BM: Historically Londonís East End has always been fertile boxing terrain. What do you remember of your childhood there? How did you become involved in boxing?
MK: Though I was born in Canning Town, from the age of nine I was actually brought up in Stanford-le-Hope, Essex. I started boxing at the Shell Club there because, believe it or not, I was bullied at school. I used to get beat up quite badly ícos Iíd never give in. That fighting spirit was always in me. All I ever had, really.
I won the British schoolboy title the first year I was eligible. As a tall kid I usually had a height advantage and was more a boxer. I had a very good jab ... something I seemed to forget as soon as I signed pro!
At 16, I decided I needed a bigger club so I moved in with my grandmother back in Canning Town and joined West Ham. Great club, probably because of its location in the heart of the East End, but also the coaches were very good.
One of the kids training with me there was [actor] Ray Winstone. We used to spar. He was a good pure boxer, liked to pose a bit. A very nice man but unfortunately, Iíve lost touch over the years.
In 1979, at the age of 17, I won the NABCs [National Association of Boys Clubs championships] and the London senior title then, the following year I won the British ABAs [Amateur Boxing Association championships] and went to the European Junior championships in [Rimini] Italy. Canít remember much about that, though. Such a long time ago.
BM: You were still a teenager when representing Great Britain in the 1980 Moscow Olympics. No headguards, no computers, proper fighting ...
MK: Again, if Iím honest, I donít remember too much about it. I was very young. I lost on a split decision to a Romanian in the quarterfinals. If Iíd won Iíd have got a bronze medal but it might have been a blessing because a very good Cuban was next and I probably wasnít ready for him.
One thing I do remember was having a street fight with [Britainís welterweight rep] Joey Frost from Liverpool in someoneís room. He could punch, Joey. Canít remember what sparked it but we shook hands after. Joey was a good guy. Drink was involved [laughs]!
BM: After turning professional, you quickly became a leading face at Terry Lawlessís highly successful stable situated above the Royal Oak pub in Canning Town. A special place?
MK: Yeah. At the time, the Oak was the only act in town if you had ambition. My grandmother lived across the street from the gym and Iíd been sparring guys like Ray Cattouse and Jimmy Batten there for a few years when I was still amateur so it was just a natural continuation. Jim Watt was there, Mo [Maurice] Hope, Lloyd Honeyghan, Frank Bruno, Kirkland Laing ... such a good fighter. Honeyghan couldnít touch Kirk in sparring.
The greatest thing was the niceness and decency of all the other fighters. My wife still comments on that.
BM: From a relatively young age, you carved a reputation as one of the most menacing, intimidating hombres in the business. Was that a conscious thing? Did you thrive off it?
MK: Today the last thing anyone would accuse me of, is being a tough guy. Iím too handsome! Even my kids poke fun at my [Cockney] accent.
But, for me, boxing was never just ďbusinessĒ. From the moment I started boxing until I retired, nothing else mattered. I was an extreme, an absolute fanatic. The reason I seldom smiled was because Iíd invested so much of my life into boxing. I was in abject misery whenever I was beaten. It took me months to get over the devastation. I detested watching videos of fights I lost.
Itís just opponents were something that came between me making money for my family, and I developed this unnecessary dislike for them all. Rather than enjoying the stare-outs or trying to intimidate, it was something I had to do to prevent the other guy feeling he had any kind of advantage. If they glared, Iíd never look away first.
BM: Did that intense mindset help or hinder?
MK: Hinder usually. Sometimes Iíd get mad at myself in the ring. Take my disqualification loss to Tony Cerda [hitting after the bell]. I just couldnít stop myself.
I actually had fast hands and was capable of throwing quick combos but I just fought as I saw it, never had a strategy or plan, never thought about defence. It was when I got dragged into a brawl that Iíd make mistakes. That held me back and now I have to live with it but I guess thatís also what made me such an exciting fighter.
BM: In 1985, your feisty instincts brought national front page headlines when, following a press conference at a London casino, you became embroiled in a vicious street brawl with future foe Errol Christie. Twenty-three years on, how do you reflect on the incident? Humorous? Embarrassing?
MK: For a start, our management was on opposite sides. Though Errolís opposition hadnít been great, after a couple of his wins heíd said on TV: ďIím ready for Kaylor.Ē That bugged me and at the press conference I let him know it, being so wild and crazy at the time, so desperate not to lose.
Anyway, the photographers wanted a photo with us face to face with clenched fists beneath each others chins. Something was said and we got into a tussle, a wrestling match. After security restored order Errol made some comment about finishing on top [when the tussle was interrupted] so I whacked him.
Back then, I had a quick temper that Iíd rather not have had. There was always this spark in my head! Today, Iím embarrassed by it. Errol was a nice guy. Thereís no way I could behave like that now.
BM: On reflection, what do you consider was your finest performance? Roy Gumbs? Christie?
MK: Nah, the fight I like best was an early one against Bobby ďBoogalooĒ Watts before Iíd even won the British title. My hands were fast, my combinations were good. That night, I could pretend I was a world-class fighter.
BM: You claim you were severely weight drained when, still only 25, your corner retired you after eight in European title crack at Bomber Graham (see sidebar).
Though you had three more tilts at European titles, your rage had subsided. You were beaten at light-heavy by Tom Collins (KO by 9), and at super middle by Italyís Mauro Galvano (L12), then by James Cook. In the latter, trainer Jimmy Tibbs came into the ring to rescue you and you retired, aged 30.
MK: At half an inch over 6ft I was killing myself to make middleweight yet wasnít quite big enough to fight at light-heavyweight. Super middleweight werenít really established when I was at my peak. When it came, my better years were behind me. Sad but too bad!
Tom Collins was a very painful experience. He really hurt me. It was like getting a lump of two-by-four across your head. Unlike Tom, I wasnít a natural light-heavy and he was too much, very strong. I was only 27 but I felt 100, in pain and very embarrassed.
Galvanoís promoters bought the fight for his hometown and there was no chance I was ever going to get a win. He was allowed to just do what he wanted ó spent 12 rounds flicking silly jabs, running away and unashamedly holding. Not once was he warned. I did catch him once but he could take a shot, Iíll give him that. I probably didnít deserve the decision.
James Cook? During my prime, James had been one of my sparring partners, paid to get the crap beaten out of him. God bless him. I have very little recollection other than James punched very hard. If Jimmy walked into the ring to save me, he must have been right to do that.
BM: You briefly turned thespian, acting in the 1991 fight film Real Money alongside the likes of Jimmy Tibbs, Jimmy Flint, Steve Roberts and Jason Rowland. Good craic?
MK: Yeah, fantastic fun. My wife was in it too and itís given me an interest in theatre today. I still keep in contact with [director] Ron Peck today. Heís still in England, still chasing the dream!
BM: Are you involved in boxing today? To what extent do you still follow the sport?
MK: I coach at the Chino gym where I work, teaching the basics to kids no one seems to take notice of. Itís a lot of fun. Iíve no ambitions of ever getting in the corner though.
I only follow the fighters I help coach or the really good world champions, in big occasions. I donít have the patience to watch ordinary fighters without talent.
The one I like is Joe Calzaghe. What a fantastic record. Weíve never had anyone from Britain like that before. Heís so great he can even overcome the fact that he slaps!
BM: Since emigrating to the U.S., youíve been a lost face to the boxing scene. Howíve you been keeping? How do you pass your time?
MK: Lifeís really worked out. Iím very blessed. Iíve been married to Patricia for 25 years and, for the past 10, weíve lived in a four-bedroom place by the Chino hills, which are very beautiful. Compared to London, itís very safe and the weatherís fantastic. Iím 100% British, really love my Queen and country, and thereís a couple of friends I really miss ó but Iím not sure Iíll ever go back to England.
Patriciaís got a great job as secretary to the superintendent for the districtís schools. I work just 24 hours a week as an aerobics instructor ó a job I really love ó at a gym literally down the road. The rest of the time I cook, clean, shop and look after our 12-year-old, who has a tendency to be wild and crazy.
Today, football is a very big part of my life. My son Ryan is a top college player and I watch every Saturday. We get English soccer on the TV. When I lived in London I only followed West Ham but, over here, I root for all the English teams. My son supports Man United.
Definitely no regrets. Boxing was such a fantastic part of my life. I met so many decent people. The good far outweighed the bad. I just feel so blessed to have done something I loved so much for such a large part of my life.