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John Molina brings experience and entertainment to the ring

John Molina brings experience and entertainment to the ring
Lucas Matthysse throws a punch against John Molina Jr. during their 140-pound boxing match in Carson on April 26, 2014. (Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

His promoter’s words bite with honesty, but to understand boxer John Molina is to know such candor won’t dishearten him.

“The last thing he needs is another loss on his record,” Molina’s longtime promoter Tom Brown said. “A loss would be devastating at this point in his career. He can’t afford it, and this is the type of fight for him to retain that elite, professional career status.”

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As his 30-7 record and 24 knockout victories attest, Molina, 36, bares all for his sport. It’s been that way since he started as a 17-year-old amateur who bypassed friends’ summer parties to cut weight, running around his neighborhood in sweatpants on sweltering afternoons.

“My road was never paved. I took the terrain road where I saw the leopards and the mountain lions back in there, where I had to put a stick down to walk across the river to get where I needed … and I’m OK with that,” Molina said.

“Because with that has come the valuable experience I’ve gained. So when the road gets choppy in the ring, I don’t freak out. I got dropped in my last fight, maneuvered my way back and knocked him out. If you’ve never gone through that before, panic sets in. Some of these fighters don’t know how to respond in that — and that’s the difference.”

Molina returns to the ring Saturday night in the co-main event at L.A. Live’s Microsoft Theater, a welterweight bout against unbeaten former lightweight world champion Omar Figueroa Jr. (27-0-1, 19 KOs) of Texas. The other main event is Leo Santa Cruz’s World Boxing Assn. featherweight title defense against Tijuana’s Rafael Rivera.

The expectation is that Molina-Figueroa will prove to be the most entertaining bout of the card.

After appearing to be one of the brightest young champions, Figueroa, 29, has fought just once since December 2015. He lost his belt on the scale that year, suffered hand and shoulder injuries afterward, and recorded a victory over veteran Robert Guerrero, who announced his retirement following the July 2017 bout.

“It’s a kill-or-be-killed fight, and the fans know what they’re going to get when they hear my name and Figueroa’s in the same fight,” Molina said. “I don’t think about the extracurriculars of what Omar has and has not done. I’m just ready for the fight.

“He’s got that coveted zero [losses] that so many others like to protect. But I asked for this fight. An impressive win — stopping someone who’s never lost or never been stopped — puts me right in the thick of things.”

Molina had been in the thick of things before. He knocked down Lucas Matthysse twice at the currently named Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson before eventually losing what many called the fight of the year in 2014. He went 12 rounds with former four-division champion Adrien Broner in 2015.

In 2016 he went to war with slugger Ruslan Provodnikov and won the opportunity to face the current pound-for-pound No. 1 fighter, Terence Crawford, in the super lightweight champion’s home state of Nebraska.

“A lot of these guys with lofty amateur records are so anxious and eager to keep their zero … they basically have a silver spoon in their mouth compared to me,” Molina said.

“I knew if I was going to have a name in this sport, no one was going to hand me anything. Money, my home, everything I own — we fought tooth and nail for that. So I protect that identity, more than I think about protecting that zero.”

Molina believes a victory Saturday would move him closer to another title shot.

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“There’s never added pressure on me about my boxing mortality or this being the end of the line … it’s never in my mind,” Molina said.

“If you have a mindset where there’s doubt, you don’t belong in this sport. I know that because I’ve thought like this since I was a kid. I willed my way to this point.”

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