Carlos Molina has had one of those careers: He's respected as a fighter's fighter but has a knack for hard-luck losses. On Saturday against Ishe Smith, though, he'll finally get his shot at a world title.
Throughout his 10-year pro career, Carlos Molina has never been given a free ride. He’s been on the wrong side of several dubious decisions against the likes of Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. (twice), Erislandy Lara and Mike Alvarado, and, having signed with Don King, spent two years lost in boxing's wilderness.
Molina always felt that to get to the promised land of a world title he’d have to become a mandatory with one of the sanctioning bodies. Finally, he did just that.
When he was able to turn back the challenge of Cory Spinks back in February, winning a near shutout decision over the former two-weight champion in what was a rare home appearance in Chicago, he became the IBF mandatory challenger to Ishe Smith.
Molina, whose record is a modest 21-5-2 with six wins inside the distance, had just seven amateur bouts and often learned on the job as a pro, with some of those lessons coming by way of hard-luck decisions on the road. But he doesn't dwell on the defeats. “I don’t like to stay in the past with any of my fights,” he said. “I just move on, keep on improving, keep on going to the gym and working on my defense and everything. I just don’t let anything phase me or bother me”.
Now he has his opportunity, meeting Ishe Smith for the IBF title on Sept. 14 as part of the Mayweather-Alvarez card in Las Vegas. “Ishe’s good all around,” said Molina. “He‘ll make you miss and he‘ll try to come back with something. I think that’s his best strength.” He then added, “But what I see is I think he at times tends to wait too long, he tries to counter you all the time.”
After the original July date fell through when Smith was cut in sparring, the fight was moved on to "The One" undercard and will appear on the pay-per-view segment of the show this Saturday.
Anson Wainwright: You challenge Ishe Smith for his IBF junior middleweight title. What are your thoughts on that fight?
Carlos Molina: It’s a fight I wanted. That’s our goal for a world title from day one, to fight for a world title. I’m just happy to have the opportunity, but more than anything I just want to go in there and do it, win it, then I’ll feel more satisfied.
AW: When you break Smith down as a fighter what do you see, as both strengths and weaknesses?
CM: Ishe’s good all around, he’s a good boxer, defensively, all around. He’s a good fighter. He’s a counter puncher he wants you to come in on him then he‘ll attack, he‘ll make you miss and he‘ll try to come back with something, I think that’s his best strength. But what I see is I think he at times tends to wait too long, he tries to counter you all the time. So if you put pressure on him and outwork him (you can) win every round.
AW: The fight was originally scheduled to headline on Shobox in July. Smith was injured and the fight was called off, and now it takes place on the undercard of "The One." Firstly, how did the shift in dates effect you, and what does it mean to you to appear on such an illustrious card?
CM: When it was first announced it was postponed I was ready for anything. I don't get happy and excited until I get in the fight and actually win the fight. This is boxing and you never know what happens, and that was one case where he got cut, it got postponed and pushed back. It wasn't the first time it's happened in one of my fights so I was prepared for anything. When it happened it actually worked out to be a good thing because right now I’m in better shape than I was July 19, so I feel it happened for a reason. I turned it into a positive and I feel I’m in better shape now, I’m sharp in the gym, I’m feeling good. I’m looking forward to being on this card, hopefully making history, hopefully they break the (PPV) record, it'll be good to be on a card like that and make a statement, that's what I want to do, and let everyone know I feel I’m the best at 154 pounds.
AW: I spoke with Ishe Smith and he said that when he won the title you were one of the guys he wanted to fight because he respected what you have done in boxing and haven’t received any breaks. He said he didn’t have to fight you in his first defense because he could have fought a voluntary defense before meeting you in the fall.
CM: Well, In a way it’s not true, though. The thing that happened was that in order for (Cornelius) Bundrage & Ishe Smith to fight, they both agreed that the winner would fight the winner of my fight with Cory Spinks. So it was agreed before the fight. That was the only way the IBF allowed them to fight, if they fought the mandatory between Cory and me. Whatever. As long as it’s happening I’m happy.
AW: With your style and the fact you’re 30, you’ve had to really work for this title shot. Do you feel you have to make the absolute most of this chance because getting a second bite at the cherry may be very tough?
CM: Yes, we worked this hard to get ourselves to be the number one spot, to be the mandatory and we figured that’s probably the only way we were going to get a shot at the title. I take this fight like any fight. Before I was always training for a world championship fight, and I’m not going to let this pass by.
AW: You beat Cory Spinks to become the IBF mandatory in February. Looking back, what can you tell us about that fight?
CM: It was the first time I ever did a main event in my hometown. I’m usually out traveling, fighting everybody in their hometown. It was nice to be fighting in Chicago. The plan was to take it to him and put pressure on him. That’s pretty much our plan with everyone: put pressure on them and win every round, and if you see a knock out then go for it.
AW: Tell us about your camp for this fight. What’s a typical day?
CM: The news broke a few days before the 4th of July weekend so I took it off from the gym, but I still ran, swam, I took a few days off but not too many. I don't want to lose momentum I have. We cut back a little on sparring but then this past month we picked it up again. You don't want to burn out but you don't want to stop completely and have to start over.
We started in May. We've been working all summer long on conditioning, sparring, running. I always stay in the gym, maintain the weight – I don’t like to get too heavy. I’ve trained in Chicago; I feel comfortable in my house, we always have camp in my hometown. I have some local guys – Paul Littleton, Ed Brown, Adrian Granados – and one of my friends I always have sparring; he’s a cruiserweight. I like sparring with bigger guys. Once you get to a fight they're not as strong as him so I use that for strength, another couple of guys for speed and movement – we got a good team. I go up a little bit, I would say my walk-around weight in 167, 168 but as soon as we start training hard that comes off fast. I don’t like to be more than 10, 15 pounds overweight.
AW: You’re a fighter's fighter, you have many people’s respect in boxing because you’ve always fought everyone: Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. twice, Mike Alvarado, Erislandy Lara, James Kirkland, etc. Can you tell us a little about your mentality because you always appear to test yourself and will fight anyone.
CM: Yeah, that’s been my mentality since day one. I want to fight the best. No matter what I do, I want to do my best and boxing – I’m very competitive. When they offered me the Chavez Jr. fight I only had eight or nine fights. I was real happy so I took it right away – the tougher the fight the more I want it. It happened with Kirkland; they said he was a monster. Every time I’m fighting someone they tell me he’s this or he’s that, I love it. It drives me even more, makes me work even harder. It makes me a better competitor.
AW: Could you share your thoughts on a couple of those tough breaks?
CM: Yeah, well, the first Chavez fight I thought I won no doubt, the second one was closer; that could have been a draw. And Alvarado, I felt like I did enough to win but it didn’t go my way. I felt I left it too close. I shouldn’t have let it be too close. At that point I had four loses in a row, they were all real close decisions. That’s when we changed everything – the mindset of what we had to do. I’m not going to let this happen again, I’m not going to lose close fights. My goal was to win every single round and that’s been our plan ever since. Then we fought Lara ... I wanted to fight someone after being off two years that would bring me right back where I left off. I won the NABO belt, I signed with Don King, then I’d been off two years. Fighting Lara, I was using that to put me in his spot where he was at. He was considered a top prospect and I felt like I won that fight also. He never hit me. I’d fight him again but we’ll see what happens – maybe down the line we’ll meet each other.
Kirkland, that tops it off. I’ve been robbed with close decisions. I felt like I had been through everything, so coming in I knew I was going to his hometown and he was going to be the favorite – just the same thing I have been through before – but I never expected it to be a disqualification loss the way it happened. That’s another thing I’m ready for next time; now I’m even more alert to anything. I felt like I was winning the fight and wish I had a chance to finish the fight and come out victorious. It happens for a reason. Maybe we’ll meet down the line and if we do I feel I’ll do even better. I would like to avenge all my loses if I could, if it’s possible. If not I want to fight the best and you never know where it takes you.
I don’t like to stay in the past with any of my fights. I just move on, keep on improving, keep on going to the gym and working on my defense and everything. I just don’t let anything phase me or bother me.
AW: You were born in Mexico. Could you tell us about your younger days and then progress to moving to Chicago, how old were you, etc.
CM: As a kid I don’t even remember my life there. I was brought to Chicago when I was 3 or 4 years old. My dad had a good job over there in Mexico but he got into an accident when he was on his bike with my older brother. Thank God nothing too serious happened to them. After that he stopped working in Mexico and my uncle was in the United States in Chicago – he told my dad there’s a lot of work over here so that’s when he decided to move over here. When they did it was kind of tough for them because when they did it was just my mom and my dad. They came out here for nine months to get settled in, get a job and get some money so they could bring my brother and me to Chicago. So after nine months without your parents, I don’t remember that, but for them not having your kids for that long must have been tough, working minimum wage trying to live the American dream, they did what they had to do.
AW: How did you first get into boxing?
CM: Actually I was older, when I started boxing. I was 18 when I had my first amateur fight. I always watched boxing, the pay-per-views like the Tyson fights, the Chavez Sr. fights, stuff like that. I just started watching it everyday, I became an obsessive fan of boxing – anytime there was fights I watched. Then I was like, 'that’s what I want to do.' I told my mom when we were watching TV, I was like, 'look Mom you’re going to see me there one of these days.' She just kinda said alright that’ll be nice. That’s when I decided what I want to do.
AW: So did you have much amateur experience before going pro?
CM: I had seven amateur fights. That had something to do with my mindset and just my inexperience with some of my early losses. I felt like after so many fights I’m still improving every fight. Now I only have 28 pro fights plus my 7 amateur fights, that’s 35 overall. There are people with hundreds of amateur fights and then they turn pro. I still feel every fight I’m getting better. There’s still room for improvement from me.
AW: When you look at the junior middleweight division what are your thoughts on it and the current champions?
CM: I love being in this division because they say this is one of the toughest divisions in boxing. I agree, too. I see the top ten in THE RING magazine or any organization and it’s stacked, everywhere there’s a hard fight if you’re fighting the guys in the top ten. That’s where I want to be, right now you’ve got Canelo as THE RING champ and the WBC, you’ve got Mayweather – they’re fighting each other. Canelo, that’s a fight we always wanted before he beat Kermit Cintron. That kind of got me thinking I beat Kermit Cintron and Kermit Cintron got the shot at Canelo so why not me? It’s almost like they don’t see me, to them I don’t exist, they don’t want to fight. Even when they’re talking about opponents for Canelo they’re not mentioning my name. What have I got to prove? Whatever it is I’m going to prove. All I can do is keep on winning and control what I can do, sooner or later they’re going to have to (fight me). I would love to fight the winner of Canelo-Mayweather but right now I’m worried about Ishe Smith. I want the IBF belt and then we’ll see if we can get them all.
AW: How do you see Floyd Mayweather-Saul Alvarez going?
CM: Canelo’s young, but I don’t know if he’s fast enough on his feet to get to Mayweather. I don’t know, there's any possible outcome. I say definitely Mayweather should be the favorite on this one. Unless Canelo catches him, but Mayweather’s too slick for Canelo, he’s faster on his feet, stepping in. They say Canelo gets tired. I don’t think he’s going to get tired in this one because Mayweather’s not as aggressive a fighter as other fighters, so I don’t think Canelo is going to have a problem with stamina. It should be an interesting fight, I look forward to watching it. Mayweather over twelve rounds.
AW: Away from boxing what do you enjoy doing?
CM: Right now I’m a family man, I have my 9-year-old son. He's got out of school so we can go on vacation. I live with my fiancee. I like to do a lot of running, watch movies, play video games to relax. Right now in camp, it’s work hard then relaxing. We like to go camping; we have something scheduled for two weeks after my fight. My son likes to do that. We’re going to Wisconsin, the water parks, maybe get a cabin, that’s what we do in the summer. When I’m resting I’m just playing video games on the Xbox. It was hard at the beginning of my career. Over the last year and a half or so I’ve been lucky. I’ve been making enough money boxing where I get by and doing good. Before it was hard, I used to work 12 hours a day. I used to be a welder plus having to go to the gym and run – there goes your whole day. There’s times when I used to not even see my son awake because when I got home he was sleeping. It was rough. That’s why I’m appreciative of all the free time I have now to give to my family and be around them.
AW: In closing do you have a message for Ishe Smith ahead of your fight?
CM: I’m just looking forward to this fight. I’m going to be in the best shape, he’s going to be ready and let the best man win.
Photos by Naoki Fukuda (1); Bob Levey-Gettyimages (2-4)
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