When HBO’s Real Sports first covered the life of fighter and trainer Ann Wolfe way back in 2009, she was then at the peak of her training career, working with middleweight contender, James Kirkland. Now, over a decade later, the show caught up with Wolfe post-IBHOF induction glow.
The word “hardscrabble” may have existed before Ann Wolfe was born, but it does seem like the term was invented for her. As a child Wolfe was a victim of sexual abuse, went on to sell drugs, developed a substance abuse problem of her own, and ended up homeless with three children in tow before watching a women’s boxing match in the ER waiting room and thinking, I can do that.
Shortly after, Wolfe connected with her first trainer, Pops Billingsley.
Wolfe was raw, but she hit like a mack truck and soon she was putting those heavy fists to use in the ring.
As a professional, Wolfe compiled a record of 24-1 with 16 KOs (an unusually high KO percentage in women’s boxing), winning titles in three different weight classes (light and super middleweight and light heavyweight). She scored one of the greatest one-punch knockouts in the history of the sport – man or woman – when she floored the 6 foot 6 Vonda Ward with a vicious right hand in May of 2004.
After retiring from boxing as a fighter, she turned to training other fighters – men and women – using some of the most gnarly and grueling, almost medieval, workout techniques known to humankind. Flipping tires, doing pull ups off the end of rusted -out construction equipment, chopping wood, using chains, and a whole bunch of other shit that Marsellus Wallace would approve of using against one’s enemies.
During HBO’s update segment, we learn that Wolfe has left boxing behind, and now trains actors for fight scenes in Hollywood. She can actually be seen briefly in the first Wonder Woman film, as a WW foe, for the record. See below, pic courtesy the production, which Michael Woods wrote about for RING:
While the show states that Wolfe is the only woman to ever train a world title contender, I was surprised that the episode didn’t go further into what happened with her and her most famous charge, James Kirkland. Wolfe poured herself into Kirkland and got him all the way to the precipice before their relationship hit the rocks when Kirkland received a two-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to gun possession by a convicted felon.
While Wolfe and Kirkland would reunite after he completed his sentence, the relationship did not hold up, and neither did Kirkland in the ring – after a rise in ranks, he got blasted out by Nobuhiro Ishida, Canelo Alvarez, and Juan Macias Montiel. Suffering a dramatic KO at the hands of Canelo, Kirkland’s days as a contender were over.
Considering the time, effort, and belief Wolfe put into Kirkland, not asking her a single question about that relationship seems like a huge miss on the part of Real Sports and reporter Andrea Kremer.
Wolfe’s motto as a trainer was “You can’t always save ‘em, but you can always try.” Wolfe tried like hell with Kirkland, and any boxing fan watching the segment would probably find that not addressing Kirkland in the present tense to be a disappointment in terms of coverage.
Real Sports is known for digging deep, and, in this segment on Wolfe, they failed to do that.
Still, it was great to see the woman who refers to herself as “…a fighter ‘til the day I die,” doing so well. The history of boxing is littered with people who came up hard, tasted success, and blew it up due to behavior, overspending, or injury. Wolfe is not one of those people.
She has left boxing so far behind that all of her trophies and keepsakes from her fighting career are in a perfectly mundane-looking storage facility.
Looking back on all that she had done, Wolfe declared, “I got full payment for my suffering.”
As rough-edged as Wolfe still is, I can’t imagine any poet stating it better.
Wolfe’s August Real Sports segment, episode 8 of season 28, can be streamed on HBO now