It was a long 18 months in which James Kirkland (32-1) was out of competition. After executing a 6th round TKO of Glen Tapia in Atlantic City back in December 2013, Kirkland’s 5-fight win streak was broken only by incarceration.

During this time, however, Kirkland’s mind was focused on his return and assessing the people around him. Aside from training vigorously he also decided to ditch long-term trainer and world champion in four different weight classes, Ann Wolfe.

Kirkland, who has had legal issues before his latest one derailed his rising career, is perceived as a fighter who can only be motivated by Wolfe and her unconventional and even antagonizing training methods. Although her system had him undefeated for 10 years, Kirkland feels that he has always motivated himself and the threat of a “woman beating (him) at anything” is what drove him to excel with Wolfe.

Aligned with Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson’s SMS Promotions, Kirkland is now out and focused on his next opponent, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez. With each fighter having only one loss and this being a non-title fight it can be seen as the ultimate tune up for both fighters.

Kirkland, more than Alvarez, needs this win because it will bring his name back to the forefront of the sport and hush all doubts that he is a product of Ann Wolfe’s incessant tongue-lashings.

We spoke with Kirkland about the past and the challenge ahead.