- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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Junior middleweight James Kirkland, out of action since March 2012 due to legal problems and a lawsuit with his former promoter, has signed with promoter/rap star Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson's SMS Promotions and has his next fight lined up.
Jackson announced that Kirkland will face 23-year-old Glen Tapia (20-0, 12 KOs) of Passaic, N.J., on Dec. 7 on an HBO-televised tripleheader at the Adrian Phillips Ballroom at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J. The fight has only been in the works for about two weeks. The card is due to be headlined by unified junior featherweight champion Guillermo Rigondeaux against former bantamweight titlist Joseph Agbeko and also will include a middleweight fight between former three-time title challenger Matthew Macklin and Willie Nelson.
"I had a relationship with 50 Cent before he came into the boxing business," Kirkland said in announcing the signing on Wednesday. "We already had a friendship when he got this [promotional] group together. He can do what no other promoters can do. He's a different type of promoter who can make things happen in and out of the ring for me. It's clear to me that I made the right decision."
Kirkland will also have a new corner. He has split from trainer Ann Wolfe for the second time and will be trained by Bob Santos, who is best known for his work as an assistant trainer and co-manager for welterweight contender Robert Guerrero.
"Any time you can work with a dynamic puncher, which is what people love to see, it's exciting," Santos told ESPN.com. "I am excited and motivated to work with James and want to get the job done. I know he's gonna get the job done. Our end game is we want to win this fight, look good and then get a fight with [middleweight titlist] Gennady Golovkin. People would love to see a fight like that between two big punchers."
Kirkland (31-1, 27 KOs), a 29-year-old southpaw from Austin, Texas, had been with Golden Boy Promotions, but the relationship soured in June 2012 after he accepted a September 2012 fight against then-junior middleweight titlist Saul "Canelo" Alvarez, only to pull out days later in a dispute over his purse while also claiming that an injured shoulder was not completely healed. Kirkland eventually sued to get out of his contract and was freed.
"James concentrates on conditioning and building strength. He brings the fight to you and is aggressive in the ring," Jackson said. "The crowd loves the action and I'm excited to make him a part of our team."
Besides his promotional issues, Kirkland has had legal problems. He was arrested in June on an assault charge and is not far removed from a second prison term. Already a convicted felon, Kirkland was sent back to prison in 2009 on a gun possession conviction and was out of the ring for two years. He returned in 2011, but after two quick victories he was shockingly knocked out in the first round by Nobuhiro Ishida in one of the upsets of the year.
Kirkland has won four fights in a row since, including a brutal slugfest with Alfredo Angulo, whom he eventually stopped in the sixth round, followed by a controversial 10th-round disqualification victory against Carlos Molina (who won a world title last month) in March 2012, his last fight.
Kirkland said the long layoff won't be an issue against Tapia.
"I've been working hard since the beginning of my lawsuit. Now that things are in motion, I'm jumping right into the mix," Kirkland said. "My sparring sessions are like fights for other guys."
Tapia had a breakout performance in July on ESPN2's "Friday Night Fights" when he stopped then-undefeated prospect Abie Han in the eighth round of a slugfest. Tapia returned Sept. 28 to stop veteran Elco Garcia in the fifth round.
"I had this great opportunity come along with Glen Tapia. He just doesn't have what comes with knowledge in boxing, but he will know that Dec. 7," Kirkland said. "There are different levels of fighting, as they say in the street, and he hasn't fought anybody at my level in his 20 fights. I don't talk too much before a fight, but he doesn't have to worry about being 21-0 because I'm going to knock his ass out Dec. 7.
"The proof is in the pudding. All I have to do is put in extra work and that's what I've been doing. I'm not overlooking him. This is his 'Mayweather' fight. He wants to win and be an exciting fighter on HBO. That's not going to happen. It all comes down to me boxing at my best. I can beat anybody at 154 pounds or 160, name anybody. Who does what I do? There are a couple of cats at 160 who can put on a great performance but, right now, I'm concentrating on Glen Tapia. Congratulations for him getting this fight but we are at different levels."
The weight for the fight was originally agreed to at the junior middleweight limit of 154 pounds, but because Kirkland has been idle for so long -- and struggled to make weight even when he was active -- Tapia agreed to raise the limit to 156 pounds.
"Tapia and [manager] Pat [Lynch] said, 'No way are we blowing this fight and this kind of opportunity over two pounds,' " said Carl Moretti of Top Rank, Tapia's promoter.