James Kirkland eyes March 5 fight

Junior middleweight James Kirkland is relocating to Las Vegas to train for a ring return that could come March 5 after being released earlier this month from an Austin, Texas, halfway house, where he served the last several months of a prison sentence for gun possession by a convicted felon.

Cameron Dunkin, Kirkland's co-manager, told ESPN.com that Kirkland was released from the halfway house in his home town earlier this month and was spending time with his family before heading to Las Vegas, where he will begin working with Kenny Adams, one of boxing's most respected trainers.

"We plan on having him here on Feb. 1 and in the gym with Kenny," said Dunkin, who lives in Las Vegas. "It's going to be terrific. Kenny brings [expertise on] defense and a lot of experience. He's a great teacher and he's patient with the fighters. He's great at communication. You look at James and he's so athletic, he has guts and he has so much power. Now if you can put him with a great teacher in there working on defense, imagine how good he's going to be."

If Kirkland is ready, his return would come on the untelevised portion of the HBO card headlined by junior middleweight Saul "Canelo" Avarez against Matthew Hatton at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif.

"Kenny told me he wants to work on his defense and getting him to use angles," Dunkin said. "He said there were a few things he saw from watching the tapes that he can teach him that will make his fights so much easier. So we're really excited. We're trying to get him set for March 5, unless Kenny tells me he's not ready. If Kenny says he's ready to go, we're going."

Dunkin said Kirkland, 26, has shed a lot of the weight he put on while he was in prison and is now under 160 pounds.

"He's been training every day, so I think 155 to 157 will be the weight for the first fight," Dunkin said. "Weight isn't an issue."

Said Golden Boy promoter Richard Schaefer: "He'll begin training with Kenny and they'll evaluate how long it will be until he can get in the ring. We don't want to put any pressure on James. We will see how long it will take him to get ready, but maybe in early March we can get him a tune-up fight and assess where he stands, and then take it from there."

Dunkin said Kirkland remains on probation and received court permission to relocate from Austin to Las Vegas, where he has a new probation officer and will be sharing an apartment with some of Dunkin's other fighters, including middleweight prospect Bastie Samir, a 2008 Olympian from Ghana.

Kirkland (25-0, 22 KOs) hasn't fought since March 2009. He was steamrolling toward a title shot and was scheduled to fight on the Manny Pacquiao-Ricky Hatton pay-per-view undercard in May 2009. However, the fight was canceled when Kirkland was arrested for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.

Kirkland was on probation for a 2003 armed robbery conviction when he was arrested after buying a firearm, using his own identification, at a gun show near Austin. The weapon was discovered during a traffic stop, but because Kirkland already had a conviction on his record, he was barred from possessing a gun.

That made the offense far more serious and he went to prison in April 2009.

Dan Rafael covers boxing for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter.