Whenever followers of the sport debate who was the greatest British fighter never to win a world title, inevitable names such as Herol Graham and Kevin Finnegan crop up. Graham fought for a world title three times while Finnegan, also never getting the chance to become world champion, contested losing yet courageous battles with future world champions Alan Minter and Marvin Hagler. Kirkland Laing was another British fighter whose undoubted skill and ring craft did not take him to the apogee of the sport.
A stellar amateur career which included a senior ABA title at just aged seventeen and a bronze medal at the European Junior Championships a couple of years later, Laing turned to the professional code with high hopes from people within the sport that were associated with him of achieving greatness.
His talent was so natural that he did not feel comfortable with the hands high and tight guard approach that other fighters in his gym had adopted. His style came from within and as Laing said himself, when he tried the hands high technique, ‘I’m programmed, I’m not free within’.
On the occasions where his panoply of talents were displayed to their fullest – his victory over Roberto Duran being the best example – he was simply breathtaking. Yet like other flawed sporting geniuses, he came with foibles attached. His professional career became onerous despite his free flowing ability. It became the fable of the modern day prodigious athlete who fails to make use of the talent God gave them. He liked to relax too much at times, but would train hard if he felt genuine fear for his opponent.
Author Oliver Jarratt explains the highs and lows of Laing’s career and many more things besides, in this long overdue biographical look of the fighter known as The Gifted One.
Jarratt articulates Laing’s life in and out of the ring with veracity. His description of Laing throughout the book is done in a way which gives the reader a good idea of what his personality is like – that of a kind-hearted and free-spirited soul. Yet while Laing must take some responsibility for failing to match the achievements in the ring with the ability he had, Jarratt describes wonderfully well that there were events outside his control which affected Kirkland deeply.
This was prevalent in his amateur days, with politics preventing him from competing at the Olympics and also in his personal life, with the death of his daughter at only three days old. The latter in particular is detailed in such raw emotion, one cannot help but be moved.
His opponents, both amateur and professional, also get their stories told. While most of them are not involved in the sport anymore, their tales of triumph and disaster serve to highlight the fact that boxing, like no other sport, can create such a myriad of characters.
All speak in deferential terms about Kirkland, but also show frustration about his lack of success and the talent wasted.
Overall this is a fascinating insight into the life of one of British boxing’s lost talents. Jarratt worked on this book for six years and the hard work has definitely paid off. An excellent read and highly recommended.
NB: This book can only purchased by logging onto Oliver Jarratt’s own website which is www.oliverjarratt.com