James Kirkland--A Rising Star Falls Just Short of The Finish Line

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James Kirkland--A Rising Star Falls Just Short of The Finish Line
(Photo by John Gichigi/Getty Images)

My heart is heavy today.  James Kirkland's rise to the top is really over.  Today, he was not granted bail at a hearing which has determined his fate for the next years to come.  He will not be meeting Mike Walker on May 2 on the Hatton/Pacquaio undercard.  He will not be heading toward the title shot he was so close to he could almost reach out and touch it.  Pops Billingsley, James' assistant coach, put it succinctly, heavily but with a laugh because he's seen it all before and knows a lot about life and its ups and downs, "You win some, and you lose some.  Most of the time in this life, you lose."

This hearing brought to a close the speculation that began last Sunday, when James "Mandingo" Kirkland was arrested after a gun was found in his car as he was leaving a gun show.  James has a felony on his record, and is not allowed to purchase or own a gun.  Austin police and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms department worked together on this one, and James was transferred into federal custody on Tuesday.  He is still on probation from a 2003 armed robbery conviction, so it is not a huge surprise that he wasn't granted bail today.

I have a personal connection to James, and his rise and fall are connected like moon to ocean to the owner of the gym that has become my home away from home, the Ann Wolfe Boxing Gym.  James' inability to perform on the May 2 fight card serves a huge blow to the trainers Ann Wolfe and Pops Billingsley, who have invested so much into this ferocious fighter's career.

Ann and her protege James were featured recently on Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, and in the feature the present situation was foreshadowed.  While riding in a truck with one of her amateur boxers after a training, she was pulled over and handcuffed along with the boxer.  Eventually, she was released from custody, and she talked to the interviewer after watching the boxer leave in a police car on suspicion of auto theft.  "I don't know what these kids do.  I try to help these kids and this shit happens" she said, obviously frustrated that even her best isn't enough to keep some of her boxers out of trouble. 

Ann has led by example, using her boxing career as a stepping stone to her own work as a trainer as well as into creating stability for her family.  As she revealed in the Real Sports profile, she came from poverty and pain and has let the boxing ring be the place to exorcise her demons, staying out of trouble and focusing her energy on positive actions.

As for Mandingo, I can say that he is a man of tremendous potential, who has a very human achilles heel.  The specifics of his actions will be studied in court in the coming months. The basic facts show that he was courting danger, by showing up to a gun show in the first place instead of focusing only on the very important business of preparing for a high-profile fight.

In trying to understand this man, who I care about very much, I can imagine how difficult it can be to get what you have always wanted--to go from getting nothing in life to getting way more than you ever expected, including those seductive sirens of money, fame, attention.  When you win big and go back to your old neighborhood, you incite jealousy, feel the need to protect yourself, very easily get back in over your head. 

In some ways more importantly, the gym is rallying in support of Ann and Pops, who knew all along that the only person who could keep James from rising all the way to the top at this point was James himself.

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