James Kirkland is as exciting to watch as Gennady Golovkin, just not anywhere near as consistent. Even with the qualifier, that is a big statement.
Kirkland's career has been on a long hiatus, partially due to major shoulder surgery. The truth is, however, that Kirkland has only fought less than once a year since 2012 mostly as a result of bizarre business decisions. But if history can teach him anything, it is that when he's willing to subject himself to the terror and pain that come along with lessons from world-class trainer Ann Wolfe, Kirkland is at his best.
The facts are quite simple. Kirkland, first groomed into a fighter by Donald Billingsley (better known as "Pops"), eventually came under the tutelage of one of Pops' other fighters — a four-division, eight-time world champion, Ann Wolfe. To say her training methods are "unorthodox" is about as accurate as saying Muhammad Ali was just a boxer.
By all accounts, including those from Wolfe and Kirkland themselves, Wolfe has pushed Kirkland to the edge of death in training camp, all with the hope of preparing him for a much easier war inside the ropes. Such methods have continually proven successful. When Kirkland pushed through multiple knockdowns of a then-prime Alfredo Angulo, Wolfe was in his corner. When Kirkland decided to take on up-and-coming undefeated prospect Glen Tapia after more than a year and a half layoff, who guided Kirkland to a brutal and wildly entertaining knockout? Wolfe.
But who was in his corner on the night a little-known Japanese middleweight named Nobuhiro Ishida knocked him out? Someone not named Ann Wolfe.
Now, on the cusp of the biggest, most life-altering fight of his career you'd think that Kirkland would look at his past performances and ask himself, who has made me the best version of myself? With whom have I had the most success? And after asking himself those questions, the answer would seem simple. But apparently, it's not.
In the few interviews he's granted since his upcoming bout against Canelo Alvarez was announced, Kirkland has sounded much like he does in the video below, curiously avoiding the name Ann Wolfe and instead saying, "We're [still] putting everybody together [for training camp]." And later, when asked if Kirkland will train exclusively in Texas (a different way of asking if Kirkland will join Wolfe at her gym in Austin), Kirkland responds: "Wherever training camp falls into place, that's where I'll be."
If you've seen what Wolfe does to her underage fighters in a training session, you start to realize the lengths to which she is willing to grind her fighters. What is she capable of doing to her professional pugs? It would be difficult to blame Kirkland for not wanting to subject himself to such punishment. It would be difficult, if it weren't for the clear and convincing results such pain has produced. Kirkland is a balls-to-wall, heart-over-technique fighter, forged in the fires of Wolfe's training hell. No other forge will do.
If Kirkland is going to have a glimmer of a shot against Canelo Alvarez on Cinco de Mayo weekend, in front of a crowd that could break Julio Cesar Chavez's indoor boxing arena record, filled with fans largely supporting the Mexican star, Kirkland has to travel to hell and back in his training. His weight must be on point. His chin must be checked and re-wrought. And his heart must be tested in only the way Ann Wolfe can test it.
A former college wrestler, Taekwondo black-belt, and wannabe boxer, Paul Navarro (aka Fight Like Sugar) is now a full-time lawyer, part-time fight scribe, and high school wrestling coach.