t understand is, you take someone like Robert, a kid I got in my gym, 14 years old,” she explains. “Great kid; left-handed, tenacious, solid, but ate one time in two days. And Robert doesn’t know where he is going to sleep on Friday. Sometimes Robert sleeps at my house at 14 years old. What he’s been through is all the difference. When you tell him you’re going to eat three meals a day? That’s huge. If you got to fight two men when you train, do you know easy it’s going to be to fight one? I know how to survive with all the groceries I want because I know how to survive without groceries at all. It makes you hungry. It makes you humble to know, ‘I fought two people. I ran 15 miles.’ And a lot of people don’t like that to hear me say this but you know what I try to do with my fighters?”
“No”, I answer.
“I try to take them back to…and I am not prejudiced. I live at the house with a white woman. I try to take my kids back to slaves,” she says. “When [slaves] wanted to be free, they ain’t ate in about ten days and they had to run for days without no food or no water. They had to run for their very natural lives. They had to fight for their life or they were going to die. If a bear come into your house, you’re not going to let him come and eat you. You’re going to fight until you die. That’s what a predator do. They prey on the weak. So when you’re weak, you should surely die. Point blank.”
This approach may seem extreme but it’s done in an effort to take her fighters to the brink. How you practice is how you perform so Wolfe pushes them past to what feels like the point of no return. When they get to the moment of truth, they define it rather be defeated by it. That process begins from day one.
“I tone them muscles from ten. I tone them muscles from 15,” Wolfe explains. “James Kirkland used to spar in 24-ounce gloves, every day, all week. Guess how many times we spar a week? We spar every day. We spar every day and we spar in 20-22-ounce gloves so they don’t get hurt. But their muscles [are] immune because they spar every day. Who else spars every day? They spar with those itty-bitty gloves so they get hurt and banged up. You put a kid in some 20-to-22s, you’re not getting banged up but they’re still going through the motions. You know what I’m saying? And you think that they got these big-ass gloves on but they bodies are ready. When I put those eight-ounce gloves on James, he was like, ‘I’m going to just jab and drop him.’ He said, ‘I just gotta fight one man. I ain’t gotta fight two. It ain’t 110-degrees in here.’ He was like, ‘This easy. Crack, crack, crack.’ I said to him, ‘Then crush him. My daughter was like, ‘This easy.’”
So is it too much? Is it barbaric or cruel? To Wolfe, the proof is in the fighting. The way her fighters are in touch with that desperate wild side, yet able to harness it, is what makes them so special and so hard to beat.
“I don’t care that they say it makes no sense,” she continues. “It makes sense to him [Kirkland]. He beat the hell out of somebody. He don’t spare no one. Because a true warrior is not afraid to die so I ain’t scared to lose. [If] I was, I’d have cracked up. Most fighters today are scared to lose because if you get one loss, you get up on out of there. If you get two or three losses, you’re sure enough out of there. What I do is that I make their bodies so hard over and over and over and over again because that’s how my mother made me work hard all day all the time. I didn’t get sore no more. I didn’t get tired no more. I am 40 years old; I can go outside and cut ten acres of grass in high sun and I can still train along the kids. When you be taking off the whole year, two years, fighting once or twice…that’s why in the ‘40s and the ‘50s, that’s why they could fight like that. They were fighting every week. Broken nose, broken eye socket. Now you take the 2010 fighters and you drop them down into the ‘50s, they would be sh*t. They aren’t fighting for something. I don’t care what anyone says about me. I really don’t. They can say that’s crazy or that’s this or that’s that. I know one thing: James Kirkland and I were on HBO. I was the first female trainer on HBO where [her fighter was] the main event. So if I got that far? Sh****t, that’s good enough for me.”
Ann laughed good-naturedly at that last part but I sensed a twinge of ‘Hey, I did do that.” We shifted gears back to Kirkland and his imminent return to the sport of boxing. After Kirkland’s last fight in March of 2009, the 154-pound division was heating up but a bit in waiting. Alfredo Angulo was still just a prospect and had yet to lose to Kermit Cintron. Paul Williams was about to fight Winky Wright at 160; barely anyone knew who Sergiy Dzinziruk was and we’d all just been introduced to Sergio Martinez.
Now, Angulo has risen from the ashes of defeat to look like a player in the division; Martinez is middleweight champ but may fight at 154. Dzindiruk has fought stateside; Paul Williams is talking about fighting at 147 and Cintron has flown the coop. Above that division, Daniel Jacobs is about to fight for his first belt; Kelly Pavlik has moved up and the waters are wide open. Things have gotten hotter around this junior middle and, possibly, full-fledged middleweight fighting machine. So in Wolfe’s opinion, what does Kirkland have to do to return to where he once was?
“I think that it’s going to take time,” she explains. “I really do. It’s like when you go through a forest or when you go somewhere. Well, in a year and half, sh*t change. It goes through a big change. I think James needs to take his time. Oscar [De La Hoya], Michael Miller, Cameron Dunkin just need to maneuver him slow. Just see what he got, don’t care what nobody say, ‘Oh, he was this’. Just see what he got. Ease his weight down; see what he got. Because I know that that killer instinct that he got inside of him is not going to go away. It’s not going to go away. But to be like that, I tell my kids, ‘If a lion wants to take a deer, he’s not going to just run out there because the deer just going to take off running. Stalk it down; you have to be quiet. And sometimes you have to sit back and wait and watch. It’s time for James, as a predator, to sit back, wait, and watch. And eat a little rabbit here and there. A squirrel here and there. So you can get him a gazelle. He can’t just go in because he’s not at the peak he was. He’s not training where he is at so you have to be realistic. That’s why I am saying you can’t be all, ‘Aww sh*t, we’re going to out there and [lose] because you are going to fail. You have to ease way back up until you’re sharp, keyed. Your eyesight is keyed. Your belly is full; you ate a little bit and now it’s time for you to get to kill the bigger prey.”
Kirkland has been in trouble with the law before. It’s what got him into this current mess. He did six months in county and six months house arrest. He was 11-0 with nine knockouts, at the time, and it kept him out of the ring for two-and-a-half years before he signed with co-managers Michael Miller and Cameron Dunkin and then-promoter Gary Shaw. Kirkland would later leave GSP to sign with Golden Boy Promotions, who set him on a course that put him center stage on HBO primed for the big time. By the time he had arrived to that point, he was 25-0 with 22 knockouts. How long it takes to get him back to form this time remains to be seen.
“It took almost four years. Cameron and Michael had the right people fighting him. We’d been with other people and then when Oscar got involved, he could understand; he’d test him a little and see what he can do. Test him a little bit more and see what he do. Right when he went in, we weren’t going to test him with that next-to-last fight. It was more; I’m going give you a meal because I tested you twice, so now I’m going to give you a little something to eat on and then, next time, we are putting you on the front lines. Oscar was smart. Cameron was smart. I was smart. Everyone around the kid was smart. Oscar tested him twice. He tested him a little bit with Bryan Vera because he has a big-ass right hand. And then he tested him more with Joel Julio to see what this kid really got. We were supposed to fight on the Pacquiao [vs. Ricky Hatton] card. That wasn’t really a test. It was just to say, ‘You know what? This kid still can’t whoop your ass but we’re going to give you a little something.’ And then the next one, I think, was going to be, ‘OK. Now we’re going to put you on the front lines since you passed those tests.’
“And that is what I can say about Oscar, Cameron, Michael, myself. They tested him just right,” Wolfe continues. “They did everything just right. They allowed me to go, ‘No, he shouldn’t fight that. Yes, he should.’ Even when they tried to put [in] lower opponents, I was like, ‘No. We ready.’ Because I know him. Inside and out. Joel [Julio] could have hit James Kirkland with a f**king sledgehammer. That kid and what I put him through? Hell no, because I took a hammer [and] beat the sharp out of him with the end of the handle. I beat his body down to the ground. He said in training camp, ‘Ann, I’m so tired.’ I said, ‘Do you want to lose? Are you so tired that you want to come back and look at everybody that said to you, ‘You’re going to be sh*t,’ I’ll be sh*t. Is that what you want? And that’s what I do. And they don’t know it. And that’s what I have to prove to everybody.”
You’d think a four-division, eight-time champion who scored one of the all-time great knockouts in the sport (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1h-hmcnlmrQ) with an exciting fighter like James Kirkland would get more run. You’d think the boxing world would crowd around that pairing and celebrate it as The Truth meets The Second Coming. And it might, if only Ann wasn’t a woman. Though she would never say it, that difference, in a male-dominated sport might be why she is looked at as more of an anomaly, as opposed to a true success story. Proving people wrong is not what motivates Wolfe. What gets her going is her gym full of warriors, many of whom will fight this weekend on July 10 at the Austin Music Hall as part of Wolfe Pack Promotions’ “The Next Generation” combined MMA and boxing fight card.
“The only thing that I have to prove that gives me fire is that I know I got a 130-pound, 17-year-old about to turn pro, 6’1” with the punching power of James Kirkland, Johnny Arellano. He can punch like Kirkland at 135 but he’s 6’1”. He knocked a dude out with a jab. He is going to be off…the…Goddamn…chain,” exclaims Wolfe of him like she can’t wait to unleash the orthodox fighter. Then talk turns to her daughter, Jennifer Wolfe, who has been fighting since age four.
“My little girl?” she asks, “I guarantee, after five fights, I will put her in with any woman walking on the face of the earth. She had 17 fights as an amateur. She was 15-2. We started fighting national champions in our third fight. She was ranked number one. Now she is pro. She knocked a girl out in 58 seconds. The amateur style didn’t work because she couldn’t punch. She couldn’t sit on her punches that well. My little girl is going to be better than me. Boxing and punching. I’ll fight her at between 130 and 135 but when we settle down [it’ll be] at 130. Arellano, when he settles down, he’s going to fight at 130. I got a kid named Calvin Shepherd; he fight at 118; he be sparring 130s. He’s going to prey. I got a 14-year-old I been training since he was six years old. He’s the devil. So that’s why I got to let them see. I don’t have kids I’ve only known for six months. I’ve got kids I’ve known for ten years. There are kids I been with [since] they was six, ten, four, 13.”
Though she is clearly excited about the whole group as well as her daughter, Arellano stands out to her as her next fighter to break through.
“Wait until you see [Arellano]. Out of all of them, I think the second coming is going to be Johnny Arellano,” she says of the 2-0 (2) fighter.
Most trainers wait a lifetime for a James Kirkland to walk through their doors. Wolfe sees the potential to forge that type of fighter in her gym every day. So much so that she recently started her own company, Wolfe Pack Promotions. It’s a way for Ann to not only guide the fighters to the ring but help them in the oft-times treacherous world outside of it.
“See what I did was start promoting local cards in Texas,” she says. “Because I don’t want to just have to bring all my fighters to everybody else. So I am going to build them up and [be with them through their careers].”
For James Kirkland, the future begins October 2, 2010 when he is released from custody and back into the boxing world to wreak his havoc once again. For Ann Wolfe, the future is now. What comes later remains to be seen and- hopefully- what a sight it shall be.
“When they see, they’re going to trip out,” Wolfe says with a laugh, referring to the fans that will soon get a glimpse of what she has been working on. “You tell ‘em. ‘She got a gym full of them’. They don’t even know yet.”
You can email Gabriel at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/gabriel_montoyaand catch him on each Monday’s episode of “The Next Round” with Steve Kim or tune into 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.