McKinley Park resident Carlos Molina is preparing for the biggest fight… (Hilary Higgins/RedEye )
Two weeks before Christmas, Carlos Molina got a call that could change the course of his athletic career.
The Chicago boxer's promoter was on the line, and he had good news. Molina was slated for a International Boxing Federation world title eliminator bout Feb. 1. Even better: It would be broadcast live on ESPN's "Friday Night Fights." Even better than that: It would be in the 29-year-old's hometown, at the UIC Pavilion.
After learning to box at age 18—considered late for a fighter—and turning pro after only seven amateur fights, Molina's chances for success were slim by most standards.
That changed in 2005, when in his 10th professional fight, Molina traveled to Monterrey, Mexico, to face Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., son of the Mexican boxing icon. Chavez Jr. was 23-0 at the time and Molina was booed as he entered the ring. However, after dominating Chavez Jr. for six rounds, the crowd began chanting Molina's name.
That bout, though ruled a draw, helped pave the way to Friday's fight against Cory Spinks, the biggest in Molina's career.
"I picture in my head winning a world title, and [Friday] is the first step to reaching my goal," said Molina, who boxes in the light middleweight division (154 pounds). It's the same weight class as Floyd Mayweather.
"I set my goals high and that's definitely what I want. Not even just for me, for everybody that has helped me. I can't go out and say I did it all myself. I've had a tough road; my trainers have always been with me. … I want to see the smile on my trainer's face and my mom and dad's, my family and everybody that has supported me."
How did he get this far? RedEye examines what makes Molina the boxer he is.
Molina (20-5-2) is gym rat; he never stops training between bouts. When Molina has a fight scheduled, his training escalates from four days a week to a minimum of four hours a day, six days a week. He travels from his McKinley Park home to either LA Boxing in the South Loop or 8 Count Gym in Ukrainian Village, depending on the day.
Molina's trainer, Victor Mateo, straps on a foam body pad and boxing gloves. Molina rips combination punches to Mateo's mitts and body while Mateo attempts to smack him in the face.
"My fighters always move their heads," Mateo said. "If not, I slap ’em. I hate to see my boxers get hit."
Molina's training also consists of leaping on boxes and doing squats and jump-rope routines. Then, of course, there's running.
"I just kill myself in everything I do," Molina said. "I run until my lungs are burning so bad I can't stand it. I also go by how I feel. If I feel good, I may go 10, 12 miles [after training]."
Four weeks from the fight date, Molina's sparring begins—more than 80 rounds over three weeks.
Molina spars 15 straight rounds on Saturdays against rotating opponents. This time, Molina used Chicagoan Kenny Sims Jr., a former national amateur champion who nearly qualified for the 2012 Olympic team; and Dimar Ortuz, an undefeated local cruiserweight (175- to 200-pound division).
"I like to mix it up, because Dimar is so big and strong," Molina said. "He tires me out then Kenny comes in, so quick and fast and I have to go hunt him."
Even after all those rounds, Molina's endurance impresses Freddy Cuevas, his strength and conditioning coach.
"Carlos has incredible lung capacity; he's part Kenyan or something," Cuevas said.
Molina and his team have watched plenty of tape on Spinks, who presents an unusual challenge because he is left-handed. However, Molina's last two victories came over lefties, and Sims Jr. and Ortuz were selected for sparring because they're left-handed.
Spinks is a former five-time world champion who's struggled of late; current champion Cornelius Bundrage knocked Spinks out twice in the past two years. Molina isn't known as a hard puncher, but his goal for Friday's fight is simple.
"They say I don't have much power, but I'm really working on sitting down on my punches for this fight, especially when he's on the ropes," Molina said. "I want the knockout. That's what we're going for. I'll make him miss and put constant pressure on him. And as soon as he misses, I'll make him pay. I'm going to break him down and get him out of there."
Being an underdog is nothing new for Molina. He was born in Michoacan, Mexico, before his family immigrated to Chicago when he was 3. Living in Little Village in the shadow of Cook County Jail, Molina's parents had to work long hours in factory jobs to keep a roof over the family's head.
"Growing up that way was tough, but my family instilled a very strong work ethic in me," Molina said. "That and their support has helped me get here."
Now he has a family of his own. Not a fan of the limelight, Molina spends as much time as he can at home with his fiancée, Sarah, their 8-year-old son, Christian, and their Pomeranian, Popeye.
Of course, the training and pressure take their toll, which is not lost on the boxer.
"I come home so tired," Molina said. "I can't spend as much time as I want to with them. So after a big fight I always take them up to Wisconsin Dells and we just get a cabin and we go to the water park. It's just us, family time. It's my chance to try and make it up to them."
Bill Hillmann is a RedEye special contributor.
'FRIDAY NIGHT FIGHTS'
Carlos Molina vs. Cory Spinks
12-round IBF title eliminator bout
8 p.m. Friday, ESPN2
Tickets: $31-$151, available at uicpavilion.com
TALE OF THE TAPE
Here are the vital stats heading into Friday's fight between Carlos Molina and Cory Spinks. (Source: boxrec.com)
Hometown: St. Louis
Record: 39-7 (11 knockouts)
Height: 5 feet, 9 1/2 inches
Reach: 71 inches
Record: 20-5-2 (6 knockouts)
Height: 5 feet, 9 inches
Reach: 70 inches
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