By Jake Donovan
The night came nearly five years ago, but Carlos Molina still remembers as if it just happened. The scorecards came in for his Telefutura-televised bout with Mike Alvarado in Feb. ‘07, resulting in his third straight loss.
In a span of 14 months, Molina had given Alvarado, Waylon Willingham and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr the toughest tests of their young careers (including a two-fight set with Chavez), yet had nothing to show for it other than a four-fight winless streak.
Enough was enough, Molina told his handlers – and himself – in the dressing room after the fight.
“I was 8-4 and had three losses in a row at that point,” Molina recalled in the moments after yet another hard-luck night. “I said to myself and to my team, ‘I don’t want to lose any more. I want to retire with four losses.’ Ever since then, I’ve had a 12-fight unbeaten streak.”
Among the streak that has run his record to 19-4-2 (6KO) None were bigger than his most recent performance, an upset decision win over former welterweight titlist Kermit Cintron. Molina didn’t just pull off the upset, but embarrassed the Puerto Rican over the course of their 10-round Showtime-aired bout last July.
What wasn’t as surprising was the aftermath – which was nothing at all. Even worse was the fact that Cintron went on to challenge for a title, facing Saul Alvarez in late November, where he was stopped inside of five rounds.
“Carlos beat a lot of guys he wasn’t expected to, and never got much in return. That Cintron went on to fight for the title, that’s the only one that bothered me,” notes Leon Margules, the Florida-based promoter and attorney who now guides Molina’s career and steered him towards his biggest fight yet.
While watching most of the rest of his peers close out 2011 with notable fights, Molina was stuck on the sidelines. Perhaps it was due to the fact that he can no longer sneak up on opponents – scoring a slew of upsets over an 11-fight stretch tends to remove the element of surprise.
Whatever the case, the Chicago-based Mexican caught a break when the right guy won a huge fight in November and was equally anxious to further himself against the best available opposition.
James Kirkland rose from a first round knockdown to score one of his own against Alfredo Angulo in what was widely regarded as the Round of the Year. The following five rounds saw the resurrection of Kirkland’s career, as he beat down his Mexican foe before forcing a stoppage in the 6th round of their HBO-televised November thriller.
No title was at stake, nor was Kirkland assured a title shot in exchange of a victory. What was instead ordered was a two-fight set, meaning that the last man standing among a four-fighter elimination bracket would eventually get a shot at reigning alphabet titlist Saul Alvarez. Maybe.
Title shot or not, Kirkland was the first – and really the only - one to respond to the memo that Molina was open to face anyone on the planet. The two fighters being who they are, it didn’t take long to make the fight official.
“I saw it on BoxingScene, believe it or not, that he was calling me out,” Molina noted. “We were trying to get a fight with Paul Williams, who is supposed to be fighting again in February (Williams is now slated to face Nohubiro Ishida). When that didn’t happen, we were thankful that the opportunity to face Kirkland came up.”
Opportunity soon became assignment quickly after the two sides begun to talk. Negotiations didn’t last long, since both sides were eager to make the fight.
“It’s a great opportunity for him to face Kirkland,” Margules states. “It’s a fight he’s deserving of and has waited a long time to receive. It’s a dangerous fight for both guys, but I like my guy’s chances. Give Carlos Molina enough time to prepare, and I firmly believe he beats anyone in the world.”
The struggle-free negotiations results in Molina making his HBO debut, though that moment has been put on hold. An ailment suffered by Erik Morales – who appears in the headliner against unbeaten Danny Garcia – pushed back the card by two months. The fight will still take place at the Reliant Center in Houston, with March 24 as the revised date.
The fight comes on the heels of a breakthrough 2011 campaign, even in sitting out for nearly the entire second half. The year began with a controversial 10-round draw against then-unbeaten Erislandy Lara on ESPN2’s Friday Night Fights, a performance praised enough to where his being selected by Cintron’s handlers as the opponent of choice came with a bit of surprise.
Wedged in between was a stay-busy knockout of Allen Conyers, giving Molina three fights in the span of 16 weeks, the type of ring activity he generally prefers. “If it were up to me, I’d fight 10-12 times per year.”
As his resume clearly indicates, it’s not up to him. Still, the forced hiatus from the ring comes with its silver lining, though it’s almost fitting that Molina’s big break comes with yet another obstacle.
Fortunately, this one is the least of his concerns. Even if it were that troublesome, the 28-year old learned long ago to look on the bright side.
“Stuff like that, I can’t control,” Molina states. “All you can do is stay positive and just keep rolling with the punches. The delay now gives me two more months to train for this fight.”
The extension gives Molina the longest training camp of his career, which is to say that he even gets to enjoy a training camp at all.
The norm throughout his eight-plus year career has gone as follows: go to the gym, train every day. Go home, wait by the phone in hopes that a fight is offered. By the time one is offered, there is usually only enough time to get down to fighting weight and hopefully show up fight-ready. What the opponent brings to the table is a mystery until the opening bell.
“That’s the biggest difference for this fight. We still train the same way, but now even harder and with more notice. I’m used to fighting a guy on three weeks of notice or less. Now we have time to study his moves and come prepared for anything he has to offer.”
A win in March presumably puts Molina one fight away from his first shot at a major title. But even if that doesn’t happen, the main goal is to remain on this level, as opposed to just showing up only to find out he’s in way over his head, as has been the case with several past HBO opponents on the heels of a big win.
“I want to fight for the world title. If it doesn’t happen, I want to fight the best at 154 no matter who it is. Not even the champ, just because you’re the champ you’re not the best. I want to be a world champ, but I don’t want a belt handed to me. I want to do it because I beat the best. If I can’t beat Kirkland, then I don’t deserve to fight for the championship.”
Spoken like a true old-school soul. Earn your keep and rise to the top, rather than seeking out the path of least resistance.
Such mentality has been detected by his peers, especially those who constantly find themselves on the outside looking in despite a willingness to take on all comers.
“I love seeing guys like Molina getting (title eliminator) shots,” commented Ishe Smith, a Contender-star turned gatekeeper in recent years. “It shows me that the sport is not completely dead. I just hope he capitalizes on it, though.”
Should he prevail in March, you can best believe that Molina won’t rest on his laurels. It’s taken him too far to get to this point, having climbed to the top virtually on his own terms.
That he’s become the face of the ‘little guy’ staring down the bullies of the business world, is what helps get him through any night the moment his head hits the pillow.
“It means a lot to me,” Molina says of the newfound cult hero status. “I’m a humble fighter and take it fight by fight. I train hard and prove that I’m the best at 154. I’m not just here to say I was on HBO once. I want to stay there and I want to win – and win big.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to [email protected]