‘Cradle of Champions’ subject James Wilkins relishes spotlight

“I loved to fight, so I knew if I could get away with it and not get in trouble, I was gonna do it.”

In high school, James Wilkins’ original sport of choice was football. After his first visit to a gym, he knew boxing would become his calling. For a time, he balanced the two sports, but eventually made the sweet science his full-time passion.

“I loved to fight, so I knew if I could get away with it and not get in trouble, I was gonna do it,” the Staten Island native told amNewYork.

Wilkins (5-0, 5 KOs) is one of three fighters featured prominently in the new documentary, “Cradle of Champions,” which centers on the 2015 New York Golden Gloves tournament. The film airs at 8 p.m. Friday on Showtime. Immediately after airing, the 22-year-old will face fellow unbeaten Misael Lopez (8-0, 4 KOs) in Shawnee, Oklahoma, on the ShoBox undercard.

While having a film crew follow your every move may be unnerving for some, Wilkins welcomed it and fed off the attention.

“There was no pressure because I love cameras,” Wilkins said. “I love being in the spotlight.”

After winning the 123-pound championship at the 2013 Golden Gloves, Wilkins returned two years later with his eyes on the 132-pound crown. He made it to the championship fight, where he lost to Titus Williams in a tight decision. It was a heartbreaking moment for Wilkins, nicknamed “Crunch Time,” who insists he bested his opponent that night. The outcome has shaped the early stages of his professional career.

“I know I won that fight,” Wilkins said. “I told myself when I go pro, I’m not leaving it in the judges’ hands. I’m just gonna knock everybody out.”

Wilkins has been a man of his word thus far, finishing all five opponents. His list of mentors in the sport is a short one: Roy Jones Jr. and Paulie Malignaggi, a Brooklyn native. He plans on becoming a 130-pound champion within the next year and, eventually, unifying the belts.

“I feel good,” he said. “I’m ready to fight and become a star.”

Michael Thompson