Michael Rosenthal

Kirkland ready and eager to get back into the ring

LOS ANGELES – James Kirkland isn’t just starting again. In a very real sense, the former junior middleweight contender is starting over.

Kirkland, 26, recently spent 18 months in prison for violating his parole for a previous armed-robbery conviction by purchasing a gun. While behind bars, he said Thursday, someone stole every last item he had in storage. He has nothing.

And then there are his relationships. Going to prison, he said, is good way to find out who your real friends are. He said a number of people he cared about were gone when he rejoined society. He had certain family members, his three small children and a few friends but that was it.

Thus, when he moved from his hometown of Austin to Las Vegas about a month ago to work with veteran trainer Kenny Adams, he has very little to call his own.

“I lost everything due to my incarceration,” said Kirkland, who returns to the ring on the Saul Alvarez-Matthew Hatton card Saturday after two years away from the sport. “They stole all my stuff. Everything I had to my name is gone. Even pictures of friends who have died. Everything is gone.

“I came to Las Vegas with nothing, not even a dollar in my pocket. I came only with faith that everything would work out for me.”

Thanks to a few of those who did stand behind him after he returned to prison, things are looking good.

Michael Miller, his lawyer and friend, helped him navigate through his legal and emotional woes. And Golden Boy Promotions, his promoter, made it clear that he remained in their plans.

He has fights scheduled for Saturday, against journeyman Ahsandi Gibbs at the middleweight limit, April 9 and July 23. He is even optimistic that he could fight for a major title before the end of the year.

When he went away, Kirkland (25-0, 22 knockouts) was one of the hottest young contenders around. He not only won fights but thrilled fans with his reckless – and effective – style.

Now that he’s back, almost exactly two years since he was last in the ring, he can think of nothing else but stepping through the ropes and doing his thing.

“I’ve been waiting a long time because of the jail sentence and everything,” he said. “I’m back now and ready to fight. … I can’t stop dreaming about; I can’t stop thinking about it because this is what I love to do.

“To be back in this position is a blessing.”

Kirkland was advised by Miller to leave his familiar environment and join Adams, a trainer known for his discipline. He lives in an apartment with two others fighters, not far from Adams’ gym

He has trained hard, Adams confirmed. His weight already is down to the low 160s, within range of the junior middleweight limit of 154. And he is working to improve weaknesses in his game, including his defense.

More important perhaps, he has the structure he needs to avoid more legal problems in the future. That’s something he embraces.

“I train all day and then come back home,” he said. “That’s it, every day. I really feel like I’m still in jail. I go nowhere. I eat, I train, I stay at the house. It’s all boxing, nothing else. And I’m OK with that.”

Miller believes in his client, who is very likeable.

At the same time, he has cautious optimism. He wants to see whether Kirkland can remain on the straight and narrow for a long period of time before he’ll be comfortable saying he has turned a corner.

“If he doesn’t get it by now, I don’t know what more can be done,” Miller said. “My lord, I don’t know how many millions of dollars he lost over the past several years. He was sky high and he pissed it all away. It was a stupid act to go buy a pistol when you’re a convicted felon.

“He paid the consequences. He served time and lost a ton of money.”

Fortunately for Kirkland, it’s not too late to start over.

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