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Outside of Mayweather vs. Pacquiao, Saturday’s HBO bout pitting James Kirkland against Canelo Alvarez has been one of boxing’s most delayed contests. First negotiated for the fall of 20212, Kirkland walked away citing purse split concerns. The ensuing years saw vastly different fortunes for both men. Canelo’s star power continued to rise via his 2013 challenge to Mayweather, and wins over avoided technicians Austin Trout and Erislandy Lara. Kirkland has only fought once since, waging war in a 2013 Fight of the Year candidate and KO over Glen Tapia.
With Kirkland’s layoff, Canelo has the momentum advantage. But the man who calls himself “The Mandingo Warrior” does not break nor shy away from a challenge.
Knockout Nation: When this fight was announced, there was concern that you were starting camp too heavy due to the year-plus layoff. Did you have to spend most of this camp losing the weight?
Kirkland: First let me give thanks to God for another day. I can say the starting weight was a little high. But two weeks ago I was at 159 pounds. Just imagine my workrate and where I’m at now. I’ll put it to you like this – weight is not an issue. Overall I’m happy about how this camp has been going.
There’s a lot of stuff I’m doing differently like core workouts and having a strength and conditioning coach. It’s taking my body to whole ‘nother level. The stamina and skill is there.
Knockout Nation: You started off by thanking God, which is different from the James Kirkland I remember from a few years ago. With everything that’s changed in your life and getting older, how can you still have the ruthless, primal killer instinct that fans fell in love with?
Kirkland: Man, a lot of things have changed in my life, but I’m still James Kirkland. That showed in the Glen Tapia fight. Far as still wanting to take control of my opponents, everything is still there. I want to make a major name in boxing beyond what I’ve already accomplished. I still want to take advantage of and hurt my opponents.
Knockout Nation; That brings us to Canelo Saturday night. Most observers are believe he’s getting you at the “right time” because of your layoff and switch in trainers…
Kirkland: The man can do it all, well almost do it all. There’s certain things I see that will play out for me in the fight.
I’m a fighter, so even with the layoff I’ve always been working in the gym. I’ve been doing that even when people were like “Damn James, you’re looking like a butterball.” I learned from certain people how to make that weight come off.
I’ve wanted this fight as much as anyone. When they brought it to me I was like “What would make Canelo jump in the lion’s den and fight me?” I hope it’s not because of my layoff. I’m comfortable and ready. May 9 will be a shocker.
Knockout Nation: The prevailing knock on Canelo has always been his stamina in late rounds. Do you view that as his main weakness?
Kirkland: He better be in great condition and motivated to win because from round one to whenever, we’re going to be grinding. He’s never fought someone of my stature that comes non-stop and it’s hard to prepare your body and find sparring partners like me.
Knockout Nation: You used to really go hard at your sparring partners. A lot of times it was more intense and brutal than your fights. Did you keep it like that this time around?
Kirkland: If you fight before the fight, you don’t have to get prepared for the fight. I’m not sure if that makes any sense, but you don’t have to get prepared to take punches or give it your all because that’s what you’ve been doing. If you’ve been pitty-patting all camp, how can I adjust to going hard on fight night? Mentally you’ve been pitty-patting all camp.
The body is a muscle. Yes, I still did it the old way. I went hard and had to get more and more sparring partners to make it happen.
Knockout Nation: In your fights there always seems to be a point where your opponent starts to physically and mentally break…
Kirkland: Aw man, that’s just a skill within myself. I can’t really elaborate on it because it’ll open the door for a lot of different fighters I may face. At the end of the day, it comes with hard work. You start to visualize and see certain things happening to your opponent.
Knockout Nation: Because of how devastating and exciting you’ve looked under her, you’ll probably always get questions about your former trainer Ann Wolfe. Did you guys have contact once this fight was announced?
Kirkland: My relationship with Ann isn’t one with major problems or issues. It’s like seeing an old friend. When I see her I speak, and when she sees me she speaks. At the beginning of my camp I bumped into her and she said how good my body looked. I told her the same since she’s been working. We spoke and kept it moving. I thanked her for working with me and continuing to work with me through the issues we had.
Knockout Nation: A KO seems to be the only logical conclusion to this fight…
Kirkland: I know it’s not going the distance. I’m not leaving anything in the hands the judges.
Canelo vs. Kirkland airs Saturday (May 9) on HBO at 9 p.m. ET