HOUSTON -- Junior middleweight slugger James Kirkland has one loss in his career, a shocking first-round knockout to light-hitting Nobuhiro Ishida in 2011.
It also happened to come without longtime trainer Ann Wolfe in his corner. She and Kirkland had a falling-out, and Kirkland trained for the bout with Kenny Adams, a longtime top trainer. But Adams and Kirkland never connected and the result was disastrous.
When Kirkland reunited with Wolfe shortly after the loss, he began winning again, including thrilling knockouts of contender Alfredo Angulo and Glen Tapia, whom Kirkland stopped in the sixth round in December 2013, his most recent fight.
But when Kirkland (32-1, 28 KOs) ends his 17-month layoff to face former unified junior middleweight titlist Canelo Alvarez (44-1-1, 31 KOs) on Saturday night (HBO, 9 ET) at Minute Maid Park in Houston -- where a crowd of about 40,000 is expected -- he will enter the ring once again having split from Wolfe, despite all of their success together.
Instead, Kirkland will go to battle in the most significant fight of his career with the heretofore unknown tandem of Bay Bay McClinton and Rick Morones in his corner.
The question is why make a change, given how significant Wolfe has been to Kirkland's success?
"One of the reasons that I just have to put out there is that the techniques and the things that I need to work on to be able to win the fight, the strategies are what I have taken away when I was with Ann Wolfe," Kirkland said. "So I know a lot of the fans, say, 'You won, you had so much success with Ann,' and I know and understand this, but, at the same time, I know there was a lot more to the table that I needed to bring.
"I needed to create more determination, and I will eagerly take advantage of my opponent. You can't take that away from me. Before I met Ann, that's always been me, but when I need more, I thought that I needed more to bring to the table than something that I already have and possess. So, that's what made me move on, and I feel it is a smart decision."
Wolfe was known for her militant, hard-driving training style that put a premium on conditioning even if it was a bit light sometimes on strategy and technique. Kirkland gave Wolfe credit for getting him to a certain point but said he needed a change even if manager Michael Miller would have preferred they remain together.
"I want to kind of clear it up. I don't want to take anything away from Ann Wolfe's value," Kirkland said. "She was an awesome strength and conditioning coach, and she knows the things that she knows to take it to the next level. Certain things that I wanted to add to this particular training camp are the things that I added to this.
"There are things that I needed to improve and things that I wanted to work on that I felt that I wasn't going to get from Ann Wolfe. So those are the things that I worked on, those are the things that I have prepared myself for, these are the things that I took care of. So, at the end of the day, I believe that the tools and the things that I've been working on are going to take me to the finish line and give me the victory at the end of the day."
If McClinton and Morones are feeling any pressure about replacing Wolfe, they haven't let on.
"We are ready to rock and roll. This fight will bring fireworks and will be more exciting than the fight the week before [Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao]," McClinton said. "I have been training him [on and off] since he was 15 years old, and he is very comfortable with his new training team. This fight will not go the distance, it's not. I expect James to win via knockout. Be ready for a good fight; James will not let his fans down."
Said Morones, "We all know [Kirkland] he can fight. He is not a boring fighter. We have been improving his defense, his jabs, to make him a more complete fighter. This fight will take him to the next level, and he is very motivated. I see him in the gym every day. He has a desire and passion for the sport. I am going to promise a great fight, with fireworks in the ring, and history will be made at Minute Maid Park."
In the scheduled 10-round co-feature, Los Angeles junior welterweight prospect Frankie Gomez (18-0, 13 KOs), 23, will step up in competition to take on former lightweight and junior lightweight titleholder Humberto Soto (65-8-2, 35 KOs), 34, of Mexico. The telecast will open with a replay of last week's Mayweather-Pacquiao megafight.