Scrapping under the radar
One of the world's top boxers quietly trains at a South Loop gym
03/28/2012 10:00 PM
LA Boxing is known as a place where bored housewives, business professionals and new urbanites can go to shed a few pounds in a fun, engaging way. It is not known as a place where world-class boxers prepare for nationally televised fights. Well, the latter is starting to change.
Perennial underdog and world-ranked contender “King” Carlos Molina began training at the South Loop LA Boxing on State and 9th Street a few years back.
“It’s a good gym, I like it over here. It’s not pretentious. People are just here to work hard,” Molina said after his final workout before leaving for Texas for a big fight.
He was off to fight on HBO’s acclaimed Boxing After Dark series, where he would take on heavily-favored Texan James “The Mandigo Warrior” Kirkland in a World Title Eliminator bout last Saturday night, March 24. A win would get him one step closer to his goal of a world title shot.
Very few people in the boxing world gave Molina a chance of winning. It wasn’t the first time Molina had been a huge underdog. In fact, Molina’s made a stellar career of being just that.
Molina fought brilliantly from the opening bell last Saturday night against Kirkland, winning every round. Legendary trainer and HBO commentator Emanuel Steward said he was amazed with Molina’s performance. Molina also won over the Texas crowd. Numerous times during the broadcast the loud chant of “Molina! Molina! Molina!” flooded across the HBO airwaves.
Molina was cruising to an easy, unanimous decision victory when the fight got wild and sloppy in the 10th round, when Kirkland knocked Molina down in the final seconds. Moments later, the ref disqualified Molina because his corner man stepped into the ring early. At the time of the disqualification, Molina was ahead on the official score cards.
The entire crowd in Houston booed the disqualification ruling and began to chant Molina’s name once again. “Everybody loves an underdog,” Molina said with a laugh.
Back in the South Loop, he can pass under the radar at LA Boxing. Not even the woman boxing working out next to him knew his name.
When asked if she knew who Carlos Molina was, Loop resident Sierra Falter replied with a grin.
“Well, I have his sweat all over me from training next to him earlier,” she said.
Falter moved to Chicago from Lincoln, Neb. three years ago and first came to LA Boxing because of a Groupon.
“After the first class, I could barely walk, and I said to myself ‘I’m coming back,’” she said.
She’s been training at LA Boxing for nearly a year and lost 8 pounds in the process. Learning she was training beside one of the top boxers in the world gave Falter a boost.
“I feel pretty badass now,” she said with a giggle. “But all of my coaches here are good athletes and just really neat people.”
Molina isn’t the only world-renowned boxer to train at the South Loop gym. South Loop LA Boxing Fitness trainer Marty Jakubowski compiled a professional record of 116 wins and just seven losses in the 80s and 90s. Jakubowski battled Mexican legend Julio Caesar Chavez twice. If you don’t know who Chavez is, he’s one of the greatest boxers of all time.
Jakubowski enjoys LA Boxing’s diversity.
“They call my boxing class the ‘United Nation’ because we have people from all over the world,” Jakubowski said. “This one guy told me he was from Qatar. I didn’t even know the place existed!”
The training-intensity is high at LA Boxing. “I put my students through workouts so hard I don’t even know if I could do them myself!” Jakubowski said with a laugh.
In a stranger-than-fiction twist, Carlos Molina is also very familiar with Chavez. Molina fought Chavez’s son current World Champion Julio Caesar Chavez Jr. twice. Many boxing experts feel Molina won both of those battles. The first bout was scored a draw; yet the Monterrey, Mexico crowd booed the decision while chanting Molina’s name. The rematch was scored a close decision win for Chavez Jr.
Afterward, Molina soldiered on. He lost twice more in disputed decisions. Then Molina went on a long winning streak marred by one draw which many in boxing also felt he won.
“Molina, he’s a genius,” Jakabowski said. “He so unorthodox and he’s game, he really wants to win.”
Undeterred, Molina pushed forward in his career. Later that year Molina beat former World Champion Kermit Cintron by unanimous decision, only to watch Cintron get a world title shot a few months later. The boxing establishment passed over Carlos Molina once again. The only question in most people’s minds was: why didn’t he give up?
“I’m a positive person, my family taught me to work hard and never quit.” Molina said with a shrug.
Though he was disappointed in the ruling from Saturday night’s fight against Kirkland, he’s filed an appeal that will likely overturn the disqualification. But that’s not enough for Molina.
“I want a rematch!”