What Ever Happened To Kirkland Laing?
11.11.04 - By Phydos Sergiou: This is a story of Glory and Ruin. In his youth, Kirkland Laing was a British and the European welterweight champion and arguably the best fighter from Britain to never win a world title. I remember him as a flash stunningly skillful welterweight with ample power and more skill than I had ever seen in a fighter; and this was the era of Sugar Ray, The Hitman and the Marvelous One.
Article posted on 11.11.2004
It was April 9th, 1982 and I was a young man watching my favourite sport on the BBC. My mum let me stay up that night to watch the boxing. I was watching local hero Kirkland Laing against the living legend Roberto Duran. I remember sitting there and thinking, “Can he pull this off?” Laing was called “The Gifted One” and any one watching him could see why!
He had a lovely jab and his hand speed and combinations were phenomenal. The only problem was with his style. He kept his hands too low and he could get tagged; but while he was young he had the reflexes and speed to avoid being hit. He was almost unstoppable.
Laing, fighting with his hands by his side, was schooling the legend through his jab and combination punches. This had driven Duran crazy during 10 rounds in Detroit, and Kirkland won by a unanimous verdict. At the time, Duran was one of the sport's biggest names, but Laing was not bothered by reputation. He out worked and out fought the man from panama.
Laing was a clear winner and Duran was a bewildered and bruised loser. This fight is still one of the biggest upsets of all time. It should have been the start of an illustrious career for Laing, but after the win Kirkland vanished, and no one could find him for over a year. During that same 12-month period, Duran won a world title and fought 15 rounds with Marvin Hagler, making over £4million.
While Duran went on to earn millions and a place in boxing's hall of fame, Laing kept vanishing - his skill and success fading memories. As a result, he will be remembered for what might have been. If he had had the discipline to go with his talent, who knows what he could have achieved? At 24 he was British champion, and three years later came his fight with Duran. But it all came too soon, and he admits he was not "mature" enough to cope. His winnings were spent on partying and women - often the night before a fight.
In the ring, Laing was so talented, he felt he could face anyone in any condition and emerge victorious; outside it, his generosity to people he met was ruthlessly exposed, until his money ran out. After the fight with Duran he went on to fight another 27 times, losing 8 times, fighting well into his 40’s, frequently going missing, and not training for his upcoming fights. His trainer invariably found him drunk or worse.
Ten years after his last appearance in the ring, where he was knocked out by Glenn Catley in five rounds, he lives in a world of drink and drugs on a shabby estate in Hackney east London, living day by day with drunks and dossers. He was also 1 of 53 people arrested in a police sting which recovered guns, swords and crack cocaine in late 2003. He is a run down shell of the man. A veteran of 56 fights, his beard is straggly and unkempt, going half way down his chest. His trademark dreadlocks gone now, and his clothes are unwashed and in taters.
He recently fell from a fourth floor balcony and was fighting for his life. Drink and drugs were found in his blood stream. He is out of hospital now, still not fully recovered from his ordeal. Kids run past him not knowing of his former glories. I sometimes imagine, if only he had been sensible and disciplined what he would have achieved.
He was an enigmatic individual who never did things the conventional way, and maybe that was his problem. Life and boxing came too easily to a man who seemed to have a glorious future ahead of him, but threw it all away. For now, I just pray that he gets the help he needs to escape the life he is leading. My hopes and wishes are with him; the best Brit to never win the title Kirkland Laing!
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