James Kirkland is making up for lost time.
Incarceration cost the undefeated junior middleweight standout three years — 2004-2005 for armed robbery and 2010 for felony firearm possession — of his 10-year career.
The 27-year-old Austin native, who now lives and trains in Las Vegas, says he’s done with prison and the “poor, careless, dumb decisions” he made that landed him there.
“God’s been good to me,” Kirkland told members of the media on a recent conference call for his next fight on the undercard of the Erik Morales-Marcos Maidana pay-per-view event on April 9. “This is not just a second chance, but more like a third chance.”
Kirkland doesn’t have an opponent yet for his fight on the Morales-Maidana card, which takes place at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, and he doesn’t care. The southpaw slugger, who is now trained by respected coach Ken Adams, just wants to stay busy until he can regain the form he had before his second prison-stint.
Kirkland (27-0, 24 knockouts) was ready for a 154-pound title shot after punishing stoppages of Bryan Vera (TKO 8) in November of 2008 and Joel Julio (TKO 6) in March of 2009.
Kirkland believes he can better the form he had in early 2009 by the end of this year with his new trainer and the fast-paced schedule that his promoter, Golden Boy Promotions, has him on.
“When it comes to the level I think I’m going to be on in 2011, I really feel that at the end of the year I’ll be either ranked No. 1 in the world, in line for a world title, if not fighting for a world title,” said Kirkland, who has fought twice in 2011 already. “Kenny knows all the ropes. He had a ton of world champions. We’re putting a package together to be unstoppable. He’s getting me to pick up my defense without losing my offense.”
Adams has some work to put in regarding Kirkland’s defense, but the boxer-puncher’s offense and his fighting spirit is as fierce as it ever was.
Kirkland needed only 34 seconds to crush Ahsandi Gibbs on the Saul Alvarez-Matthew Hatton undercard on March 5, his first bout in two years. He took a round and a half to make Jhon Berrio quit on March 18 on Telefutura, but he ate a few shots before taking the Colombian journeyman’s heart.
Kirkland thought he looked decent considering Berrio’s unorthodox technique.
“To be honest with you, when you have those type of opponents, like a (Ricardo) Mayorga, awkward fighters who don’t throw straight punches, it makes you look off balance,” Kirkland said. “When I fight awkward people, it makes my fight look like it’s not supposed to be. You get hit with careless shots because they’re coming from all different angles. (My performance) was alright in my book.”
It’s clear that Kirkland is trying to keep a positive outlook on his career and his life. He believes the right frame of mind is the key to staying out of trouble and jail, where he says he nearly succumbed to despair.
“Your dreams are shattered in jail,” said Kirkland, who was looking a possible 47- to 57-month prison sentence in late 2009. “You’re hurt mentally, physically. You lose not just access to boxing, but to your family, your loved ones. I had to stay prayed up and keeping my mind focused on the positive because I didn‘t know how long I would be in. I was blessed with a 21-month sentence.”
Now Kirkland says he’s blessed to be out of jail and pursuing his passion — boxing.
“I love to fight, I love the thrill of action,” he said. “I’m just focused on getting my work in and being able to adjust to any kind of style and see the punches coming in. You never forget how to fight, it’s like riding a bike. You just want to add to it.”
Kirkland says what he and Adams are adding to his already considerable ability will inject some much-needed excitement to the sport, and fans won’t have to wait long for it.
“In 2011 and 2012 there’s going to be so much excitement in boxing because I’m not going to let nothing take me from my dream,” he said. “I’m dedicated to being a world champion.
“I have a desire for boxing that’s unbelievable. I know I’m going to be a champion.”