I am excitedly awaiting the Saturday Night Fights on HBO. In particular, I am looking forward to watching James “Mandingo Warrior” Kirkland (24-0--21 KOs) continue his rise up the ranks at 154.
James believes in fighting whoever it takes to get to the top, and he has a date with a man whose knockout reputation rivals James’ own. Though I train at the Ann Wolfe Boxing Gym with James, I have had a hard time catching up with him before this fight. This is because Ann knew that in order to be ready to fight Joel Julio (34-2, 31 KOs), southpaw Kirkland must rely on more than the natural aggression, physical power, and raw talent he always brings into the ring.
For this fight, Ann wanted him also to be in the best shape of his life, and in the past few months, she has been making that happen. Ann rented a 3,000-acre plot of land in the country, more than an hour outside of Austin, TX, and has led James through the depths of her old-school training methods.
Assistant coach Pops Billingsley tries to summarize, “He did everything out there--he ran, hit the mitts, did all the tire drills, punched a heavy bag attached to a moving truck, and sparred 30-40 rounds with a guy we brought in from Vegas.”
One of my fellow female gym rats, Ellen, agreed that Ann did something right with James heading into this fight. She noted with awe after watching him spar, "(James) looked better than I’ve seen before, all focused, and ready."
When I finally caught up with James by phone at his hotel in San Jose, CA, he gave his own summary, “I’m feeling good, man. In training I worked real hard, out in the country. I’m already on my weight so I’m just sitting back. My mind is focused on putting in good work and making him pay, making him hurt.”
So, what I know is that James is ready for this new challenge. And from what I have seen and read, Joel Julio is ready too. Pops puts it succinctly, “It’s going to be a barnburner, it could go either way, and it won’t last long.”
On that note—I know I’m biased but I’m taking Kirkland by knockout in less than five rounds.