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James Kirkland

Will James Kirkland Rebound from Prison and Resume his Promising Career?

For a fighter who turned pro back in 2001 and had his career interrupted twice by prison stints, it’s hard to believe James Kirkland is only 25. The fearsome-punching and merciless junior middleweight southpaw still has time to make a big mark in the sport. Kirkland is 25-0 with 22 KO’s.

Amateur Career

Kirkland began boxing at a very young age and compiled a fine mark of 134-12. Four times, he was the Silver Gloves Champion—for amateurs 15 and younger. In his first National Golden Gloves, he made it to the finals losing a controversial decision. Despite a potential Olympics appearance in his future, Kirkland elected to turn pro to support his family.

Early Career

Kirkland, 17, turned pro in 2001 at 138 pounds. Under the tutelage of women’s world champion Ann Wolfe; he strung together 11 straight wins in just over two years. An armed robbery conviction would sideline Kirkland for 2 and-a-half years.


Kirkland got back into action in 2006 and picked up where he left off. He put together ten straight wins including a knockout over John Duddy-conqueror Billy Lyell before facing well-regarded Eromosele Albert. A first round knockout served notice that Kirkland was a man to be contended with.

Another KO win led to two HBO spots on their Boxing After Dark series. In his first appearance, he knocked out tough Brian Vera in eight rounds. Next was contender Joel Julio. Kirkland, unperturbed by the hard-hitting Julio pummeled his foe into submission in six rounds.

Fans were captivated by this young power-puncher who fought with a hungry edge. With so much talent in and surrounding 154, Kirkland looked poised to make a big move. He was scheduled to appear on the undercard of the Manny Pacquiao-Ricky Hatton PPV extravaganza.

Further Legal Problems

In April of 2009, Kirkland was arrested after illegally purchasing a firearm at a gun show in Texas. The parole for his prior armed robbery conviction stipulated he not possess firearms. In September, a U.S. Federal Court judge sentenced Kirkland to two years. The judge, moved by a strong show of support, spared Kirkland the normal 4-5 year sentence normally given for the same crime. Having been incarcerated since April, Kirkland is scheduled for release in April 2011. It is possible that he will be released to a halfway house early, which would allow him to train and fight.

Looking Ahead

Kirkland is still plenty young to rebound, but this latest legal trouble is a tremendous setback. It occurred right as he seemed poised for a breakthrough and was building up a strong following.

Assuming he can stay in decent shape, he should be able to pick up some momentum quickly upon his return. Having half a decade shaved off your prime while in prison in not a recipe for greatness, though many seem hopeful that Kirkland has learned his lesson for good. Time will tell, but boxing fans collectively hope to see Kirkland out of prison and where he belongs—in the ring.