Q&A: James Kirkland
For the third time in just over a month, light middleweight James Kirkland steps in the ring Saturday night, this time against Nobuhiro Ishida on the undercard of the Erik Morales-Marcos Maidana HBO pay-per-view event in Las Vegas (9 p.m. ET).
This is Kirkland's third fight since leaving prison for the second time in his career. Both times he spent more than two years out of the ring and has had to re-start a promising career. His first arrest came in 2003 for armed robbery. His second was a parole violation with another arms-related charge.
At 27, Kirkland resumes his career more focused and more determined than ever to be a world champion. He spoke with FOXSports.com as he readies for Saturday's fight.
FOXSports.com: So, three fights in just over a month ... that seems like a lot to handle. How ready will you be on April 9?
James Kirkland: First, I want to give all grace and honor to God for giving me a chance to be back focused and for putting me in a position to fight again.
I stay busy as far as fights because of my training and being with (trainer) Kenny Adams. They work me to the point where this stuff feels easy. I'm in shape, I'm putting the right stuff in my body, I'm eating right, I'm sleeping right, and I'm determined. I'm motivated to be a world champion.
FOXSports.com: I guess you're kind of making up for lost time.
Kirkland: Yes (laughs).
FOXSports.com: How much do you know about Nobuhiro Ishida?
Kirkland: Really, I don't know anything about this opponent. The only thing I know is he's a right-hander and that he's Japanese. He comes to fight and I look forward to having a good fight. I hope he's well-prepared, because I know I'm in good shape for this fight.
FOXSports.com: So, you've had two long layoffs in your career while you were in prison. Was it any different coming back the second time as opposed to the first time?
Kirkland: The first time, my mind wasn't focused. The first time I went IN I wasn't focused. I ended up signing with Golden Boy and they were positive people, but I still had negative people around me, people who were envious and jealous, people who really don't want you to make it, but they're being there because of the money.
I was focused on being a world champion, but I wanted a certain type of company around me, and that wasn't the right thing to do. It drove me to get caught in a federal possession of a firearm case. They gave me 24 months. I did 20 months on it. I came out hungry, motivated. The things that motivated me were my fans, my kids. I had maybe one or two true friends who stayed down with me the whole time. The rest, they left. I got more fan mail than letters from family and friends.
You can tell what I had to go through to get my mind focused on what I had to do when I got out.
FOXSports.com: How tough is it to get back into training after being off for so long?
Kirkland: When I was in the holding facility, they didn't allow us to work out. Then when I hit the federal unit, they didn't let me box or even throw punches, or else it's 90 days in the hole. So, I didn't throw punches, but I was able to run, do all types of speed drills and stuff like that without throwing punches. Anything having to do with boxing, I couldn't do.
I had a long track to run on, so I could keep losing weight and get to the point of when I do get out, or hit the halfway house, I would be able to throw punches and have a certain rhythm and get back my timing and my speed.
At the same time, I wanted to feel motivated, and in it, because when you're doing time and you get out, you feel like the world is against you. You can give up and lose focus and the hope is gone and the will power is gone. Me going to jail only made me stronger, only made me want it more. A lot of people wanted me to fail, but I'm still standing. I got stronger in that I don't let people get to me. I don't trust people the same way I used to in the world. Now that I'm here, I made big switches as far as trainers (to Adams from Ann Wolfe), the way I live and my friends. I'm just staying focused on making it this time.
FOXSports.com: Is being a professional fighter a good thing or a bad thing in prison? Do people kind of leave you alone, or does that make them want to challenge you?
Kirkland: No, it's not a challenge thing, it's respect. Even when I was in the world, I was always saying, "Yes, sir. No sir." I treat everyone like I want to be treated. I'm a humble person. I'm a person anybody can get along with.
So, when people saw me in jail, they come up to me and say, "Hey, Kirkland!" They would have a conversation with me and give me a hug. They'd say, "Hey, let's go grab a bite to eat." When they're good people, we can do things like that, because I'm that type of person. I'm really good people, even though I have a bad background and record, because I hung with bad people, so I did bad things.
When I stopped doing those things, I realized that wasn't me. This is the true Kirkland. This is what I'm about. I'm a good person. When I get in a ring with a person, I'm rugged and rough and dirty and nasty. I'm going to fight and sweat blood the whole night. That's what I drive for. It's a contact sport. That's what the fans like. They like those type of fighters who show their will and their will power and the drive to be the person who he knows he can be.
A lot of people were standing behind me who I didn't know were going to be there for me from the beginning to the end, and they're still there with me. So, when I have things in my way, I just thank God that he put those people in a position to help me.
FOXSports.com: How tough is it to continue your career, in terms of promoters and other people willing to take a chance on you after, now twice, having to put things on hold for a prison stint?
Kirkland: I'm really glad that a lot of people stayed behind me. It's not just them being behind me, they also gave me the motivation because they still cared. There's people out there who really, truly want me to make it. There's people out there who said, "Kirkland is a champion. I know if he gets his mind right and gets focused, he can be a world champion."
I'm here to show those fans I'm doing what it takes. I'm doing what I know I have to do to prove to them and to show them that while they were following me through the Internet and hoping that I was going to make it, that I'm going to show them that being behind me wasn't a waste of their time.
People, even in jail, I motivate them. They're living their life through me. They're saying, "Kirkland came from the same path and the same place I come from. He was in the same situation, he was doing the same bad things, but he got an opportunity to get it again." When they see me and they hear me winning, they feel like they won.
I've got so many people ... I'm helping myself, I'm pushing myself, not just to please myself and help my kids, but to show the fans and my friends that, with God on my side, anything is possible. As long as you have the right people around you, anything you do, you can make it. You can drive to it, as long as you get your mind right and your focus right.
FOXSports.com: Did you feel any ring rust coming back this time?
Kirkland: That's what I'm still trying to find. I keep hearing about ring rust, but I'm trying to find out where the rust is at! Even when I'm sparring, people say, "Damn, Kirkland! When you get to 154, who can take it? Who's going to be able to stand there and throw with that?" People who are 170 or 180, or people who are light heavyweight, they're like, "Man, there's no way people can touch him at 154!" Because I'm knocking THEM on their ass!
It's crazy, because I love the sport. I love to be able to get in there from any size people, from heavy, light and spar and show them what those 154s are talking about, because I hit like concrete. They can be on the outside looking in and say, "He doesn't look like he hits that hard," but I've got some punches that can knock out a horse.
I enjoy it. It's a privilege. It's more than a blessing to be back, and I've got a bunch of energy, a bunch of rage. I just want to show people that when I get put into this type of situation again, that I'm not going to let people down.
FOXSports.com: What do you feel you do best as a fighter?
Kirkland: It's my training. When you can push yourself the way I do and train the way I train ... I've got arms bigger than a heavyweight. I'm looking at myself right now in the mirror and I'm thinking, "God damn, it's impossible for me to be so little with arms like this!"
I told this one dude who's a heavyweight to touch my forearms, and he said, "Man, that's crazy. I never felt anything like that ever. You're solid as a rock." My whole body's hard. I don't have a lot of fat on my body, but I'm working my way to the weight I want to be at. I feel good. I'm doing the right stuff this time, and it feels good.
FOXSports.com: Assuming all goes as planned against Ishida, what's next for you?
Kirkland: Since I've got Golden Boy in my corner, and I've got the best promotion team that boxing can offer, I've got the best people in (managers) Michael Miller, Cameron Duncan, Kenny Adams gets props as my trainer ... the switch I've made as far as friends, my mom, my kids ... I've got all these things that drive and motivate me.
The sky's the limit, and I've got God on my side, so anything I put my mind and my focus into ... to me, a world title at either the end of this year or the beginning of next year. I wouldn't say that it won't happen. As long as I keep working the way I'm working, they have no choice but to give me what I want, and that's a shot. And when they give me my shot, man, you're going to see a Kirkland who's a slammin' chairman of the ring. You're gonna be like, "Ooh, he looks so good!"
I'm going to be able to show my explosion, the true champion that I am. Y'all gonna be able to see the boxing, y'all gonna see the fight, y'all gonna see the stick-move-jab. You might even see something you've never seen before, and you're gonna say, "Kirkland played a trick on everybody for so long. Look at this dude here. I can't believe it." That's the mindframe I want to give everybody. I've showed everybody one style for so long, when y'all see this, you're going to be like, "Man, it's impossible that this guy is this good."
I just want to be able to show the world that I am more than a champion. I am like a leader. I just did the wrong thing.
FOXSports.com: What can fans expect to see from you on April 9?
Kirkland: I just want to say to the fans before we end this that I appreciate you standing by my side, and wishing the best for me, and wanting me to be a champion, and helping me keep my mind focused, with the fan mail and the letters. Not just fan mail, but letters just from friends, not even knowing me, but talking from the heart. Man, I really appreciate you being by my side.
I also just want to say I'm praying for Japan. I wish the best for all the people who lost family and friends. Just keep your head up. We love you. We're praying for Japan and hoping everything goes better. I'm hoping that God blesses them with everything they lost and gives them the power and understanding that they can get through anything.