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Teofilo Stevenson vs. Muhammad Ali: The Greatest Fight That Never Was

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What do you make of the man who turned down millions upon millions of dollars, and the chance to see if he was better than The Greatest?

Teófilo Stevenson won his first Olympic gold medal in 1972 and his last world amateur championship in 1986. He won 302 fights and once went an unbelievable 11 years without a loss. Had Cuba not boycotted the 1984 Summer Olympics, many think Stevenson would have won an unmatched four gold medals in boxing. Stevenson had already flattened the eventual 1984 gold medalist Tyrell Biggs twice.

An offer to fight Muhammad Ali came after Stevenson won his second Olympic gold in Montreal in 1976. Stevenson was at his peak. The world had never seen a heavyweight with the tools Stevenson brought into the ring. He was bigger (6'5″, 220 pounds) and deadlier than George Foreman, yet boxed with effortless grace and intelligence. Prior to Montreal, Stevenson had demolished every opponent that stood before him, relying on one of the most lethal right hands ever seen in boxing.

American promoters offered him five million dollars to turn pro and challenge Muhummad Ali. He refused.

He said of the offer, “What is one million dollars compared to the love of eight million Cubans?”

Stevenson died at the age of 60 in Havana on June 11.

* * *

I traveled to Cuba with the intention of speaking with boxers who had turned down enormous offers to leave. When explaining my project to people, again and again I was met with amusement and skepticism. I heard the same sentiment repeated everywhere I looked for fighters: “Something must be wrong with you. The only journalists who come here for a story are looking at why we leave.”

Which makes sense. That very common journalistic approach argues against Cuba's values and attempts to undermine them. But I wasn't interested in that side of the story. Anyone can see why an elite athlete would want to leave a small, impoverished country where their skills were effectively uncashed winning lottery tickets. All they had to do was wash ashore almost anywhere else in the world and cash in. Yet the vast majority of Cuban boxers—and Cuban athletes in general—despite that incentive, stayed.

Was the decision to stay in Cuba honest? Could anyone, let alone an Olympic champion, turn down that much money without being either brainwashed or afraid for their lives or the lives of loved ones if they defected? I wanted to speak to the people themselves who had faced down that decision and lived with the consequences.

When I interviewed Teófilo Stevenson in his modest house—often reported as a mansion that Fidel Castro gave him—in a leafy Havana neighborhood, I asked him why he stayed.

“If people cannot understand how someone can turn down millions of dollars for a matter of principle, who seems brainwashed to you?”

“Forget the money then. As a competitor, don't you wish you ever had a chance to fight the best from your time?”

Stevenson pointed to a portrait of himself and Ali on his wall from Ali's 1998 humanitarian visit to the island.

“You mean my brother?”

The physical similarity between Ali and Stevenson is downright spooky.

“Don't you wish you'd had a chance to fight Ali?” I asked.

“How could I fight my brother?” he smiled, signaling for me to turn off the cameras so he could have a cigarette break.

Was the decision to stay in Cuba honest? Could anyone, let alone an Olympic champion, turn down that much money without being either brainwashed or afraid for their lives or the lives of loved ones if they defected? I wanted to speak to the people themselves who had faced down that decision and lived with the consequences.

When I interviewed Teófilo Stevenson in his modest house—often reported as a mansion that Fidel Castro gave him—in a leafy Havana neighborhood, I asked him why he stayed.

“If people cannot understand how someone can turn down millions of dollars for a matter of principle, who seems brainwashed to you?”

“Forget the money then. As a competitor, don't you wish you ever had a chance to fight the best from your time?”

Stevenson pointed to a portrait of himself and Ali on his wall from Ali's 1998 humanitarian visit to the island.

“You mean my brother?”

The physical similarity between Ali and Stevenson is downright spooky.

“Don't you wish you'd had a chance to fight Ali?” I asked.

“How could I fight my brother?” he smiled, signaling for me to turn off the cameras so he could have a cigarette break.

In the trailer ofmy filmSplit Decision, which profiles boxers like Stevenson who stayed, and some who left Cuba, I used a famous photo of a young Muhammad Ali sitting on a million dollars inside a bank vault, and another of Mike Tyson spreading out enormous amounts of cash inside his hands at a Don King-helmed press conference. The Cuban counterparts of those fighters, Teófilo Stevenson and Felix Savon, were being offered those same stacks of money.

But these men chose to become boxers before the money was spread out before their eyes. Their desire to fight goes deeper.

I interviewed Mike Tyson for my film. I asked him about a time early in his career when he had tearfully told a reporter that he missed fighting “when it wasn't just all about money.”

I asked Tyson what it was that he was fighting for before it was money.

“My mother was dead before I was 16. I'm the son of a pimp and an alcoholic. But if I ever brought anything home of value into my mother's house, she knew I'd stolen it. I never saw her proud of me in my entire life. Not once. And somewhere, somewhere I always had that in my mind. I was fighting to make this woman who caused me more pain than anyone in my life… ” Tyson cleared his throat and wiped his face a couple times. “Deep down I was always fighting to make this woman… I wanted to make this woman proud of me. That's what I was always fighting for.”

So how much is that worth?

* * *

Muhammad Ali, a man adept at finding weakness in his opponents and cruelly exploiting it to his own advantage, never saw weakness in Teófilo Stevenson's stand against turning professional and facing him. He never saw weakness in a boxer rejecting millions because of something he believed in.

Instead, in visits in 1996 and 1998, Ali donated over $1.7 million worth of medical aid to Cuba as a way of opposing the economic embargo against the island nation and to help alleviate the brutal economic crisis of that decade. Teófilo Stevenson was there to greet Muhammad Ali at Havana's international airport when the former champ arrived. They were inseparable during Ali's visit.

* * *

In 1977, the year Stevenson turned down the money, Muhammad Ali was fresh off winning decisions over the likes of Ken Norton, Alfredo Evangelista, and Earnie Shavers. The following year, he would be defeated by lightly regarded Leon Spinks.

Ali would be 35 years old, with his skills rapidly in decline, at the time Stevenson would have challenged him for the heavyweight title.

By contrast, Teófilo Steveson was 25 years old, at the height of his powers. Stevenson could have quickly dominated the heavyweight division had he turned professional. Given Stevenson's poise, size, and ability, it's hard to imagine favoring any pro heavyweight of the era against what Stevenson brought into the ring.

To look at photographs of Stevenson post Montreal is to look at a modern, massive heavyweight transported back in time. He has the height and physique of a Lennox Lewis with the footwork of someone several weight classes beneath him. Boxing had never seen anything like Stevenson, entering the ring with an elegant leg rising over the top rope. Perhaps even more lethal than the power in his right hand was the speed with which he could deliver it. Had Ali fought the Cuban, a fading but crafty champ would have met a new kind of heavyweight at the peak of his powers. Ali would have brought all the experience and punishment he'd earned in wars against Norton, Frazier, Chuvalo, Terrell, and Foreman. Where could Ali look to solve Stevenson in the ring? What did he have left in his tank to use against a force like Cuba's greatest champion?

Inevitably, Ali vs Stevenson would have served as a symbolic battle between the United States and Cuba, capitalism and communism, Castro's values instilled in his boxers pitted against the values of “merchandise” boxers from the rest of the world. Sport is to war as porn is to sex. We all need our proxies. Nothing cemented Castro's argument against the US more forcefully than when his boxers rejected money to sellout their country; their loyalty was even better than beating Americans in the ring. But the weight of that loyalty is telling even when the boxers take the money. With Cuban boxers leaving in record numbers, we get a new look into the system and its failures to keep fighters.

S.L. Price, author and senior writer at Sports Illustrated, once said that while Cuba might be the worst place in the world for an athlete, it might also be the best place in the world for a spectator.

I asked Stevenson and several of the other boxers still on the island, all with their careers behind them, if they had regrets about any decision they'd made.

Stevenson gave me a hard look. A silence spread out between us while he glared.

Stevenson had only agreed to be interviewed provided that I pay him (and not the state) for the privilege. It's an odd feeling paying $150 to someone to find out their reasons for turning down tens of millions. You can choose between the gestures of taking a little money or turning down a lot, and say one defines Stevenson, but I'm more inclined to say it defines you.

Sitting there interviewing one of the most famous men in a country I wasn't allowed to be in, trying to have an honest conversation with him about his life, I had no hope of getting an answer from Stevenson that said more about him and the place he came from than what my questions said about me and where I came from.

Stevenson was a heavy smoker late in life, but he pleaded that I not film him while smoking—he didn't want children to see him engaged in a bad habit. I agreed to not film, but mildly resented that he considered his smoking breaks to count against our agreed 75 minutes of interview time.

“Don't let the children see the champ smoking. I know for a journalist this is just the kind of thing you love to show about someone like me, but it does harm for others. I am not proud of this. It is not me being seen as a hypocrite that worries me. Just that kids would do something so stupid as this.”

I offered him one of my cigarettes.

“What is this?” he asked suspiciously.

“American Spirit.”

“You want Teófilo Stevenson to smoke American Spirit? Why did I ever let you into my house?”

* * *

I interviewed Stevenson in the early morning, but he was already noticeably intoxicated. He drank vodka from a water bottle for the duration of our conversation and toyed with my translator mixing up his Spanish with remarkably strange and amusing segues into Russian and English. He returned again and again to Michael Jackson as a subject of fascination.

At 59, he was still an imposing physical presence. When he locked the gate behind us with a padlock just before we stepped inside his house, I felt fear. Many Habaneros had mentioned scaling his fence to escape Stevenson and his antics when drunk. There were rumors he had a pistol on the premises, given to him as a gift from Fidel.

* * *

“Do I look like I regret any decision I've made?” Stevenson asked me.

I shrugged.

He took a long drink from his bottle and smiled. The translator I'd hired, a close personal friend of Stevenson's, gave me a hard look of his own. There was a great deal of reluctance on his part to reveal this side of his friend to the world.

“My friend,” Stevenson began, clearing his throat unsuccessfully, “I have no regrets. I am the happiest man in the world. And our time is up. I hope you got what you were looking for.”

Brin-Jonathan Butler is the director of the forthcoming documentarySplit Decision (rigondeaux.com), a documentaryexploring Cuban and American life through the lens of elite Cuban boxers faced with accepting or rejecting million dollar offers to abandon their country and step into a smuggler’s boat in the hopes of chasing the American Dream.

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`Big Baby’ Proves Again That Heavyweights Need Not Have Ripped Physiques

Bernard Fernandez

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If we were to rate heavyweight champions on the basis of six-pack abs and overall confirmation, it’s a pretty safe bet that the magnificently ripped physiques of Evander Holyfield and Ken Norton would place them at or pretty close to the top of the list of pugilism’s most impressive big-man bodies. Also drawing consideration for a high slot would be Mike “Hercules” Weaver, who briefly held an alphabet title, but, his massive muscles notwithstanding, Weaver is hardly anyone’s idea of a truly great heavyweight.

The old saying – “looks like Tarzan, fights like Jane” – doesn’t come close to applying to Anthony Joshua (22-0, 21 KOs), the IBF/WBA/WBO heavyweight champ who defends those titles against Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller (23-0-1, 20 KOs) on June 1 in Madison Square Garden. Although the 6-foot-6 Joshua has fought as low as 229 pounds and as high as 254, at those weights and everything in-between he looks the part of a scary-good Tarzan who can and almost always pulverizes the guy selected to serve as his designated victim.

Which brings us to the 6-foot-4 “Big Baby” Miller, the well-fed Brooklyn, N.Y., native who has shown he can scrap a lot more like Tarzan than Jane, but at first glance is a closer physical approximation to Norm Peterson, the chubby guy on the end bar stool in Cheers so memorably played by George Wendt, winner of six Emmy Awards for Best Supporting Actor. Although Miller has averaged a semi-reasonable 265.7 pounds per ring appearance over the course of his professional boxing career, with a low of 242, he has come in at 300-plus for each of his last three bouts and it seems a safe bet he’ll officially come in anywhere from 40 to 70 pounds heavier than Joshua when they square off three-plus months hence.

All of which raises a question of how much is too much when it comes to a corpulent heavyweight’s scale reading? Talent comes in all shapes and sizes, and there are reasons why seemingly fat fighters are, well, seemingly fat fighters. It could be genetics (it’s so convenient to blame mom or dad when you have to shop for pants with a larger waist size), a slow metabolism or simply a fondness for unhealthy fast food, second and third helpings at the dinner table and an insatiable sweet tooth.

George Foreman’s body looked a lot like Joshua’s does now in the earlier phase of his Hall of Fame career. No, the glowering Foreman that laid waste to Joe Frazier and Ken Norton didn’t sport the six-pack abs of a male underwear model, but he had a thick – not overly thick – frame and could deliver battering-ram punches with either fist. It wasn’t until he came off his 10-year retirement from boxing that Big George, now a smiling, playful jokester at press conferences, poked fun at his enlarged self, the one that came in at a career-high 267 pounds after paring down from 300-plus for his first comeback fight, against Steve Zouski. Foreman cracked wise about being on a “seafood” diet, telling media types that what he meant was he ate all the food he saw.

Other than Foreman, the best of the fight game’s (too-)big men is Riddick Bowe, another Hall of Famer whose appetite for high-calorie fare was matched only by his top-tier skill set. The aptly nicknamed “Big Daddy” was terrific for a time and might have remained so for even longer had he been more diligent in heeding the dietary and training dictums of his strength-and-conditioning coach, Mackie Shilstone, and legendary trainer Eddie Futch, both of whom became understandably frustrated when Bowe would allow himself to blow up 40 to 50 pounds above his optimal fighting weight between bouts.

Other accomplished big guys who were able to overcome the burden of too many excess pounds are future first-ballot Hall of Famer James Toney, who fought as low as 157 pounds and won widely recognized world championships at middleweight and super middleweight before gorging himself up to the heavyweight ranks where he defeated, among others, Holyfield, Fres Oquendo and Dominick Guinn; “Two-Ton” Tony Galento, a veritable fireplug  of a man who shockingly knocked down seemingly invincible heavyweight champ Joe Louis before falling himself, and Buster Mathis Sr., the dancing bear whose jiggly love handles didn’t prevent him from going the distance with Muhammad Ali and Jerry Quarry.

When it comes to almost unfathomable heft, however, special mention must be made to Eric “Butterbean” Esch, the erstwhile “King of the Four-Rounders,” who despite being only 5-11½ logged 90 of his 91 pro bouts (77-10-4, 58 KOs) at 300 or more pounds, including three at 400-plus pounds. All right, so The Bean’s list of opponents for the most part was hardly a Murderer’s Row. It should be noted, however, that he defeated Louis Monaco, who defeated Kevin McBride, who defeated Mike Tyson, who defeated Larry Holmes, who defeated Muhammad Ali.

Honorable mention, if you want to call it that, is reserved for Gabe “Big G” Brown, who managed to compile a winning record (18-17-4, 12 KOs) despite weighing 300 or more pounds for 33 bouts, with a high of 367; Dustin “Worm” Nichols (5-12, 5 KOs), who came in at 400 or more four times and the rest at 300-plus, with all 12 of his losses by knockout; Alonzo “Big Zo” Butler (31-3-2, 24 KOs), who is still active and might yet evolve, considering his three most recent bouts were at 300-plus pounds, into an updated version of “Big Baby” Miller.

If you want to tick off “Bronco” Billy Wright (43-4, 34 KOs), he of the seven bouts at 300 or more pounds, try comparing him to Butterbean. “If you think I’m a bum or a joke, try saying that to my face. I guarantee you won’t be laughing for long,” the now-retired Bronco Billy, 54, said in 2015, when he was the WBC’s 20th-ranked heavyweight. “I can knock out anybody on the planet, with either hand. I can knock them cold.”

In retrospect, a matchup of Butterbean and Bronco Billy now rates among my all-time matchups that never happened, but should have. Whoever went down would cause a vibration that I’d like to think could have been registered on the Richter Scale.

Boxing, of course, is not the only sport where gifted but gluttonous athletes overcame, if briefly, their inclination to succumb to the more vexing temptations of food. Remember the time that third baseman Pablo “Kung Fu Panda” Sandoval’s belt buckle snapped and his pants nearly slid down when he took a particularly vicious swing that missed? Basketball had the man with two nicknames, former University of Kentucky center Melvin Turpin, who alternately went by “Turp the Burp” and “Lard of the Rims”, and no one will ever forget the sight of blimpish quarterback Jared Lorenzen, dubbed the “Pillsbury Throwboy,” who could fire lefthanded lasers but ate himself out of the NFL, where he once received a Super Bowl ring as the backup to starter Eli Manning for the New York Giants’ SB XLII victory over the New England Patriots.

It’s a longshot that Big Baby Miller could pull off the upset of Anthony Joshua, but if he did it would serve as an inspiration to couch potatoes everywhere that athletic glory just might be theirs if they put aside the potato chips and beer, at least for a little while. After all, it isn’t the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog that matters, right? Even if the dog in question is as large as a Clydesdale.

Bernard Fernandez is the retired boxing writer for the Philadelphia Daily News. He is a five-term former president of the Boxing Writers Association of America, an inductee into the Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Atlantic City Boxing Halls of Fame and the recipient of the Nat Fleischer Award for Excellence in Boxing Journalism and the Barney Nagler Award for Long and Meritorious Service to Boxing.

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Fast Results from Minnesota: Rob Brant Retains His Title via TKO 11

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Rob Brant

Rob Brant returned to his home state of Minnesota for the first defense of the WBA middleweight belt he won in Las Vegas with an upset of Ryota Murata. In the opposite corner was a 21-year-old Ukrainian making his U.S. debut, Khasan Baysangurov.

Baysangurov, who came in undefeated (17-0), had good boxing skills but fell behind early and lacked the power to reverse the momentum. Brant, who was the far busier fighter, knocked him down in the third round with a clubbing right hand that landed behind his left ear and finished him off in the 11th.

A flurry of punches, the last of which caught only air, knocked Baysangurov to his knees. He beat the count but was clearly hurt and when Brant snapped his head back with a straight right hand, referee Mark Nelson properly intervened. Brant improved to 25-1 with his 16th knockout. He is one of two middleweight champions recognized by the contemptible WBA, the other being Canelo Alvarez.

In a spirited 8-round affair in the junior lightweight division, 2016 U.S. Olympian Mikaela Mayer improved to 10-0 with a unanimous decision over spunky 20-year-old Yareli Larios (13-2-1). The scores were 80-72, 79-73, and 78-74. Mayer, who had a 5-inch height advantage, was too physical for Larios, the daughter of former WBC junior featherweight champion Oscar Larios, who worked her corner.

In the first TV bout, Chicago’s Joshua Greer, a rising bantamweight contender, improved to 20-1-1 (12) with an eighth round stoppage of Giovanni Escaner (19-4) of the Philippines. The knockout punch was a short right hand to the pit of the stomach. Greer was down himself earlier in the fight, felled after walking into a short right hand in round three.

Other Bouts

 In an 8-round middleweight contest Tyler Howard improved to 17-0 with a split decision over spunky Christian Olivas who declined to 16-4. Howard, who hails from Crossville, Tennessee, has been attracting some buzz but tonight he didn’t perform as advertised in what was nonetheless an entertaining bout.

In a crossroads fight between two 30-something super middleweights, both southpaws, Lennox Allen (22-0-1) won a unanimous decision over Derrick Webster (28-2). The scores were 97-92 and 98-91 twice. Allen, originally from Guyana, scored the bout’s lone knockdown, decking Webster with a sweeping right hand a millisecond before the bell ending the third round. Webster, from Glassboro, NJ, had won nine straight going in.

 Former U.S. Army veteran Steven Nelson, who defeated Rob Brant as an amateur, won a unanimous decision over Felipe Romero in an 8-round light heavyweight contest. Nelson, based in Omaha, was cheered on by stablemate Terence Crawford. Romero (20-17-1) was once recognized as the cruiserweight champion of Mexico, but has degenerated into an “opponent.” This was his ninth loss in his last 10 starts. Nelson advanced to 13-0 (10).

 In an 8-round lightweight contest, Ismail Muwendo, from Minneapolis via Uganda, scored a unanimous decision over Columbia’s Hevinson Herrera (24-16-1). The scores were 60-54 across the board.

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LA Area Fighters Leo Santa Cruz and John Molina Still Swinging

David A. Avila

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Molina

Two Southern California based prizefighters known for their longtime preference for slugging over slickness, will take center stage.

Both have withstood years of punishment with their battering styles and surprisingly remain staunchly relevant in the fight game despite the years of punishment endured in some of the most brutal fights in the past decade.

WBA featherweight titlist Leo Santa Cruz (35-1-1, 19 KOs) defends against Rafael Rivera (26-2-2, 17 KOs) and welterweight John Molina (30-7, 24 KOs) meets undefeated Omar Figueroa (27-0-1, 19 KOs) at the Microsoft Theater in downtown L.A. Fox will televise the PBC fight card.

The two Los Angeles area prizefighters are not the only pugilists who use aggressiveness over slickness, but they are among the few who still manage to go to war with a fighting style that requires toughness, grit and resilience after so many years.

Santa Cruz, 30, comes from a fighting family whose brothers Jose Armando, Antonio and Roberto all put on the gloves.

The East Los Angeles native has been fighting since 2006 with his nonstop punching mode that has enabled him to win world titles as a bantamweight, super bantamweight and twice as a featherweight.

Even before his professional debut Santa Cruz was engaging in wars inside gyms with older, bigger boxers on a daily basis. They’re the kind of sparring battles that can sap the strength out of the strongest men both physically and mentally. Punishment like this can debilitate even the best over time like a hammer chiseling away the hardest granite.

But despite all the hammering Santa Cruz has endured in sparring sessions and prize fights, the rail thin featherweight with the jet black hair remains at the top of the pile in his weight division.

Now Santa Cruz faces Rivera, a dangerous Tijuana fighter who replaces Miguel Flores the original opponent felled by injury. Entering his 13th year as a pro the featherweight champion has bludgeoned his way to the top and remains king of the mountain.

“Leo is just gifted. He wears you down. Certain fighters are given this type of ability. Guys like Sugar Shane Mosley, Floyd Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao they are just born with these gifts,” said Rudy Hernandez who worked with two Santa Cruz brothers as a trainer and cut man.

On Saturday, Leo Santa Cruz makes the third defense of the WBA title since reclaiming it from England’s Carl Frampton in January 2017. Before that, he held it for one defense after beating Abner Mares for the first of two times.

“We were getting ready for Miguel Flores, but in the gym you have to always be ready for any kind of style. We had been already been working with sparring partners who brawl, and that’s what we expect from Rafael Rivera,” said Santa Cruz in Los Angeles on Thursday. “He can take punches, so we’re ready for 12 rounds. We’re going to be smart in this fight because we know what Rivera can do.”

Rivera has already built a reputation as not just a brawler but someone with enough talent and power to upend the future aspirations of Santa Cruz. In his last fight in downtown L.A. he nearly toppled undefeated Joet Gonzalez. He’s not an easy mark.

“I knew immediately that Rivera was a good opponent,” professed Santa Cruz.

Molina

In the welterweight clash local slugger John Molina Jr. meets yet another foe in Omar Figueroa who’s expected to defeat him. He relishes being the underdog.

“I’ve been down this road before. I was never given lofty expectations. There’s no pressure here. I think Omar’s style will accommodate mine and make it a fun fight for the fans,” said Molina.

Molina, 36, has never been a model for how to look and fight with finesse and grace. Instead he’s like a human battering ram you point in a direction and see how long it takes to blast the door down.

He started late in the boxing business at 23 years old. He was about 22 when he had a few amateur fights and was immediately sent into the pros. Balance was never a problem for Molina who had been a wrestler in high school. Power was never a problem either.

Molina was given the rudiments of boxing quickly by boxing guru Ben Lira then sent into the ring wars. Quickly he learned he could be losing a fight on points and eliminate his mistakes with one punch.

Several fighters realized this but far too late.

Back in July 2013, Mickey Bey was winning their fight and was in the last round when he decided to taunt Molina. One punch later he was counted out with 59 seconds left before the final bell.

A year ago Ivan Redkach had knocked down Molina and was eagerly looking to end the fight when he ran into a blow he didn’t see. Down he went and got up groggily. The next round he was finished off by Molina.

That’s how quickly a Molina fight can turn.

And if you think he can’t box, well Molina has that trick up his sleeve as well. When he fought the dangerous Ruslan Provodnikov and used a box and move style to outpoint the heavy-handed Russian fighter, people were amazed.

“You can’t count out John,” said his father John Molina Sr. “Look what he did with Ruslan. Nobody gave my son a chance.”

Figueroa has never been defeated in a boxing ring, but he’s always had problems with the scale. The former lightweight world titlist only had one title defense when he was unable to make 135 pounds and moved up in weight. Against Antonio DeMarco three years ago Figueroa couldn’t make 147 pounds and the fight was held at super welterweight. Though he won the fight, barely, he’s battled the scale for the last four years.

“Training camp went great. I’ve made a lot of changes in my lifestyle and I’m dedicated 100 percent to boxing. Things have never been better,” said Figueroa, 29 who hails from Weslaco, Texas. “Given our styles, there’s no way this is going to go the distance. I think this is going to be an early night and I’m planning on having my hand raised.”

Molina’s ears perk up when he hears words like that.

“Talk is cheap. On Saturday night, we’ll get down,” said Molina at the press conference in L.A. “I’ve been down this road before. I was never given lofty expectations. There’s no pressure here. I think Omar’s style will accommodate mine and make it a fun fight for the fans.”

Fans can expect the expected when it comes to both Santa Cruz and Molina in their respective fights: a lot of punching and a lot of bruises. It’s prizefighting.

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