SUCH is the size of Josh Kelly’s step up in class this Saturday (March 31) in Cardiff, you’d be forgiven for thinking the man in the opposite corner, Mexico’s Carlos Molina, feels a little insulted to have been cherry-picked by a five-bout novice. “Who does he think he is?” he might ask. “Who does he think I am?”
But Carlos Molina, a former IBF world super-welterweight champion, is made of tougher stuff and sees the crossroads match as an opportunity rather than a slap in the face. Win, after all, and he bucks a run of two straight defeats. Better yet, win and Molina instantly elevates himself back into the big time and puts himself in line for future fights against other prospects eager to add his name to an otherwise shallow resume.
“I knew I’d have to fight and beat a prospect to get back to the top,” he told Boxing News. “I just didn’t know it would be a prospect with only five fights on his record. That was the only surprise.”
Fighting a neophyte with just five fights on his record comes with its drawbacks. You might be up on experience, but try getting hold of footage of a boxer yet to go beyond seven rounds, who has gone the distance only once, and the mission invariably leads to frustration. Worse, it means you’re going in blind.
“I’ve seen some stuff but there’s not too much out there,” moaned Molina.
“From what I’ve seen, Kelly does a lot of good things and looks real good when he’s fighting these guys but he’s also looking good because the competition he’s facing is not the best. He’s so good already, in just five fights, that he’s able to do that to them and make it look impressive. A lot of that is to do with the amateur experience he has, though.
“It would be the same if I was given all those opponents he’s fighting now at this stage of my career. I’ve got all this experience and it would be easy for me.
“We still don’t know much about Kelly. I mean, when it gets hard, what do you do? How do you react? How do you bounce back? Does he fall? Does he keep going? We’ll soon find out.”
Molina knows all about getting hit hard and falling and bouncing back. He has made a career of it, and wins against the likes of Ishe Smith, Cory Spinks and Kermit Cintron owe everything to it. His perseverance and durability is what sets him apart, in fact. It’s what has taken him to a 28-8-2 (8) professional record and is what currently drives him to turn his fortunes around and get back to winning ways.
“The defeats hurt a lot,” he said. “You don’t know exactly how to deal with it. You can’t believe it in a way. But at the same time it made me refocus and go back to what I used to do; the things that made me successful.
“After those last two fights, even though they were close decisions, I went back and tried to think about what was missing and what I was doing wrong. I felt like I needed to regroup and that’s exactly what I did. I’ve been training nonstop.
“When they asked me about this fight four weeks ago, I was already in top shape. I was near my weight; everything was good. When they asked me if I wanted this fight, it was almost like it was destiny. It was perfect.”
Therein lies Carlos Molina’s secret; the thing only he and those around him knew at the time. If the assumption was that the Mexican was hauling himself off the couch at four weeks’ notice, it was the wrong one to make. He was, instead, already in shape. Not far off fighting weight. For all intents and purposes, waiting by the phone.
“No, I don’t think so,” he said when asked if Kelly’s team were aware he was in training. “Not many boxers do that. But I know what it takes now and I’ve done it before. When I had a contract dispute with Don King I was out the ring for a year and a half. Who was the first guy I fought when I came back? Erislandy Lara (a gifted Cuban Molina fought to a draw in 2011). Â
“Look, things happen for a reason. I lost my last two fights, but if I’d won those two fights, I probably wouldn’t be here right now.”
The second assumption is this: Carlos Molina, now 34 years of age, is washed up, a spent force, far removed from the marauding, awkward, suffocating nuisance who scooped the IBF super-welterweight title in 2013. He has lost two on the bounce and therefore is ripe for the picking. Go get him, Josh.
The reality, however, is more along the lines of this:
“It is the latter stage of my career but I feel younger than most boxers my age,” Molina explained. “I always work my defence. Even in those tough fights, I never took a lot of flush punches. If they were flush, I would have been in trouble because some of those guys were big hitters. I work my defence in sparring and in fights. It’s important.
“I take care of myself. I don’t do drugs or drink or stay up late. I’m a family man. I feel like all that stuff people don’t see adds up. I’m a young 34. I also started late in boxing.
“I think my training is smarter now. Before, no matter what, I always worked as hard as I could even if I felt tired or bad. I’d run myself into the ground and it wasn’t good for me. Now I listen to my body and I’m much better as a result of that.”
It’s not just talk. Molina, in person, appeared bright, sharp, and spoke lucidly. His skin was smooth and boasted the glow of a man who not only seems to have made the 147-pound weight with ease but, as suggested, has an uncanny knack of avoiding punishment and wear and tear. He did indeed look younger than his 34 years.
But whether this is enough to stop the meteoric rise of ‘Pretty Boy’ Kelly, a former Olympian whose appearance makes Molina seem positively ancient, remains to be seen. On Saturday night, we find out. We find out if Josh Kelly is as special as everyone says he is, and we find out whether Carlos Molina is still the Carlos Molina of old.
“I visualise putting a lot of pressure on Josh Kelly – smart pressure,” Molina said. “I can’t give him the chance to do all the slick stuff he likes to do. I can’t let him think; I can’t let him breathe. But at the same time I’m doing that I’ve got to be moving my head and watching my defence. I want him to be thinking in round three or four, ‘Damn, what is this? We’ve got to do ten rounds!’
“That’s the plan.”