If the DVD highlights of his young career -- 11 knockouts in 15 fights -- aren't convincing enough, spending an afternoon talking boxing with Covina's John Molina will make it abundantly clear that the Southland has a rising star in its midst.
The undefeated Molina, 26, who will fight Carlos Vinan on Friday night in a lightweight match in the first boxing card at downtown's Nokia Theatre, is a relentless puncher who brings to the ring a refreshing honesty about the obligations of success in a savage sport.
"I've always had mental toughness," Molina said. "What I didn't realize, until recently, is that the guys who are the most successful have the mind-set that they are 'all in,' like being a police officer. You can't charge into a home trying to get the bad guy if you're not fully committed.
"That's why I love the fight game. The guy across from me is denying me from making a living. The people who take this most serious get that; that it's all or nothing at all in there. You get in there, you've got to be willing to go out on your shield."
Molina's Friday fight will be his second under promoter Dan Goossen, who's staging the Nokia show anchored by a main event of heavyweights -- Samuel Peter vs. Eddie Chambers -- and performances by 2008 U.S. Olympians Shawn Estrada and Javier Molina.
The hidden gem, however, is John Molina.
"He has a crowd-pleasing style and speaks very passionately about his willingness to do whatever it takes to be an elite fighter," Goossen said. "I've heard some of the same things in my 30 years in the business, but there's a real passion and sincerity to his words. You can't miss how willing he is to sacrifice to accomplish his goals."
That yearning was rooted in a working-class neighborhood in Covina as Molina watched his father, John Sr., rise each morning before work as a printing pressman in Los Angeles. His mother, Yvonne, a former athlete, encouraged her son's competitiveness and energy by signing him up for gymnastics, soccer, volleyball and track and field.
Young Molina jokes about a childhood diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) as "triple A.D.D.," and credits it for channeling his energy to punish his ring opponents. Molina became so skilled in gymnastics he landed work at a circus in junior high. He gave so much attention to pole vaulting in high school he cleared 15 feet 6 inches. By 16, while attending Charter Oak High, he started boxing as an amateur and began developing an offense-minded style that has served him well.
"I know I'll meet guys with granite chins who'll eat my punches like M&M;'s as the competition progresses, so now I'm working more on my defense," Molina said. "That's the beauty of our sport -- being versatile -- and I know I can figure it out."
His new trainer, Joe Goossen, said after a recent workout in Van Nuys that Molina's skill and attitude are unique. Goossen knows lightweight talent. He has trained three world champions at 135 pounds, Diego Corrales, Joel Casamayor and Gabriel Ruelas.
"John will become a national figure in boxing," Goossen said.
"A teacher knows the exceptional, gifted students he has. You combine that with his desire to be the best and you're in great shape. Knowing the blueprint, I can see his potential. Plus, he's got the great equalizer that you can't teach: one-punch knockout power. I like this kid a lot."