James Kirkland (32-1, 28 KOs) steps in to the ring on Saturday night knowing that victory over Saul “Canelo” Alvarez (44-1-1, 31 KOs) at the Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas, will catapult him near the top of the 154-pound division.
Kirkland, a southpaw, possesses the biggest equalizer in boxing – knockout power. When he hits you in the sweet spot, then it’s usually the end of your night. Though he only has one defeat on his ledger, Kirkland’s career to date has been one of somewhat unfulfilled potential. The 31-year-old has had some troubles outside the ring, and spells in prison have derailed this professional boxer. However, he is now firmly back on track and will be in the limelight this weekend when he takes on Alvarez, who is one of the biggest stars in boxing.
One person who will not be in his corner is his former trainer, Ann Wolfe, with whom he has enjoyed his best moments in the ring (his sole career loss to Nobuhiro Ishida came when she was not in his corner). In her place is Bremond “Bay Bay” McClinton. Men’s Fitness caught up with Kirkland to get his take on the fight and this pivotal night for his career.
You’ve been off since December 2013. How has training camp gone, and do you think ring rust will be a factor? Why did you decide to forgo a tune up before this big challenge?
I don’t feel that ring rust is going be a problem. I am getting the proper sparring and training camp has been going extremely well. Things I’ve been working on and wanting to improve on have helped me take a big step towards the standards I want to be at.
In terms of physical training, do you do much weight training if at all or is it more bodyweight? What have you and “Bay Bay” McClinton worked on to get ready for this fight?
We did a mix of everything. But we wanted to make sure the explosion, the speed, and the stamina will be there for 12 rounds [at] 100 percent. So that’s where my focus was at. I wanted to make sure that my defense is where it needs to be just as well as my offense. I feel like we worked the complete package to be able to get the performance I’m doing now. The training is super hard, but it will be worth it at the end of the day.
You had great success with Ann Wolfe. She’s not with you on the team this time around. It’s Bay Bay McClinton, Rick Morones Jr. and George Tucker. Can you talk about the strategies you’ve been using to take on a fighter of Alvarez’s caliber?
That’s one thing I will not let you know, as far as what my strategy is. But, as far as what I am prepared for when it comes to Canelo? Everything that he wants to do – if he doesn’t want to sit in the middle of the ring and go toe-to-toe or blow-for-blow or whatever it may be. If he wants to dance, move and box, I’ve prepared to do something to stop that momentum. If he wants to brawl, I’m prepared—I’m just prepared to do the whole thing. Training camp has gone extremely well and it’s still going well now. Being away from camp or not being focused can be a major setback, so every day counts and every day means something. So, at this particular moment right now, as far as the work rate and how much we put in it every day, it’s beautiful. I didn’t think it was going to be this hard—I know what hard work is—hard is hard but we are taking it to another level. I believe we will max our potential when it comes to doing everything we need to do to succeed on fight night.
You’ve turned down some fights before, why was this time the right time to fight Canelo?
I’ve turned certain fights down for certain reasons. Not because I was scared or whatever the situation may be, but I may have turned [them] down for certain reasons. But this is the fight that I wanted. I’m definitely anxious to make this stuff happen. So hey, May 9th is definitely going to be a showdown.
What message do you have for fans ahead of this fight?
I want to show fight fans that when you really put hard work into something and you actually sacrifice, and you put everything on the backburner—what people may think, what people may say—if you go out there and strive for what you want, then destiny is what you’re going to get. You will get your glory at the end of the road.
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