Junior middleweight James Kirkland will be with a new promoter in Curtis Jackson (aka 50 Cent) of SMS Promotions rather than Golden Boy, as well as a new trainer in Bob Santos when he faces Glen Tapia at 156 pounds on Dec. 7. The fight will be part of an HBO-televised tripleheader headlined by Guillermo Rigondeaux and Joseph Agbeko in Atlantic City, N.J.
“James concentrates on conditioning and building strength,” said Jackson. “He brings the fight to you and is aggressive in the ring. The crowd loves the action and I’m excited to make him a part of our team.”
Kirkland spoke to RingTV.com on Tuesday.
“This is a great fight for me to come back on. I’ve watched both of his last two fights, and I have watched all of his fights,” said Kirkland (31-1, 27 knockouts), a 29-year-old southpaw. “This guy…He’s an awkward cat, and he comes to fight. But, he’s nowhere on my level.”
Kirkland was last in the ring for a 10th-round disqualification victory over current IBF beltholder Carlos Molina in March of last year. Before that, the native of Austin, Texas, scored a sixth-round stoppage of Alfredo Angulo in November of 2011 after being dropped in the first round.
“I had a relationship with 50 Cent before he came into the boxing business,” said Kirkland in a prepared statement on Wednesday. “We already had a friendship when he got this group together. He can do what no other promoters can do. He’s a different type of promoter who can make things happen in and out of the ring for me. It’s clear to me that I made the right decision.”
On Tuesday, Kirkland said he is learning more about the sport beyond the ropes from Jackson.
“I’ve learned some things about the boxing game that I never knew,” said Kirkland. “I took time away from boxing and got to learn and get the knowledge, but at the same time, I didn’t take away from my training. I didn’t take away from my ability. All that I did was learn more.
Angulo represented Kirkland’s third straight knockout win, and Molina, his fourth consecutive victory since being knocked out in the first round by Nobuhiro Ishida in 2011.
“I need to have a great performance and show the fans a good fight and give the fans what they want, which is an exciting fight that will make them stand up in their seats. Tapia, he doesn’t really back up. He does some moves, and he boxes a little, but he does come. He stays where you can punch him. That makes an interesting fight. But I’ve been in the situations that he hasn’t been in yet, and that’s the deep waters. I’m definitely going to bring it,” said Kirkland.
“Any and every fighter that Tapia has fought, none of them has been a James Kirkland. … For him to fight me, that’s his big fight. That’s his Floyd Mayweather fight. That’s his big, big, pay day. I’m his step up. I look at that and I know that he’s going to come hard on Dec. 7. I’m going to bring the same heat into it. Once I take control of this fight, I take control of my destiny. There are a lot of great fights at 154, and there are a lot of great fights at 160. So, the big money fights are the fights that I want, and I’m just trying to take control of the division.”
Tapia (20-0, 12 KOs) was most recently in the ring last month for a fifth-round knockout of Elco Garcia as part of Top Rank’s Solo Boxeo Tecate card in Atlantic City. A 23-year-old from Passaic, N.J., Tapia also scored a bloody eighth-round technical knockout victory over Abraham Han in July. A former sparring partner for Manny Pacquiao, Tapia is managed by Pat Lynch, who handled the late Arturo Gatti.
“I was happy when I was told about it,” said Tapia, during a recent interview with RingTV.com. “It’s a great fight for me right now. How he trains and how he fights, he’s always in shape when he goes in there. I don’t think that he’ll be rusty.
“In my last fight, I felt like I got hit too much and that I was a little too sloppy and a little sluggish. I know what was wrong. I don’t like to make excuses. I will definitely switch up. I hope that they look at that last fight and think that’s how I’m going to be for this fight. I’m just ready.”
So is Kirkland.
“I don’t talk too much before a fight,” said Kirkland. “But he doesn’t have to worry about being 21-0, because I’m going to knock his ass out Dec. 7.”
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 Texas in September of 2010 after having plead guilty to a charge of gun possession in April of 2009.
Before being imprisoned, Kirkland had scored an eighth-round knockout of Bryan Vera in November of 2008, as well as a sixth-round knockout over Joel Julio in March of 2009 and was in line to face Michael Walker for a title shot at either Sergei Dzinziruk or Daniel Santos of the WBO and WBA, respectively.
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 Ann Wolfe, his previous trainer.
Kirkland scored consecutive first- and second-round knockouts before being matched opposite 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 two consecutive knockouts to set up a redemptive clash with Angulo, followed by the win over Molina.
Citing purse issues, and, later, his belief that he still had not fully recovered from shoulder surgery to repair tears in his jab-arm during the Molina fight, Kirkland pulled out of a shot at then-WBC junior middleweight titleholder Canelo Alvarez in June of last year after having agreed to replace Paul Williams following Williams’ career-ending injury from a motorcycle accident.
Through attorney Sekou Gary in August of last year, Kirkland filed a lawsuit seeking separation from Golden Boy Promotions and trainers Wolfe and Pops Billingsley. In an e-mail last week, Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer confirmed that Kirkland is no longer with his company, as did Gary on Monday.
“My old team that I once had, certain things happened … certain things that I felt that I was right in, and they had certain things that they felt that they were right in. But we decided that I would go my way, and they would go their way. But my feelings about Golden Boy are that I never had a major problem with Golden Boy. Me and Golden Boy have done a lot of great things. They came to my trial when I was in some trouble,” said Kirkland.
“That lifestyle is behind me now, but they definitely looked out for me. Like I say, there’s no major problems. We just had an issue that couldn’t get resolved and that’s taken the course that it has. But other than that, man, me and Golden Boy, we’re still good. There are no hard feelings. The last time that I basically spoke with them it was just like, ‘Kirkland, you’re like family, so don’t think that there are any bad vibes or bad feeling toward you. That’s the last thing that I really heard from them.”
Kirkland also said he is working with Santos, who is known for working with welterweight Robert Guerrero, instead of Wolfe in preparation for Tapia.
“I’ve been working with Bob Santos out of California. I’ve been working together with him for almost four weeks. You’ll be able to see it. It’s tremendous, working with him. Knowledge is power, man, and this is a good road for me. I’m learning little tricks and things,” said Kirkland.
“When it comes down to disciplining myself, when it comes to eating, there’s a lot of stuff that I didn’t do with Ann Wolfe … and a lot of stuff that I do now that allows me to lose tremendous weight and feel good and feel hydrated. So I’m learning and it’s an outstanding situation for me, because now I know boxing. Now, I know how to manage my workouts and I know how to become a world champion.”
Wolfe could not be reached for an immediate comment.
“I feel that me and Ann Wolfe don’t have any major problems with each other. I feel that there are some disagreements. They can be talked over, and I can see her and speak and talk with her, and maybe even see myself doing further business with Ann Wolfe, but in the meantime, we’re just haven’t spoken since the lawsuit has kicked in,” said Kirkland.
“Ann Wolfe’s a great trainer, hands down, the way that she pushed and motivated me was a great way to do it… As far as me and Ann Wolfe, we don’t have any major issues. We just haven’t spoken. But, eventually, over time, wounds will heal, and we’ll get in a few words with each other. Other than that, we’re good.”
In the meantime, Kirkland said he is motivated to prove his detractors wrong toward becoming a top player in the 154-, and, potentially, the 160-pound divisions.
“I do hear a lot of stuff that people say, like, ‘Kirkland, he’s no good, because he’ll never get anywhere without Ann Wolfe.’ That means that I can’t piss by myself and I can’t s— by myself, so that makes it like whatever I basically do is based on Ann Wolfe. So it’s Ann Wolfe in there taking punches and dodging and ducking and she’s actually me? I hear a lot of stuff and it just sort of tickles me,” said Kirkland.
“Look, the only reason that I’m where I’m at is that I am the one who has to go out there and run. They’re like, ‘who is going to motivate you to run?’ and, ‘who is going to motivate you to hit the bag?’ and, ‘who is going to motivate you to do what it takes to become a world champion?’ It’s going to take some inside pride and some inside digging and soul-searching. But regardless of whoever I’m with, as long as I’m working hard and training hard, I’m going to make it to the top.”
Also on the card will be a middleweight matchup featuring Matthew Macklin and Willie Nelson, as well as Philadelphia-born super middleweight prospect Jesse Hart and Russian light heavyweight Olympic gold medalist Egor Mekhontsev in his pro debut.
Rigondeaux is coming off a unanimous decision over Nonito Donaire in April, and Agbeko is coming off a unanimous decision over Luis Melendez in his first fight since consecutive losses to Abner Mares as a bantamweight.
Photos by Jon Elits-Hoganphotos/Golden Boy Promotions; Naoki Fukuda; Roberto Fernandez-Hoganphotos/Golden Boy Promotions
Lem Satterfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org