Long before a lawyer representing junior middleweight contender James Kirkland had filed Thursday’s lawsuit in Los Angeles seeking a separation from his promoter (Golden Boy Promotions), managers and trainers (Ann Wolfe and Pops Billingsley), one of Kirkland’s handlers, Mike Miller, said that he saw the move coming and launched a preemptive strike of his own.
“I had heard through the grapevine that James was looking for a lawyer to go and get out of his contract with us and Golden Boy,” said Miller, Kirkland’s co-manager with Cameron Dunkin. “So I said, ‘Well, I’m going to go and preempt this thing.’”
With that in mind, Miller said he and attorney Phil Watkins of the Law Offices of Phil Watkins in San Antonio, Texas, filed suit on his behalf against Kirkland “about three weeks ago.”
“First of all, my contract calls for any lawsuit regarding this management contract to be filed in San Antonio. So, I went and filed it in San Antonio. It’s just a declaratory judgement. It’s just a lawsuit where we’re getting the court to rule that our contract is valid. It’s for all four us — Cameron, Ann, Pops and myself. That was done three weeks ago,” said Miller.
“My contract also states that in the event that Kirkland or any of us four is in breach of our contract, the other side has to give us 30 days notice within to cure that breach, and that’s something which they never did. So there are about 16 different reasons why this thing is going to be litigated in Texas regarding the dispute over whether or not we have a management-trainer contract with Kirkland.”
“In the event that they’ve sued us in California,” said Miller, “I’m going to ask for sanctions against them and to have it removed and remanded back to Texas.”
Attorney Sekou Gary said that he filed the suit for the 28-year-old Kirkland (31-1, 27 knockouts) which “seeks damages and injunctive relief that would allow him to fight during litigation,” as well as “declaratory relief saying that his contract is invalid.”
Of Kirkland, Gary said “Basically, James is unhappy with his management and his deal with Golden Boy,” adding, “James doesn’t feel as if they have his best interest at heart.”
“We’re going to respond to their suit in Texas, and we’re in the process of doing that,” said Gary. “And we’re pretty confident that we’re going to prevail on the action in Texas.”
In early June, Kirkland refused to sign an-all-but completed deal to fight WBC junior middleweight titleholder Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, (40-0-1, 29 KOs), citing his belief that he still had not fully recovered from shoulder surgery in March to repair two tears in his jab-arm that were suffered during his 10th-round disqualification victory over Carlos Molina that also had occurred in March.
Kirkland had been among a series of left-handed opponents who had been considered for Alvarez, including former three-time titleholder Paul Williams and Victor Ortiz. Alvarez was initially slated to face Williams before Williams suffered a career-ending motorcycle accident on May that is believed to have left him paralyzed from the waist down.
Next in line was Kirkland, and then, Ortiz. But Ortiz’s opportunity was lost in June following a ninth-round knockout loss to Josesito Lopez, who was ultimately chosen to face Alvarez on Sept. 15 at The MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
Before Lopez was selected, Kirkland said he would face Alvarez with an injured arm if the price was right, saying, “if I’m going to fight with one arm, then pay me.”
Golden Boy Promotions CEO Richard Schaefer told RingTV.com that he also planned to contest Kirkland’s move, having recognized Gary as the lawyer who gained free-agency status for former featherweight titleholder Yuriorkis Gamboa after the unbeaten, former Cuban Olympic gold medalist reached an out-of-court settlement with Top Rank that allowed him to do so.
Top Rank had filed a lawsuit with the U.S. District Court in Las Vegas for breach of contract against Gamboa, claiming that he cost the company $1 million when he pulled out of a scheduled lightweight bout in April with Brandon Rios, who instead won a controversial split-decision over replacement Richard Abril.
“The only thing that I can say is that James Kirkland is under a valid contract with Golden Boy,” said Schaefer. “We’ll have to protect our interests just like Top Rank did [with Gamboa]. We’ll have to see what it is and potentially file a counter-suit against whoever is behind it.”
Kirkland has had a troubled career, having served two, separate jail terms. Kirkland did over a year in prison for robbery after he built a professional record of 11-0, fighting under a contract he signed with Duva Boxing when he was 17. But the Duvas dropped Kirkland when he was found guilty of robbing a man coming out of a convenience store in 2003.
Kirkland was released from Bastrop Federal Prison in Bastrop, Texas, in September of 2010 after having plead guilty to a charge of gun possession in April of 2009.
The then-26-year-old Kirkland still was unbeaten at 25-0 with 22 knockouts when he was relocated from Austin, Texas, and paired with Las Vegas-based Kenny Adams rather than Wolfe, his previous trainer.
Kirkland scored consecutive first- and second-round stoppages over Ahsandi Gibbs and Jhon Berrio within 13 days of each other in March of last year before being matched in April opposite Nobuhiro Ishida, who entered their bout with a mark of 26-6-2 and only seven knockouts.
But after Ishida dropped Kirkland three times on the way to a shocking first-round stoppage win, Kirkland reunited with Wolfe and reeled off consecutive knockouts over Dennis Sharpe and Alexis Hloros in the first and second rounds in June and July of last year.
That set up a redemptive clash with hard-hitting contender Alfredo Angulo, against whom he rose from a first-round knockdown to score a dramatic sixth-round knockout of Alfredo Angulo last November.
Kirkland rose from a knockdown 30 seconds into the fight to floor Angulo (20-2, 17 KOs) just before the bell ending the same round of a victory that stopped Angulo for the first time in his career energized Kirkland’s.
“For Pops, this is breaking his heart. Pops is at an age where he doesn’t have a whole lot of days left. His health is failing him. This is a guy who used to pick James up every day and take him to the gym. This is a guy who provided for James,” said Miller.
“This is a guy who took him to all of the amateur shows. The only way that he was surviving was that he was making money off of James Kirkland. Now, for James to treat him this way, as if Pops has done something wrong, it’s just wrong. I think that James has just gotten some bad advice.”
But Gary contends that Kirkland’s rancor is justified.
“Honestly, their contact was one of the more shoddy contracts that I’ve ever seen since I’ve been practicing law,” said Gary. “And when it’s all said and done, they’re going to be looking at paying James some money.”
Photos by Tom Hogan, Hogan Photos, Golden Boy Promotions
Photo by Dwight McCann, Fightwireimages.com
Lem Satterfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org