Nottingham’s Kirkland Laing was arguably one the most naturally gifted British boxers that was to grace a canvas and in 1982, his finest hour, he travelled to Detroit to out-box and out point a prime Roberto Duran in a performance that not only baffled ‘Hands of Stone’ himself, but the boxing world. Everyone was stunned at just how effortlessly he approached the fight before, during and after, with the legendary Duran and how he had handled the Panamanian icon.
Laing went over to America as an easy comeback opponent for Duran but went on to embarrass one of the greatest boxers of all time.
For those who remember and witnessed his unorthodox boxing style, the hands held low, the reflex approach to defending and slipping shots and basically the art of boxing, hit and don’t be hit! Laing was a master at it, when he felt like it that is!
Duran had lined up Laing as cannon-fodder, comeback material, after he had been narrowly out-pointed in his previous fight against Wilfred Benitez. – Duran was on the comeback trail and needed a warm up fight before a Duran needed a warm-up for a planned November fight with the unbeaten Tony Ayala Jnr and then the proposed rematch with Benitez. In the press Laing was written off that much there wasn’t any odds to be had, there were even calls to have the fight cancelled, with some people believing Laing’s life was at risk against a man notorious for handing out savage beating’s to his opponents and apparently hungrier and fitter than ever after his disappointment against Benitez.
Laing, by then was a former British welterweight champion and was now 28 years-old but was already considered to be past his best, even in 1982, although he went on to have another 28 fights after that.
A canny Mickey Duff, Laings manager, was very well connected across the pond, and swiftly put his boxers name forward to Don King when he heard Duran needed someone to do a 10-round contest with him, he approached King with the name ‘Kirkland Laing’. They put the fight to Duran, his team looked at his 23-3-1, 10KOs record and accepted, the rest is history. Duff knew fine well how good his investment was, he had seen the best and worse of Laing and with business partner and Laing’s trainer
Laing widely out-pointed a confused Duran with relative ease (even though the fight was scored only a split decision in his favour) and afterwards the apparently shell shocked promoter King, who had invested heavily in Duran and had big plans for him that year, never spoke to his British counterpart Mickey Duff again for four years, believing Duff had, had him over and tricked him about Laing’s lack of boxing ambition.
That night in Detroit, Laing beat the only man he said he had ever feared in the ring and the only fight that he gave up all his vices and prepared properly for. He produced a performance that stunned the boxing world and left the mouths, of all the people who had written him off and feared for his life, gaping wide open.
ESPN commentator on the fight Sal Marchiano, couldn’t believe what he had just seen when he said: “I don’t remember seeing a fighter with this braggadocio bullying Duran round the ring.”
Colin Hart long-time boxing journalist added “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a British fighter with more natural talent. Howard Winstone is the only one who compares.” Kirk simply smiled his endearing gap tooth smile and said: “I can beat anybody if I put my mind to it.”
Laing had hit the big time and and Mickey Duff was ready to do what he did best and secure his fighter a shot at a world title and million pound super fights back in the States, against either Milton McCrory or Donald Curry two of the big stars of the 80’s boxing heyday . But being the enigma and free spirited soul that Rastafarian Laing was, after he arrived back in the UK and basked in the glory of his shock win, he disappeared off the radar and Duff couldn’t find him for four months and by the time he had emerged from his exile, the world title chance had gone. Laing years later told Steve Bunce in an interview that he didnt dispaere aznd was in the gym waiting for his chance?
In that same period Duran went on to earn over $6m from his next few fights, after the loss to Laing was hastily brushed under the carpet and the Panamanian legend rebuilt his reputation and then went on to cement his legendary status in the sport. When it was later pointed out to Laing that he too could have earned millions, he said, “I’ve never had a million, so I won’t miss it.”
And so British boxing history has it that Kirkland Laing, together with Dave Charnley, Herol Graham, Colin Jones and Pat Barrett amongst others, is one of the best British Boxers never to lay claim to winning a world title.
The fight with Duran although the pinnacle of Laings boxing career, it was not the biggest fight that he had to face in his life. Kirk had over come a childhood disability. When his mum Louise, was pregnant with Kirk back in Jamaica, she had fell off her bicycle on the way home and as a result of the accident, Kirk was born with feet that splayed in different directions, or “bafang”, as he says, one going north, the other south. Despite this handicap he never let it affect his mobility and became a capable long distance runner as well as a champion boxer.
Years after his boxing career had ended, In 2003 Kirk fell off the balcony of his fourth-floor Hackney council flat and suffered severe head injuries. “I was partying!” he later explained. – Kirk now in his late 50’s, is back in Nottingham being cared for by his children, after fighting his way back from his hospital bed and away from the hobo drink and drug lifestyle that nearly killed him. Constantly on the lookout for the good times, and hanging out with the down and outs and the dubious characters on the London drugs scene. Laing who smoked weed throughout his boxing career and admitted to being stoned during most of his fights, had his last bout aged 40, against Bristol’s Glenn Catley in 1994.
During a career and life of cannabis sedated highs, rock bottom lows and boxing master classes, Laing lived his life how he wanted to live it and fair play. But he never reached the heights his pugilist skills would have allowed him to if he had dedicated more to the game. As his former girlfriend Paula Chan once told Laing’s biographer Oliver Jarratt: “Kirk does not care about yesterday and does not really think about tomorrow.”
In boxing circles Laing is still known, remembered and titled as, ‘The Gifted one.’