By Lyle Fitzsimmons
He’s been a professional fighter for eight years, with little fanfare.
But Steve Rolls might just have himself a career selling the power of positive thinking.
The 35-year-old Canadian concedes to having episodes of doubt so intense that they’ve prompted him to consider other occupations, but he’s always been able to persevere thanks to a persistent belief that dedication to craft – even in obscurity – would ultimately be rewarded.
“I’ll be honest. There are times when it’s like, ‘Man, come on already.’ Because I’m always in the gym. I’m one of those guys, I’m in the gym all year-round,” he said. “But continuously being in the gym when things aren’t going your way, and especially at an advanced age at 35 – even though at 35 I feel great – yeah, you starting thinking, ‘Should I start looking and searching to do something else?’
“Those thoughts do run through your mind. But at the end of the day I push those thoughts out and I keep telling myself that something’s going to happen.
“And then this came to my doorstep.”
This, in Rolls’ case, means a Madison Square Garden main event opposite ex-middleweight kingpin Gennady Golovkin, who’ll begin his climb back toward a would-be third match with Canelo Alvarez on June 8. It’s the first fight under the DAZN broadcast banner for the popular Kazakh, and the unbeaten Rolls – with 10 KOs in 19 fights – was made public as the opponent early last week.
Though the reaction hasn’t exactly been cordial in the Toronto resident’s direction.
“It was the beginning of April that the opportunity was presented to me. I heard it was between me and a couple of other guys,” he said. “As soon as they told me it’s a possibility and asked, ‘Would you be interested?’ I jumped right on it right away. I’ve always wanted it. I’ve been asking to fight guys with names in order to get my recognition and get my name out there.
“I’ve been asking for a lot of guys in the top 20 and stuff. I wasn’t really asking for Golovkin or Canelo because I didn’t think that would be possible, but at the end of the day that was my goal – to fight the best middleweights in the world.
“When that opportunity came up, I was like, ‘Man, I can’t less this pass me by.’”
Predictably, Golovkin opened as a gigantic favorite – it’ll take a $5,000 outlay to win $100 on him via Bovada, for example – compared to Rolls, who’s slotted 54th in the division by the Independent World Boxing Rankings and has never beaten an opponent ranked higher than 80th.
Golovkin, for those unaware, wore four title belts at various times between 2011 and 2018.
“If your name isn’t Canelo, Charlo, Andrade or Jacobs, I think whoever he’s going to fight is going to catch a lot of criticism,” Rolls said. “I think a lot of people are undervaluing me because they don’t know who I am. How can you value anything you don’t know about?
“I don’t think that Golovkin is going to walk through me at all. I’m coming to fight. I’m not coming to lay down to anybody. With that being said, I know Gennady Golovkin and I know what I’m up against. I’ve got Mount Everest ahead of me in this fight. He’s one of the best middleweights in the world, if not the best, but I definitely think I’ve caught a lot of flack and a lot of things that I haven’t deserved.”
Boxing Scene caught up with Rolls shortly after the fight announcement to discuss his reaction to criticism, his pedigree as a world-class sparring partner and the sorts of preparation he’ll undergo as he approaches the biggest fight of his career.
BoxingScene.com: Clearly, Golovkin has a world-class reputation and people instantly went online and bashed the fight. You see it and you recognize it. Does it frustrate you, does it make you angry, does it motivate you? What does talk like that do to you?
Steve Rolls: It does motivate me. It is kind of frustrating because I feel I’ve been getting a lot of negative stuff to the point where it’s like, ‘Don’t let it bug you, don’t pay it no mind, don’t let it get to you.’ I feel if this was anybody else or if I was fighting on an undercard against somebody or another top name or whatever the case may be, I think people would be interested and be like, ‘OK who’s this Rolls guy? Let’s see what he’s about.’ But since the Golovkin fight was announced, I know a lot of people are criticizing Gennady for taking me because my name’s generally not known to the boxing public. And I’m catching the flack of it. I’m basically the butt of a Golovkin joke. It’s been kind of frustrating, man. I ain’t gonna lie. Because I know I’m no bum or no tomato can. I’ve been waiting for an opportunity like this and I know I can fight. I think everybody’s going to be pretty surprised on June 8.
BoxingScene.com: You’ve sparred with guys who’ve had world championships and other pretty high-level guys. How does it prepare you for a situation like this?
Rolls: It definitely prepares you. Over the years I’ve been in the ring with numerous world champions. I know sparring’s sparring, but at the same time it kind of gives you an idea where you’re at. What level you’re at. And I’ve done well with every world champion that’s been put in the ring with me. I definitely think that really helps with experience, it definitely helps with your confidence when you’re coming into a situation like this. It’s obviously a big step up from the competition I’ve fought to go right to the mountain, but I feel like I’ll handle the situation properly. We’ll have to see on June 8.
BoxingScene.com: The guys you’ve fought are not on a Golovkin level. Is it the sparring that helps bridge the gap, because a lot of people would say the quality of opposition alone is why this isn’t a great match? Do the sparring sessions with Stevenson and Saunders and other guys make you qualified for this fight?
Rolls: Yes. Definitely. I definitely feel that helps and they’ve helped prepare me and make me feel like I’m qualified for this fight. I’ve been sparing these guys for a while and I feel like I’ve been on this level for quite some time now. I definitely feel that it qualifies me and it’s gonna help me for this fight.
BoxingScene.com: What do the next six-plus weeks look like? Is it a fairly routine process between here and fight night with you getting ready? Do you speed things up? What does it look like from here until June?
Rolls: Basically it’s just going to be a lot of sparring and a lot of strategic preparation for the fight. My road word and strength and conditioning, of course, but a lot of sparring. We’re going to break down the specifics for the fight.
BoxingScene.com: You referred to him as Mount Everest, which is hard enough. Then you throw in the fact that it’s a Garden main event, which is probably a little nerve-wracking in itself. How do you get ready for that part – the mental part, the spotlight, the media – which is something I’m guessing you’re not quite used to?
Rolls: It’s something that you just prepare for. I’m still preparing every day. I’m doing a lot of visualizing and stuff like that. Fighting on that stage. Visualizing right now, me walking to the ring. Just everything. The whole thing. I’m just taking it in and preparing myself mentally for this night. Because this is as big as it gets.
BoxingScene.com: Win, lose or draw, a Golovkin fight is a punishing fight because of his style alone. How do you mentally get ready for that part of it? Just the fact that you’re in there with a guy who’s going to touch you a bit. Is that a different kind of visual preparation than if he was a guy who was slick and going to jab and move a lot?
Rolls: Definitely. I think you’d feel the same way about any top middleweight, but especially Golovkin because he’s very strong and aggressive. I know it’s going to be a grueling fight. I know it’s going to be a very grueling fight. But I continue to tell myself that I’m willing to do anything to get this victory. So I continue to prepare myself mentally and put myself in different scenarios. In my head I’m going to continue to do so in camp.
BoxingScene.com: What kind of impact will you make in Ontario if you win this fight? Have you considered that?
Rolls: I think not only in Canada, I think worldwide. Somebody that came from nowhere and knocked off one of the best middleweights in the past decade. I think it’d be worldwide quite a shock. But definitely in Canada. The fighters that we do have that come out of Canada come out of Quebec, like Adonis and Pascal. We haven’t had a lot of names come out of Ontario. We do have talent down here and the boxing scene down here is starting to rise, but it’d be good to shine some light and get some cameras coming toward us. It would definitely be a huge, huge, huge, humongous thing.
BoxingScene.com: You talk a lot about visualization. What does success look like on June 8? What do you need to do to deal with and to beat a guy who’s obviously a known commodity like him?
Rolls: The most important thing is just being mentally strong. You can go through different scenarios. You can have different game plans, but what happens if something doesn’t work? You’re going to be forced to adjust. You’re going to have to be mentally strong and prepare to go in there with a guy like Golovkin and come out with your hand raised.
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This week’s legit title-fight schedule:
IBF/WBA junior featherweight/super bantamweight titles – Inglewood, California
TJ Doheny (IBF champ/No. 6 IWBR) vs. Daniel Roman (WBA champ/No. 3 IWBR)
Doheny (21-0, 15 KO): Second title defense; Four KO/TKO wins in four U.S. fights (20 total rounds)
Roman (26-2-1, 10 KO): Fourth title defense; Unbeaten in scheduled 12-rounders (5-0, 2 KO)
Fitzbitz says: It’s hard to argue with the record that the Australia-based Irishman has racked up, but we’re seeing Roman as more well-rounded and thus capable of taking the 0. Roman by decision (70/30)
WBC super flyweight title – Inglewood, California
Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (champion/No. 1 IWBR) vs. Juan Francisco Estrada (No. 1 WBC/No. 3 IWBR)
Sor Rungvisai (47-4-1, 41 KO): Fourth title defense; Defeated Estrada (MD 12) in second title defense
Estrada (38-3, 26 KO): Ninth title fight (6-2); Held WBA/WBO titles at 112 pounds (five defenses)
Fitzbitz says: The champ has got everything going for him. Acclaim, momentum, a victory in the last meeting. But the vibe here is that Estrada wins and sets up a trio fight. Estrada by decision (65/25)
Vacant IBO/WBA lightweight titles – Las Vegas, Nevada
Robert Easter Jr. (No. 7 IBO/No. 2 IWBR) vs. Rances Barthelemy (Unranked IBO/Unranked IWBR)
Easter (21-1, 14 KO): Sixth title fight (4-1); None of 14 career stoppages after round 6
Barthelemy (27-1, 14 KO): Fifth title fight (3-1); First fight at lightweight limit since 2016
Fitzbitz says: I’ve liked Barthelemy, probably too much. But he’s not skilled enough to offset all of Easter’s offense and not active enough to win a decision if it gets there. Easter by decision (85/15)
WBA/WBO bantamweight titles – Lafayette, Louisiana
Nonito Donaire (WBA champ/No. 7 IWBR) vs. Zolani Tete (WBO champ/No. 3 IWBR)
Donaire (39-5, 25 KO): First title defense; Winner in 14 of 17 career title fights (14-3, 8 KO)
Tete (28-3, 21 KO): Fourth title defense; Fighting in his seventh country in 32nd career fight
Fitzbitz says: Donaire has a sparkling resume and goodwill to the moon, but the belief here is that recent success has been more the result of prudent matchmaking. It ends this weekend. Tete in 10 (85/15)
WBA super lightweight title – Lafayette, Louisiana
Kiryl Relikh (champion/No. 6 IWBR) vs. Regis Prograis (No. 5 WBA/No. 2 IWBR)
Relikh (23-2, 19 KO): Second title defense; Two of 19 career KOs in scheduled 12-rounders
Prograis (23-0, 19 KO): First title fight; Only one time past eight rounds in 23 career fights
Fitzbitz says: Relikh will tell you he can win, as will his friends, family and colleagues. But he’s up against everything here. Big prospect, home crowd, momentum for days. Spells new champ. Prograis in 9 (95/5)
Last week's picks: 1-0 (WIN: Crawford)
2019 picks record: 29-3 (90.6 percent)
Overall picks record: 1,041-346 (75.0 percent)
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.