Kirkland Laing: ‘The Gifted One’

By Clive Bernath: If you are looking for the perfect present for a boxing mad relative this Christmas then look no further than Oliver Jarrett’s excellent and very informative biography of boxer Kirkland Laing.

The book, aptly named The Gifted One, is a highly detailed and very well researched blow by blow account of not just the life and career of one of Britain’s greatest ever boxers but also, focus’s on the lives of his opponents from the very first time he laced on a pair of boxing gloves as a child in the 1960’s, through to when he finally hung up his gloves following a fifth round stoppage loss to future WBC super-middleweight king Glenn Catley in November 1994.

For those younger boxing fans amongst us that are not familiar with ‘The Gifted One’ Kirkland Laing, a Jamaican born immigrant from London via Nottingham is arguably the most talented British based boxer never to have fought for a world title. His effortless counter punching style regularly stopped opponents in their tracks and earned him the British and European welterweight titles in the late 80’s and early 90’s.

I was fortunate to be ringside to witness Laing’s extraordinary ‘gift’ up close on a number of occasions and must say it was a real pleasure to watch him work. The way in which he dismantled his opponents was at times nothing short of breath taking and I have no hesitation in saying that in my humble opinion Laing was as talented as any boxer I have had the pleasure of observing in the last 25 years.

So why did Laing never fulfil a life long dream and win a world title? He had it all, the talent, the speed, the punch-he possessed just about every tool needed to become an all time great champion apart from arguably the most important –self discipline. You see Kirk not only loved to party but he was also partial to a cannabis joint or two. In fact Jarrett reveals in the book that Laing was pretty much stoned before most of his fights.
Kirk was as talented as he was frustrating. For example he only ever proved his potential greatness once in my opinion, the night he defeated the great Roberto Duran. Duran was coming off a 15 round points loss to Wilfred Benitez in 1982 and wanted a win over a capable opponent before moving up in weight to challenge for another world title but unfortunately for him Kirk got himself into fantastic shape for the first time in his life to nick a deserved split decision over 10 rounds. The win should have laid the foundations for a lucrative world title fight against a big name but what did Kirk go and do? He went on the missing list and just partied for an entire year, much to the annoyance of manager Mickey Duff.

Another example Kirk’s eccentricity came a few days before he was to defend his British welterweight crown against Fulham tough guy Rocky Kelly in 1987. I was driving through Hackney one day on my way to work and came across Kirk walking down the street smoking the biggest joint I’d ever seen. I motioned over to him and exchanged a few pleasantries before wishing him well for the fight. A couple of days later Kirk turned up for the weigh-in at a Fulham pub on his own, despite a couple of hundred Rocky Kelly fans baying for his blood and shouting insults Kirk just smiled his way through the whole thing, without a care in the world. Come fight night, though he was all business. Granted Kelly lacked natural talent but he was a hell of a brawler, in his prime and all fired up. Against any other British fighter that night Kelly would have been crowned British champ. But Kirk. Like so many other times, was firing on all cylinders and promptly dismantled Kelly in five painful rounds.

Jarrett’s book leaves no stone unturned. He tells Laing’s life story through the eyes of the people that knew him best, his old school friends, local amateur rivals, trainers, managers, promoters and opponents. From Terry Lawless, Mickey Duff, Maurice Hope, even his last trainer Joe Ryan. The stories they have to tell make for compulsive reading.

Oliver Jarrett spent six years researching, talking and cross referencing all 450 pages and the result is a boxing fans dream. All profits from the sale of the book will go to Kirkland Laing.

For details on how to purchase The Gifted One, through the eyes of others Click here

October 30, 2009
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