March 25, 2015

In Your Face — Adonis "Superman" Stevenson is focused on Sakio Bika

Knockouts sell, even on free TV
By Jeffrey Freeman — For a "piece of shit", Adonis Stevenson sure keeps his pimp hand strong and his title fight schedule busy. The WBC light heavyweight titlist is the recognized world champion of the historically action-packed 175 lb. division regardless of what Sergey Kovalev says about it or calls him on HBO. Since winning universal recognition as World Light Heavyweight Champion in 2013 with a smashing first round technical knockout of Chad Dawson, Stevenson has defended his crown four times with three of those wins coming inside the distance by way of powerful "Superman" punches. After a KO Digest "Fighter of the Year" award in 2013, Stevenson then made "bad press" headlines in 2014 for doing what nearly every other boxer in the world who matters has done, which is sign a contract with adviser Al Haymon. Rightly or wrongly, it was perceived by many as an effort to "duck" or delay a unification bout with Kovalev.

The result was an end to Stevenson's time on HBO, a "defection" to rival cable network Showtime, and an indefinite dissolution of Stevenson vs. Kovalev. After Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao, there might not be a bigger fight in all of boxing that fans want to see more than Superman vs. Krusher. It has to happen for the good of the sport and Stevenson has reportedly stated that he is willing to fight Kovalev and that the highly anticipated fight will happen eventually. Until then, boxing is left with the two best light heavyweights in the world facing anyone and everyone but each other. If this scenario sounds familiar, it's because Mayweather and Pacquiao did more or less the same dance at welterweight, fighting inferior competition, before finally signing to a long overdue Superfight scheduled for May 2. To his credit, Kovalev has racked up recent wins against Bernard Hopkins and Jean Pascal but now faces the reality of boxing politics in the form of a mandatory ABC title defense against unranked, unheralded Nadjib Mohammedi. That's exactly the kind of name recognition that Stevenson was in the ring with twice last year against Andrzej Fonfara and Dmitry Sukhotskiy.

Kovalev against Stevenson is what fans want
Where Haymon has advised Stevenson after a sub-par 2014 is back to his adopted hometown of Quebec City, Canada, as part of boxing's "next big thing", Haymon's Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) on primetime network television.

After drawing huge ratings for PBC's debut on NBC earlier this month, Haymon's PBC banner is now expanding and debuting again, this time on CBS, April 4, when Stevenson, 25-1, 21 KO's, puts his lineal light heavyweight championship on the line, for the fifth time, against Australian Sakio Bika, 32-6-3, 21 KO's, a former super middleweight belt holder and a notoriously dirty fighter. Fan and media reaction to the free match-up on CBS has been critical to put it mildly. For one thing, Bika has never fought at light heavyweight, and for another, he's coming off a unanimous decision defeat at the hands of WBC 168 lb. champ Anthony Dirrell. Interestingly, Stevenson himself came up from super middleweight and won the 175 lb. title in his light heavyweight debut.

Stevenson is nonetheless focused on the task at hand and claims to be free of distraction. "Bika is in my face right now. I don't see Kovalev or anybody else in my face," said Stevenson on a March 25 media conference call to promote the Bika bout. Despite the best efforts of reporters to get in Stevenson's face about a future Kovalev bout, Stevenson stuck to the carefully scripted, Haymon approved, talking points and didn't let his emotions get the best of him, saying to those who dared ask, "I don't think about Kovalev. I do want to unify the light heavyweight title but that's after Bika. My focus now is on this guy."

The Scorpion believes in himself even if nobody else does
Stevenson's Kronk trainer Sugar Hill actually likes the fight, even if boxing fans don't. "Bika comes forward. He wants to fight and Adonis loves to fight and go toe-to-toe. This is important for the maturity of Stevenson to be in the ring with a strong, determined veteran who's never been knocked out. This fight is a test and Adonis loves to be tested and I love for him to be tested as well." 

Feeling disrespected that the media is hyper-focused on Stevenson and Kovalev and not his chances to pull off the upset, Bika himself is fired up for the test. "I've been in this business a long time. I have fought the best in the world. Nobody is giving me any respect! Can I handle the big boy? Can I handle Adonis at light heavyweight? It's a big challenge but I'm sure I can. I'm very sure I'll take care of my business and win the WBC title. On April 4, you will see."

Stevenson then offered a final reminder for Bika and for Kovalev: "I'm the man at light heavyweight. I'm the Superman!"

March 1, 2015

KO Digest Interview: John Molina Jr. — “I wasn't supposed to be here”

When a loss is really a win
Articulate junior welterweight John Molina Jr. hates to lose. At anything. That includes prizefights, checkers, and trash can basketball. What's ironic is that were it not for a loss last year to Lucas Matthysse in the Ring & BWAA Fight of the Year, Molina might not be in the enviable position he now finds himself. It was against the "Machine" Matthysse that the "Gladiator" showed fight fans what he's truly capable of when a boxing match becomes a war of attrition.

Despite the 11th round defeat in the championship rounds, Molina is now on the front of boxing's long overdue return to the mainstream. His fan-friendly style is one that new primetime viewers will easily relate to. On March 7, "good guy" Molina takes on "bad guy" Adrien Broner in the first of two bouts to be aired on NBC as part of Al Haymon's new Premier Boxing Champions banner.

It's a truly big deal and Molina, 32, is well aware of what a win over Broner could do to boost his career. While it's not wise to mistake Molina's kindness for weakness, one can't help but like him as a person and as a pugilist. Molina, 27-5, 22 KO's, California, comes to fight and rarely leaves anything behind in the ring. KO Digest caught up to Molina less than two weeks before the Broner bout and found him to be unflappably affable during a 45-minute telephone conversation that came on the heels of a long day spent in Los Angeles talking to writers and reporters at a scheduled media workout. Mourning the recent losses of his grandfather Sid and good friend Andy Gee, Molina plans on dedicating his fight against Broner to Grandpa Sid and to the memory of Gee, who passed away from cystic fibrosis at the tragically young age of just 28. "I'm going to honor Andy March 7. He will be on my boxing trunks for this fight." 

Molina has five losses but does it matter?
KO Digest: How well are you adjusting to the intense media attention that now comes with fighting on the first ever Al Haymon PBC card on NBC? 

John Molina: Nothing changes. A fight is a fight. We're prepared.

KOD: How big a deal is this PBC on NBC, not just for you but for boxing?

JM: Outside the boxing community, for boxing as a whole, it's huge, because it's putting boxing back into the mainstream of sports, right where it belongs. I won't say boxing has been a black market event, but this is definitely putting it back in the mainstream—where everyone knows somebody like Peyton Manning or Kobe Bryant because of primetime TV. This will make us all more household names. Everybody is going to know who we are. Back in the day, the champion of the world was almost as big as the President of the United States.

KOD: What can you tell us about your dealings with the mysterious Al Haymon? 

JM: Al Haymon is the best manager in the business. He is an advocate for us fighters.
He has definitely enhanced my career and I am very grateful to fight under this banner and be a part of Team Haymon.

KOD: You're coming off back to back losses but that doesn't seem to matter like it might have in the past where being undefeated was the winning formula. As you prepare for the biggest fight of your life, to what do you attribute this apparent contraction?  

JM: I think it's very fitting that we're going back to the old days of boxing, given my style, and why the fans gravitate towards me. Fans root for me because I've been the underdog every which way you can imagine. I'm very grateful for that. I started late in this sport. I didn't start boxing until I was 17. I didn't turn pro until I was 24. I had only 22 amateur fights so I had to take the scenic route to get here. I wasn't supposed to be here. But I did make it and I'm showing everybody in the world that if you stick to something you apply yourself to, you can make it in life. I think that's why fans are so intrigued with my style, with how I fight. Fans enjoy it because that's exactly what it is. I'm there to fight you. I'm not there to outpoint you.  I'm there to beat you up.  Fans relate to me because of that.

KOD: You’re a pretty powerful guy and you have never been afraid to trade—you have the name "Gladiator" for a reason—but the first fight on NBC is a game changer. Is there a stronger temptation than normal for you to give viewers an all-action fight?

Al Haymon's PBC banner
JM: I'm on a grand platform of 130 million homes worldwide on primetime television, so of course I want to perform my best. I hate to lose at checkers, let alone a fight of this magnitude. We're already a known name now, and we passed a couple of humps, and so a win over Adrien Broner would catapult my career into the stratosphere and that's where I want to go. I'm a family man and this is how I provide for my family. Boxing has done nothing but wonders for me financially.  I don't ever want that to change. It wasn't always like that.

Now that we're here, I want it to stay like this forever. I don't want this lifestyle to change for my family. That's motivation enough to get me up and ready for this fight, especially being on the platform of NBC primetime television.

KOD: The main event you and Broner are fighting under on March 7 is Keith Thurman vs Robert Guerrero. 
What are your thoughts on this welterweight fight and how do you see it playing out? 

JM: Very intriguing. They're both my friends. I imagine Guerrero would be the underdog given the momentum that Thurman has built up but if he is an underdog, he's a very live one. Thurman is the young hungry guy. Some people might say he's not battle tested yet. Other people say that somebody like Guerrero will bring out the best in him. I think Guerrero is in every fight, he's a former world champion. If Thurman is not what everyone is expecting him to be, Guerrero will be the guy to reveal that to everybody, to expose that. I think Thurman, Guerrero, Broner, and myself are going to set the bar very high for the inaugural show back on NBC primetime.

KOD: Adrien "The Problem" Broner is a controversial character who elicits a very wide range of negative emotions in fans and fighters alike. He plays the villain role very well. Taking the emotions out of it, what is your assessment of Broner as a fighter?  

Boxing is back on primetime
JM: As a fighter, you cannot deny the accolades he's accomplished in the ring. He's a three time world champion and a showman, but that's completely irrelevant. I have to worry about the Adrien Broner that shows up March 7. I don't have to worry about the antics outside of the ring. As a fighter, he is very talented. He had an extensive amateur career.  I think he has some shortcomings. The reason he didn't go to the Olympics, I heard, is because he got in a little trouble when he was younger. What he's accomplished at such a young age speaks volumes about the kind of fighter he is.

Do I think I have the kryptonite to his power? Absolutely, I think our styles are going to clash very well. I'm very confident. I think he realizes he's in a real fight. No disrespect to his last two opponents, but I am not them. I don't believe that Emanuel Taylor or Carlos Molina posses the power I posses. The punches they were touching Broner with, if I touch Broner with those same punches, which we know we will, we gotta see what the outcome is going to be. The one God given ability that Broner has is hand speed, it's phenomenal, but we know what I do with hand speed. Hank Lundy had it. So did Mickey Bey, but we ended up on top in those fights.

Broner punches bag
KOD: Broner is known as quite the trash talker. The worst thing I've head him say about you is that you're a punching bag who apparently punches back. 

JM: That's actually quite big of Broner to say. That's actually a compliment given his past rants and raves for past opponents. When I heard that, I said, OK, I'm in his head, he's thinking about me. He knows he's in a real fight whether he wants to play it cool as a cucumber or not, March 7, it's irrelevant regardless of what we both say. It's going to be me and him in the ring fighting. So let me take it a step further. I'm a punching bag who can knock you out.

KOD: They say you sometimes learn more from your losses than from your wins. You've had four losses in the past two and a half years. What did you learn from your losing experiences that you can take into the Broner fight?

JM: Nobody like to lose. The Matthysse fight was actually a weird kind of oxymoron. It was like the only way in a loss where you can be a winner.  That loss catapulted my career. Matthysse was like this boogieman in the sport of boxing. The fight that came about between him and I put me on the map. That was a rare occasion where you can lose a fight but actually win. You can learn a lot from a fight like that being in there with a power punching beast like that. If I had to pick between who hits harder, Broner or Matthysse, I would say Matthysse, wouldn't you? So there is a lot you can take from a loss, but the moral of the story is sticking to everything in life. Discouragement is a key word in boxing. If you can get past that, it lends itself to anything in life. If you can get past discouragement, you're going to make it in whatever you focus your ability on. I am a first class example of getting past discouragement.

KOD: You are now best known for the Fight of the Year loss to Matthysse. You had him down twice early but he rallied back to stop you in the eleventh. The performance was valiant and earned you new fans, new respect, and new opportunities. What is it like to come so close to victory but not be able to grab it, particularly for a fighter like you, one that's known for those late round heroics?

Molina had Matthysse down but could not finish him
JM: I don't want to be the loser in anything in life. That's a fight that down the line I think we'll need to readdress and open that one back up.  The fans deserve it. Both of us fighters deserve it. That was a brutal, all-out dog fight. It could be a trilogy like Ward-Gatti or Rios-Alvarado. I can see the makings of a rubber match. Somewhere down the line I believe we're going to have to lace them up again. I think the fans will clamor for it. But yes, getting that close and not finishing on top with the win, there were some things I learned. I'm going to chalk that one up to inexperience. That was just my second time at that level. Had I known then what I know now, I think I would have stepped on the gas pedal when I actually had him hurt. When I had him hurt in the first and second rounds, I didn't realize how hurt he really was. Had I put the onslaught on like I did against Bey, I could have ended the night in the second round. I was being a little too cautious. I didn't know if he was playing possum to try and coax me in to catch me with a big shot. These are the many different variables that go through a fighter's head when you're in the ring. You're trying to read your opponent. But I'm not crying over spilled milk. Matthysse did what he had to do to get the win. Did we give the fans a treat? Absolutely. Did I learn a lot from the experience? Absolutely. It's a fight I'd want to address one more time.

Molina gives the edge to Matthysse
KOD: Matthysse vs Ruslan Provodnikov just became official for April 18 at the Turning Stone Casino, in Verona, NY. What do you think about this venue? Is it big enough to hold a fight that is already being speculated on as a Fight of the Year candidate? How do you see this one going down in the ring?

JM: Us fighters can fight in the backyard. A fight of this magnitude with these two proven warriors, I can't say I agree so much with the location. I feel it has more of a making for like a StubHub in Southern California, a location that would be more appealing to the fans. I'm sure the fighters aren't going to look too much into the location as much as they're looking to be prepared for a fight like that. This is not going to be "Dancing With The Stars" this is going to be a real hell of a fight.  I've never been in the ring with Provodnikov. I have shared the ring with Matthysse and I think he is a bit better technically. I would bet that Matthysse comes out on top. I'd tell Ruslan that as soon as he has Lucas hurt to step on the gas pedal. Don't play it back. The respect has to go out the window. Not in an ignorant or naive way where you get caught cold because you're so wide open but the respect in the ring has to be a happy medium. When you have the man hurt, finish him.

KOD: That is exactly what you did in 2013 against Mickey Bey. That tenth and final round was the consensus "Round of the Year" and you scored a dramatic come from behind knockout victory. What are your recollections on that incredible fight with Bey? 

Molina beats Bey with a tenth round TKO  
JM: Going in, my back was against the wall. A month before that, I'd lost to a guy who I was like a 15 to 1 favorite to beat but I didn't train properly against Andrey Klimov. He was set for me to go and dismantle but I didn't do it. I chalked it up to training.  I went into my promoter's office and told him, "I don't care who you get me, get me a fight. Make it happen." The next day, I get a phone call, "OK, we have a fight. Mickey Bey. You have 28 days to get ready." At this point I'm thinking Bey was an outstanding amateur, he had some roadblocks, and he got busted for the testosterone allegations that he had in Vegas. So I said send the contract and I'll sign it and I'll get ready. Then they were reluctant to take it because Bey's team was wondering why I'd sign the contract so fast, like do I know something they don't know? So my back was against the wall at this point and I needed to show the world that the Klimov loss was just a hiccup. Bey finally accepted the fight but here is the kicker. Everybody thought I was, but I wasn't making huge money at this point. Bey took the lion's share. I got paid more for hole in the wall club fights, that's how embarrassing it was.

The opportunity itself was bigger than the purse. The fight was one-sided where he was outpointing me, yes. He was fighting very technically sound. But if you watch, I was tracking him down. We both landed our shots but mine were putting more of a worse for wear on him. Before the last round, I hit him with a devastating body shot that really hurt him. I knew I was getting close to knocking him out. The tenth round came and I'm behind on all the score cards. At this point I was not with Al Haymon.  We knew that going into Floyd Mayweather's backyard in Vegas, with the most influential man himself, ringside, which is Mayweather, against his undefeated prospect, the best guy in his stable, with his promotional team, long story short, I knocked him out with 58 seconds left in the fight. That fight changed my life. I signed with Haymon and we're today fighting on the biggest event in boxing. People ask me what was going through my mind in that last round, I say, "I have a mortgage to pay! I have a daughter I want to send to college."  

KOD: Your 2012 fight against Antonio Demarco was for the WBC lightweight championship of the world. It looked like a quick stoppage in the first round before any kind of fight could even break out. Can you talk about that loss from your point of view?

JM: I think it was an inexperience issue. I messed up and got a massage 30 minutes before the fight. I don't want to blame it on that, Demarco is a hell of a fighter and a hell of a warrior. There was a lot going on behind the scene that world doesn't know. My daughter was born and five days later my mother-in-law passed away. It was an emotional gauntlet I was going through in my head. That's not to take anything away from Demarco. Were my legs buckled? Yes. Some people say it was a premature stoppage. Given the nature of the Mattysse fight, I think the world would now agree it was definitely a premature stoppage and the fight had the trimmings of another fight of the year candidate. Jack Reiss is a hell of a referee but I believe he made the wrong call that day. Had he made the right call, the world would have been treated to another fight of the year. I don't see a rematch happening. I don't see Demarco's name being what it once was to make it worthwhile. At the end of the day, boxing is a business and it needs to make financial sense. I would actually say Demarco is the nicest guy I've ever had the opportunity to share the squared circle with. To this day, we're friends.

What color is Goossen's outfit?
KOD: You're trained by Joe Goossen. What does he bring to the corner? 

JM: Joe is a soothing calm voice in the trenches of warfare. I've had my best moments with him and I've had some of my worst moments with him. He's probably forgotten more than I know in boxing after his 40 years in the business. He is the man for the job and there is a reason why we are with him. Joe is a trusted voice. In that ring, when we are at war, if he tells me the grass outside is blue, and you ask me what color the grass is, it's blue. That's how much trust you have to have in a trainer when you go into war. He's a well respected trainer and trusted set of eyes. He has the fight of the year with me and Matthysse and the fight of the decade with Diego Corrales and Jose Luis Castillo. So, he's been in this position before and he's been able to navigate though to victory. Joe knows what the heck he's doing in that ring.

KOD: Let's say you make your fans very happy by beating Adrien Broner on network television. What are your long and short term goals after March 7 and how do you see yourself blossoming into Al Haymon's Premiere Boxing Champions banner on NBC?

JM: There is not much I can say right now about after Broner. Right now, this is my fight. This is the one for me. When the dust settles, I believe this will catapult me into becoming a household name, especially on the NBC platform with 130 million homes. Broner plays a hell of a villain. People love to hate him. I've always taken the high road and the world knows that. I'm like the working class man in the sense of where everyone rallies behind me and is pushing for me. I think it's going to be quite fitting after I beat Adrien Broner, it's going to give me the name and get me all the extra accolades that I need to catapult my career to the stratosphere.

KOD: This Broner brawl at the MGM Grand in Vegas looks and feels like a "good vs evil" match-up. Is that why Al Haymon chose this fight to serve as the very first bout to be shown on network television after such a long time away from primetime airwaves?  

JM: Al knew exactly what he was doing when he put this fight together. I think it will be a brutal, barn burner. I'm going to hit him every opportunity he gives me. I'm going to bully him and make him know he's in a fight. That's the key to victory.  I believe this is classic boxing at its best. I think the world is going to see what they've been missing. There is a villain and a hero and we already know who wears what hat. I'm rightfully the underdog but I have the lottery ticket in my hand right now and I have to go cash it in.

Molina favors Mayweather to win
KOD: OK, last question. Speaking of winning lottery tickets, Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao are finally set to fight on May 2. They'll each make in the range of 100 million dollars. What are your thoughts on boxing's ultimate match-up and who is going to win Superfight 2015?

JM: You're not talking about the fight of the year or of the fight of the century. It's bigger than that. You're talking about the biggest fight in the history of boxing. Do I wish this happened four or five years ago? Of course. You want to see these guy at their prime peak. But, with that being said, I think casual fans are going to tune in to see the biggest fight in the history of boxing.  I think if anyone can figure out the enigma of Mayweather, Pacquiao could have some kind of recipe for destruction against Mayweather but with that said, if I have to bet with my hard earned money, you have to side with the guy that's undefeated, and that's Mayweather. If it happened four or five years ago, it would be a little closer, but I'd still see Mayweather figuring it out and getting the win.

KOD: Any final words for your fans John?

JM: I'm very thankful to them for keeping me relevant, for falling in love with my style, my never say die attitude. I'm very thankful for the opportunity to showcase my ability on the grandest stage in boxing on NBC primetime. This fight is dedicated to my grandfather Sid who just passed away and to my best friend Andy Gee who lost his battle with cystic fibrosis two weeks ago. I'm going to honor him on March 7. That really took the wind out of my sails, my little brother Andy who I grew up with. He was only 28 years old. Andy will be on my trunks for this fight. We will mourn his death after the fight but we're going to celebrate his life with a victory.

KO Digest Interview conducted, written, and produced by Jeffrey Freeman, KO Digest EIC