It is with the greatest sadness that we have learnt of the passing of one Nottingham’s finest, that of ‘The Gifted One,’ Kirkland Laing, at the age of 66.
A top quality operator in the ring, and a fine gentleman out of it, Laing, Jamaican-born, fought within three decades, the 70s, 80s and 90s, tasting both victory, and defeat, in his 56 outings, posting an eventual ledger of 43-12-1(24).
As an amateur, Laing would have close to eighty contests, dating back to the mid-sixties when appearing for Nottingham YMCA ABC at the tender age of just 12-years-old, going on to win the Junior ABA’s in 1971 (with Union Steward ABC) and the ABA championship in 1972, at Wembley (with Clifton ABC).
The latter stages of Laing’s amateur career would see him box for England U-21 at the Euuropean U-21 Championship in Kiev, losing to Yugoslavia’s Tadija Kacar via majority decision in the semi-finals, and in the Multi-Nation Tournament in the Netherlands, where he lost to Denmark’s Ib Boetcher in the quarter-finals, both in 1974.
Although his professional fight career would being in mid-April, 1975, with a KO success over Joe Hannaford, it would be a contest in the early 90s, Stateside, from which he’d be best remembered, although he did have some mighty duels back home, notably with Colin Jones for the British welterweight strap, twice, a decade earlier.
With the two fights with Jones coming in 1980 and 1981 respectively, Laing, despite also losing to Reggie Ford in early ’82, found himself in the Motor City, Detroit, and a date with the legendary Roberto ‘Hands of Stone’ Duran; he at the time had won 74 of his 77 contests going into the fight with Laing.
The contest on Friday 4 September 1982, was Laing’s 28th, and would go on to win The Ring Magazine award for Upset of the Year, Laing posting a split decision victory and, in doing so, would herald the postponement of the proposed Duran – Ayala contest two months later.
It was a victory, scored by the judges as being Stuart Kirshenbaum 94-96, Bernard Humphrey 96-94, Nate McAlpine 94-96, with Duran weighing in at 155, and Laing, just 28-years-old at the time, coming in six lighter at 149.
The illustrious New York Times (Sept. 5 1982) said that: “In the first two rounds, Laing was constantly in motion, perhaps attempting to tire his opponent.
“Duran took the early rounds with good combinations, but the knockout power in what were once known as the ‘hands of stone’ clearly is there no longer.
“Laing stung Duran with a smashing right hand in the seventh round that seemed to weaken the Panamanian.
“Laing won that round, fought about even in the eighth, then won the ninth and tenth as he became the aggressor, scoring with good left jabs while holding off Duran’s rushes.”
Duran, a legend in his own right, would go on to fight until 2002, finishing with a record of 103-16(70),but for Laing, the nickname ‘Gifted One’ probably never more true than in that moment, in that city, on that night, is certainly one of the greatest never to win a world title.
Laing’s victory over Duran, it resonated the world over, it really do, and rightly so as well, it was the biggest victory of his sporting career that’s for sure.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a British fighter with more natural talent. Howard Winstone is the only one that compares,” enthused boxing journalist Colin Hart.
“I don’t remember seeing a fighter with this braggadocio bullying Duran round the ring,” stated ESPN fight commentator, Sal Machiano immediately after the contest.
Laing meanwhile, all he would say afterwards was: “I can beat anybody if I put my mind to it.”
Any chance of a world title shot, after that upset of Duran in the Motor City, is said to have disappeared just as quickly as he did in the aftermath of victory, the Jamaican-born fighter going AWOL for some four months.
Laing would go onto fight for another twelve years after that stunning success, never reaching those heights again; he regained his British welterweight strap, first won in ’79, when stopping Sylvester Mittee in early ’87 before successfully defending it against Rocky Kelly (Nov. ’87), George Collins (Nov. ’89), and Trevor Smith (Mar. ’90).
There were a couple of chances at European glory in his later years, dropping unanimous decision results to Nino La Rocca (1989) and Patrizio Oliva (1990), whilst defeating Antoine Fernandez, for the European, at Wembley, in May 1990.
Following his retirement in the mid-nineties, Laing, now in his forties himself, found himself quickly going off the rails, surviving a near critical fall from a fourth floor balcony in Hackney, London, where he resided for a number of years before moving back north, spending his final years in nearby Yorkshire.
As is the case in this technological age, tributes soon flooded in once the news broke, Frank Warren saying: “All at Queensberry are very sad to hear news of the passing of former British & European Welterweight Champion Kirkland Laing. Our thoughts are with Kirkland’s family at this time. RIP Champ,” whilst the Sauerland Brothers, Kalle and Nisse, added: “I remember seeing Kirkland Laing at St Pancras gym training alone as no one wanted to spar with him as he was just too good. RIP- gone way too soon.”
Kirkland Laing passed away on 9 June 2021 – RIP The Gifted One.
*Article provided by Peter Mann (Senior Correspondent).
*Main image @frankwarrentv Kirkland Laing was a huge name in boxing during the 80’s & 90’s.