Mike Coppinger

Despite setbacks, Kirkland is confident going into Angulo showdown


Mike Tyson. Ike Ibeabuchi. James Kirkland.

All three action fighters were incarcerated during their primes, a hiatus from their wild success in the squared-circle.

Tyson returned from his prison stint to secure a mega-fight with Evander Holyfield — eventually voted THE RING 1996 Fight of the Year – a bout he lost via 10thround KO.

Ibeabuchi remains in prison to this day, dashing his hopes of becoming heavyweight champion.

Kirkland, imprisoned for 30 months for a felony gun possession charge, returned to the ring with a string of fights against no-hopers, designed to build back the power-punching Texan’s confidence and shake off his ring rust. Everything went swimmingly as Kirkland was slowly returned to his prominent stature in the sport as a “must-see” fighter. But on April 9, his routine bout against Japanese journeyman Nobuhiro Ishida went awry, with Kirkland hitting the deck thrice en route to a shocking TKO loss.

Following the loss, Kirkland (27-1, 24 knockouts) reunited with his original trainer Anne Wolfe and went back to fighting inferior opposition, once again in the process of rebuilding his confidence. Now, Kirkland prepares for the biggest fight of his career, a scrap with Mexican Alfredo Angulo this Saturday in Cancun, Mexico on HBO. And boxing pundits across the globe are dismissing the 27-year-old southpaw in this bout, pointing to his upset loss to Ishida, which they say exposed his fragile chin and defensive flaws, among other things.

If Kirkland’s confidence has wavered since his first professional loss, he isn’t showing it. The Austin, Texas, native isn’t harping on the defeat, putting the night in the past and looking toward his redemption song on Saturday.

“The difference between this fight and the Ishida fight is that I’ve trained for this person,” said Kirkland, who trained with the legendary Kenny Adams prior to his loss to Ishida. “I know what he’s coming with, I know what type of game plan he likes. We’ve trained to the max because we know exactly what we’re getting ourselves into, and being with Ishida, I didn’t know much about the guy and was learning how to adjust to a new trainer. That was then and this is now.”

“The Mandingo Warrior” knows he has a formidable foe in once-beaten Angulo (20-1, 17 KOs), a crushing puncher with toughness to boot.

“The thing with Angulo, he’s a surprising fighter,” Kirkland said of his counterpart. “He can try to pull out different types of strategies, but the main thing he likes to do is come forward. One thing that Kirkland is prepared for, I’m prepared for battle. I’m prepared to go as many rounds as possible, but we all know it only goes 12. As far as who is gonna be the last man standing, who is gonna put in more effort and work, I’m gonna be able to show the world what I’m capable of.

“I know what I’ve trained for, I know what this fight brings to the table, I know what my next fight is looking forward to. If this all turns into a rumble, my mindset is to destroy. That’s how the fight’s gonna go.”

The bout is Kirkland’s first at junior middleweight since before his prison stint, with his loss to Ishida taking place at middleweight. Kirkland partly attributes the loss to not losing the weight correctly.

“My weight usually is really, really high.  I’m not even going to say how much it is,” said the power-punching Kirkland. “But usually it’s really, really high, but for this here it was even higher for this fight.  But we’ve changed everything as far as the foods and we prepared the meals and we did the whole nine to make sure that this weight will come off fast.

“And the weight came off better than what I expected because I deal with my body all the time, I work on it all the time and I know what my body can go through, what my body can take, and I ate, I enjoyed myself, it’s like, I can’t even explain it.  It felt good because I actually got to eat and drink and do everything and the vitamins, just the whole nine because I didn’t strain myself, I didn’t push myself to dehydration and all that type of stuff.  I was just prepared.”

Kirkland knows he is a decided-underdog, but he is quite anxious for this bout, ready to prove his doubters wrong and return to his mantle as one of boxing’s must-see fighters and brightest young fighters. He feels that he is back to his pre-prison form and he’s excited to prove it against “El Perro”.

“I can’t even believe that everything just feels so good,” said Kirkland. “It feels back to where I was at, my movement, the whole nine is beautiful.  And I’m just anxious for the fight.  I can’t even sleep at night.  I find myself throwing punches when I’m asleep.”

The boxing world will find out if Kirkland can return to form or if he’s just another pugilist whose skills and desire were ruined by incarceration.

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