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Expect the Blood to Flow When Josesito Lopez Meets John Molina on Saturday

David A. Avila

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On Saturday, two Southern California prizefighters with similar journeys finally intersect when Riverside’s Josesito “Riverside Rocky” Lopez (36-8, 19 KOs) clashes with John “The Gladiator” Molina Jr. (30-8, 24 KOs) in a 10-round welterweight clash at Staples Center in Los Angeles. The bout will be televised on FOX pay-per-view. Expect the blood to flow.

“Me and Josesito are both guys who took tough roads to get here and the fans love us because of what we always put into the ring. We leave everything in there and that’s why the fans know this fight is going to be one to remember,” said Molina, 36.

For years both have been considered the most amiable and likeable pugilists in the boxing world until they step inside the ropes. Both are known for their rugged styles.

“I don’t underestimate John Molina Jr. I’ve seen him a lot throughout the years, just like I’m sure he’s seen me,” said Lopez, 35, whose hometown Riverside is within 20 miles from Molina’s hometown Covina. “We know each other quite well, so the fans are in for a good one. We’ve both proven we have the heart and the will, now we have to prove it against each other.”

Decades ago Lopez was a rail-thin determined athlete known for never giving up. His cross country running background seemed to help his boxing and he never cared who he fought just as long as he could fight.

Molina was a completely different story. He was a wrestler in high school and it was after graduating from high school that he tried boxing. He still harbored a wrestling stance and a hard nose attitude but he could always punch.

Josesito and Valero

The first time Lopez fought in a prize ring he was matched tough against Allen Litzau, the older brother of sterling prospect Jason Litzau. The Top Rank fight card took place in Las Vegas and in the first round Lopez opened up with both guns and took Litzau out of there. Despite the win, Top Rank showed no interest in Lopez.

By 2009 it was pretty apparent to anyone in Southern California that Lopez was a gritty fighter with a slightly awkward style. But plain and simple he was a pure fighter. Around this time Lopez was one of multiple boxers asked to travel to an Orange County boxing gym to provide sparring for a powerful and speedy Venezuelan fighter named Edwin Valero.

About 10 boxers showed up early at a Costa Mesa boxing gym as Valero and his trainer at the time Robert Alcazar lined up the sparring partners. In a remarkable display of power Valero knocked out six successive opponents in the sparring session. One by one they entered the boxing ring and one by one they were carried out. In my more than 30 years of covering boxing I had never seen anything like it.

Finally, they decided to put Riverside’s Lopez in the ring with Valero. Though the left-handed assassin attacked Lopez like he had attacked the others, the thin Riverside boxer lasted the entire round. Valero didn’t show any emotion or disappointment. Lopez proceeded to spar with Valero another eight or nine rounds. He was never knocked down by Valero whose entire career was 27 wins and 27 knockouts. He was arrested a year later for murdering his wife and subsequently found dead in his jail cell in April 2010.

Making of Riverside Rocky

In 2011, Lopez met Mike Dallas Jr. in a battle for the vacant NABF lightweight title. He walked away with a knockout win in the seventh to earn a televised clash with an undefeated Las Vegas-based fighter.

Jessie Vargas was the local fighter when he clashed with Lopez in a welterweight match at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. It was on the undercard of a Floyd Mayweather fight versus Victor Ortiz for the welterweight world title on September 17, 2011. Once again Lopez was the victim of hometown scoring, though it was an extremely close fight. He lost by split decision to Vargas.

It was the third time a Las Vegas fighter would beat Lopez by decision in Las Vegas.

A match between Lopez and Victor Ortiz was proposed when original foe Andre Berto tested positive for PEDs. Ortiz had just lost the world title to Mayweather and was looking to regain footing with a rematch with Berto. When the fight fell apart, a quick search took place and someone suggested Lopez. He immediately accepted the fight.

Publicist extraordinaire Bill Caplan suggested that the two Southern California-based fighters host mock crosstown bets with Riverside’s mayor betting a sack of oranges against Oxnard’s mayor proposing a box of strawberries if his fighter Ortiz lost. It was also during this media blitz that Caplan christened Lopez with the nickname “Riverside Rocky.” Boy did he live up to it when he broke Ortiz’s jaw and won by technical knockout in the ninth round at Staples Center.

Lopez continued to prove he could fight the best and never said no to any challenge including Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, Andre Berto, Marcos Maidana and Keith Thurman. He’s been tabbed one of the most respected warriors in the sport by many fellow fighters.

John John

Unlike most in the sport, Molina was in his 20’s when he began boxing as an amateur and was 23 years old when he turned pro. But he received a crash course under the guidance of boxing guru Ben Lira who liked Molina’s natural power.

“He’s never out of a fight because he can crack and with one punch change the outcome of any fight,” said Lira.

It proved prophetic in numerous fights in Molina’s career.

Because of an earlier Puerto Rican boxer named John Molina, who went by the name John John Molina, boxing writers were quick to add the nickname John John to this John Molina. But he preferred to be called simply John. Lately, the nickname “the Gladiator” has been used and with reason.

Molina was fast-tracked because of his age and lost his first world title bid by knockout to Antonio DeMarco in the first round. He was caught cold. Many felt his career might be over when he was matched with speedy Mickey Bey in 2013. And through nine rounds Bey was winning every round. Then came the 10th and final round and instead of being careful Bey was caught with a Molina power shot and was stopped. It proved what his old trainer had always maintained: it’s never over until it’s over when Molina is in the boxing ring.

That was followed a year later with a war with Argentina’s wrecking machine Lucas Matthysse. Each fighter was decked twice in a fight that had fans roaring with excitement at the StubHub Center in Carson. After the fight Molina asked “did you enjoy the fight?”

That’s Molina, always giving fans an exciting performance.

He lost to WBO super lightweight titlist Terence Crawford in 2016 after defeating Russian slugger Ruslan Provodnikov. Then he was matched with another Russian, Ivan Redkach in 2017, and was seemingly knocked down and out in the second round. Redkach looked to end the fight in the third round but was instead floored by Molina. In the fourth round Molina smelled a knockout and poured on the blows to end the fight by knockout.

With Molina the fight is never over until the final bell.

In his last confrontation he collided with former lightweight world champion Omar Figueroa in Los Angeles. Neither fighter gave an inch and after 10 rounds of constant punching the judges ruled Figueroa the winner. Molina shrugged off the decision. He gave his best and like all sluggers he was there for the knockout.

Now he faces another gladiator like himself. It’s the type of fight that should have happened years ago. Both are very familiar with each other’s career and fighting style.

“I’ve been doing this a long time and I’ve seen just about everything in the sport. There’s nothing new that Josesito can do to surprise me,” said Molina at the L.A. press conference. “At the end of the day, this is a fight. We’re well prepared, and I know he is as well.”

Lopez agrees.

“It’s going to be an exciting fight. I’ve prepared for battle and I’m going to win. I’m ready to go through anything to get this victory,” said Lopez in L.A. “I don’t feel pressure to make this an action fight, because this is one of those matchups where it’s just going to happen naturally. This is an evenly-matched fight and everyone is going to get their money’s worth.”

After 16 years they finally meet in the prize ring.

Photo credit: Al Applerose

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Remembering Leotis Martin who KOed Sonny Liston 50 Years Ago Today

Arne K. Lang

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On Dec. 6, 1969, 50 years ago today, former heavyweight champion Sonny Liston fought former sparring partner Leotis Martin on the stage of the showroom of the newly built International Hotel in Las Vegas, a property that subsequently took the name Las Vegas Hilton and is called the Westgate today. The Sunday afternoon fight was televised by ABC’s “Wide World of Sports” with Howard Cosell behind the mic. The match was slated for 12 rounds. The victor would be recognized as the heavyweight champion of the newly formed North American Boxing Federation.

Leotis Martin, who resided in Philadelphia, was a former national Golden Gloves and national AAU middleweight champion. As a pro, he was 30-5 with 18 knockouts. But he was given scant chance of defeating Sonny Liston (49-3, 38 KOs) who had won 14 in a row, 13 inside the distance, since his second defeat to Muhammad Ali. Although Liston had defeated no one of note during this run, he had yet re-established himself in the public mind as one of the hardest hitting punchers ever.

Martin had several other things working against him. He was a small heavyweight. Liston, who came in at 220, would out-weigh him by 21 pounds. And he wasn’t a full-time boxer. In Philadelphia, he was a machinist for the Budd Company, one of America’s leading manufacturers of metal components for automobiles and railroad cars.

Martin had helped Liston train for his matches with Floyd Patterson and Muhammad Ali. When a big name fighter is matched against a former sparring partner, there is always the suspicion that a gentleman’s agreement is in effect.

Liston vs Martin played out somewhat like the recent fight between Deontay Wilder and Luis Ortiz although it lasted two rounds longer.

After eight frames, Liston was ahead by two points on one of the scorecards and by three points on the others on Nevada’s “five-point-must” system. A flash knockdown of Martin in round four contributed to the imbalance.

Martin could sense that Liston was tiring, but it wasn’t apparent to those in the audience – reportedly 1,800 paid – and that made the drama that was about to unfold all the more dramatic.

In round nine, Leotis landed three unanswered combinations, one right after the other. The third was the classic one-two: left to the body, right to the jaw. Sonny Liston pitched forward, landing face first to the canvas, dead to the world. The ref counted “10” over his prone body. “He could have counted to 300,” said Review-Journal ringside reporter Jimmy Cox.

Nevada’s ringside physician, Dr. Donald Romeo, came equipped with capsules of ammonia. The first one that he broke and waved under Sonny’s nose had no effect. The second capsule brought Liston out of his slumber.

Sonny Liston was reportedly 39 years old, but was widely considered to be somewhat older than his listed age. The brutal manner in which he succumbed to Leotis Martin seemingly indicated that he had reached the end of the line, but he wasn’t done quite yet. Six months later, at the Armory in Jersey City, he butchered Chuck Wepner, the “Bayonne Bleeder,” in a fight stopped by the ring doctor after nine rounds.

That would prove to be his final fight. On Jan. 5, 1971, Sonny’s wife Geraldine returned to their home in Las Vegas from a 12-day holiday trip to St. Louis, her hometown, and found her husband dead in their bedroom. Rigor mortis had already set in.  The coroner’s report said Liston died from congestive heart failure, but that didn’t explain what brought on the coronary and there’s strong circumstantial evidence that he was a victim of foul play.

Leotis Martin’s triumph elevated him to #1 in the heavyweight rankings of the WBA, the sport’s paramount sanctioning body. A fight with fellow Philadelphian Smokin’ Joe Frazier was his likely reward. But it wasn’t to be.

Martin emerged from his fight with Liston with a detached retina. Back in those days, retinal detachment surgery was a hit-and-miss proposition. The most famous boxer to have his retina repaired mid-career was Sugar Ray Leonard, but that didn’t happen until 1982 and it was a far more complicated procedure than what it is nowadays. Three ophthalmic surgeons attended Sugar Ray during his two-hour operation at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.

Leotis Martin basically had no choice but to retire. His signature win would be the final fight of his career.

Martin returned to Philadelphia and to his job in the foundry and lived out his days quietly in the city’s racially diverse Mount Airy neighborhood. In November of 1995 he passed away after suffering a stroke brought on by diabetes and hypertension. He was 56 years old.

By the way, Tim Dahlberg was one of the ringside reporters. This was his first prizefight. In time he would travel the globe as the National Sports Columnist for the Associated Press and he’s still going strong today.

Reminiscing about his first prizefight with Las Vegas sports columnist Ron Kantowski, Dahlberg recalled that there was a young heavyweight on the Liston-Martin undercard that looked pretty good.

The kid’s name was George Foreman.

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Downtown LA Fight Results From the Exchange

David A. Avila

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Downtown LA Fight Results From the Exchange

LOS ANGELES-Built in 1931 the Exchange was the former home of the stock market exchange for the West Coast. On Thursday night it was the home for professional boxing.

Jessy Martinez led a slew of prospects ready to showcase their fighting skills among the many business types at the Exchange located on the 600 block of Spring Street. He didn’t need more than one round to reveal his talent at the Bash Boxing show.

Martinez (14-0, 9 KOs) used the first minute or so to determine the incoming fire from Mexico’s Carlos Huerta (6-5-2), a fighter of similar height and speed. Once he learned the magnitude and strength of the punches coming his way, Martinez (pictured on the left) unfurled his own combination and saw his right cross visibly do damage.

A slow developing 12-punch combination by Martinez rocked Huerta who tried to evade the blows to no avail. Finally an overhand right dumped a bleeding Huerta into the ropes as referee Wayne Hedgpeth immediately waved the fight over at 2:26 of the first round.

It was a short but destructive win for Martinez who fights out of toney Woodland Hills, California.

“Hard work pays off,” said Martinez.

Another featured fight saw Compton featherweight Adan Ochoa (11-1, 4 KOs) slug it out with Chile’s Juan “La Maquina” Jimenez (8-9) for five destructive rounds. Though Ochoa had the height, speed and skill advantage, the Chilean fighter walked through every exchange and was cut in the first round because of his reckless charges.

But he fought hard.

Ochoa seemed to have Jimenez in trouble early with single power shots, but was unable to put the final touch. In the fifth round a clash of heads resulted in a gash above Jimenez’s forehead and blood came streaming down. The fight was stopped and due to the cut caused by an accidental clash of heads, the fight was stopped and Ochoa was deemed the winner by technical decision 50-45 twice and 49-46.

“He’s an Hispanic fighter and all Hispanic fighters are tough,” said Ochoa.

A welterweight fight saw Vlad Panin (7-0) use his physical superiority to defeat Mexico’s Daniel Perales (11-19-2) in a four round contest. Panin is a fighter of Belarus lineage and had solid support from his fans who saw him handily defeat Perales by unanimous decision.

Other Bouts

Five of the bouts featured four-round fights and the best of them all saw Orange County-based Victor Rodriguez make his pro debut. He looked very sharp for someone getting his baptism under fire.

Rodriguez (1-0) trains at Grampa’s Gym in Westminster and showed off a very sharp left jab that kept Osman Rivera (2-12-1) from penetrating into the fire zone. Both boxers had large followings and the crowds exchanged competitive cheers for their fighters throughout the four round match. Rodriguez was just a little too sharp for Rivera who was slightly frustrated. All three judges scored the fight 40-36 for Rodriguez.

Other results: Keehwan Kim (4-1) defeat Percy Peterson (3-16-3) by majority decision in a super featherweight contest that opened the show.

Isaac Lucero (1-0) won his debut by knockout in the first round over Anthony Zender (1-6) in a welterweight clash. Lucero floored Zender twice before the fight was stopped at 1:29 of the first round.

Austin Gudino (5-0) remained undefeated by decision after four rounds versus Nobelin Hernandez (0-4) in a super lightweight fight.

Moises Fuentes (4-1) slugged out a win over Sacramento’s tough Moris Rodriguez (8-16-1) after six rounds in a welterweight clash. Each round was hotly contested. The scores were 60-54 twice and 58-56.

Photo credit: Al Applerose

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Thomas Hauser Enters the Boxing Hall of Fame

Arne K. Lang

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There were 25 names on the Observer Category ballot sent out to those casting votes for the next round of inductions into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Voters could choose as many as five. The top two vote-getters would get in.

A range of disciplines are included in the Observer category: journalists and photo-journalists, TV executives, broadcasters, record-keepers, statisticians, cartoonists. Some of the 25 potential inductees are long dead such as Percy Dana the great photographer who was omnipresent back in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when the San Francisco Bay area was swarming with big fights. The majority of those on the ballot, however, are still active. They are contemporaries of the electors.

This reporter had a strong feeling that longtime boxing writer and current TSS mainstay Bernard Fernandez would make the cut. Induction into the IBHOF is by nature a lifetime achievement award and Fernandez certainly qualified on that count. Among those stumping for him was ESPN’s Dan Rafael who shares his picks with his readers. Rafael’s opinions circulate widely among his peers.

We guessed right with Fernandez and then had more reason to strut when the other top vote-getter turned out to be frequent TSS contributor Thomas Hauser.

We didn’t see that coming. Yes, we thought that Hauser was more than qualified. Considering some of the “Observers” that were ushered into the Hall before him, his induction was long overdue. But much of Hauser’s work falls under the heading of investigative reporting and he has never been shy about airing his political views so we figured that he had alienated just enough voters to ensure that he would be kept waiting indefinitely.

We miscalculated.

Thomas Hauser

Thomas Hauser was born in New York City and grew up in Larchmont, an upper-middle-class village roughly 25 miles north of the city in Westchester County. His father was an attorney with a small general practice in the city and Hauser followed him into the practice of law, clerking for a federal judge and then working as a litigator for a Wall Street law firm after graduating from Columbia Law School.

When Hauser got bored with the life of a Wall Street lawyer, he thought he would give writing a try and then hit the jackpot with his very first book. “The Execution of Charles Horman” was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, Bancroft Prize, and the National Book Award.

Horman was a left-leaning journalist who was murdered while investigating the possible American masterminding of a military coup in Chile. The book spawned the movie “Missing” which earned Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, Best Actor (Jack Lemmon), Best Actress (Sissy Spacek) and an Adapted Screenplay Oscar for director Costa-Gavras.

The movie put a brighter spotlight on Hauser’s book which was re-titled “Missing” and sent him off on the lecture circuit. Here’s Hauser in 1982 as depicted in a Los Angeles Times story following his talk at UC Irvine.

hauser wong

Hauser went on to write so many books that the exact number is uncertain (but somewhere north of 50). That includes works of fiction, works of general non-fiction and, of course, non-fiction books about boxing of which, at last count, there are eighteen. The opus is “Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times.” Harking in its design to the works of the great Chicago oral historian Studs Terkel, the book, released in 1991, won the William Hill Award for best sports book, a prestigious award in Great Britain.

Completing the book was an arduous task. Hauser interviewed approximately 200 people. He and Ali spent countless days at their respective homes and after the book was published the two went off on a book signing tour that spanned several continents.

Ali TH w book

Hauser had interviewed Ali long before they collaborated on the biography. It came when he was a 19-year-old undergraduate at Columbia hosting a weekly sports talk radio show on the student-run radio station. Ali was in town to fight Zora Folley at the old Madison Square Garden – Ali’s final fight before his exile – and Hauser wangled his way into Ali’s dressing room after Ali completed a public workout and taped an interview. It wouldn’t be the last time that he wangled his way into a fighter’s dressing room.

Four years later Hauser was at the newly reconstituted Madison Square Garden for the Fight of the Century, the first meeting between Ali and Joe Frazier. It was an epic confrontation, an event that Pete Hamill, writing for Harper’s Bazaar, called the most spectacular event in sports history. Hauser’s ticket bought him a seat in the last row of the mezzanine, as far away from the ring as one could be.

“Muhammad Ali” was actually Hauser’s second boxing book. “The Black Lights: Inside the World of Professional Boxing,” published in 1986, looks at all the machinations that led up to the Nov. 3, 1984 match between 140-pound title-holder Billy Costello and Saoul Mamby. Hauser’s portrait of Don King jumps off the page.

Hauser’s 2001 book, “A Beautiful Sickness: Reflections on the Sweet Science” is noteworthy because it was published by the University of Arkansas Press which has been publishing a Hauser anthology every year since. The books are compilations of Hauser’s favorite columns from the previous year.

The books invariably include at least one dressing room story as Hauser takes the reader into the dressing room of a fighter before a fight, giving us a peek at what happens during those pregnant moments before a fighter is summoned to the ring. In the fraternity of boxing journalists, Hauser is the consummate fly-on-the-wall.

Another hat he wears is that of a reformer. Boxing has become a niche sport, he laments, and it brought it upon itself, alienating the fans with too many champions and too many mismatches rather than the best fighting the best. “Having three heavyweight champions,” he says, “is like having three Kings of England.”

One of Hauser’s most admired people in boxing is Dr. Margaret Goodman, the Las Vegas neurologist who is the co-founder and the face of VADA, the Voluntary Anti-Doping Agency. “The most pressing issue facing boxing today,” says Hauser, “is the rampant use of performance enhancing drugs.” Hitting a baseball harder and further is one thing. Hitting a man in the head harder warrants greater reproach.

The new inductees will be formally enshrined in the Hall on Sunday, June 14, the climax of Hall of Fame weekend, a four-day event.

From our perspective here at The Sweet Science, it will be cool to see Thomas Hauser and Bernard Fernandez on the dais together in Canastota. I wonder if we could induce them to wear a “The Sweet Science.com” tee shirt?

Probably not.

Photo (c): Wojtek Urbanek

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