Molitor shakes off adversity, looks toward future
By Lyle Fitzsimmons,
Contributing Boxing Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
A tumultuous late spring begat a cheery mid-summer in the Great White North.
IBF junior featherweight champion Steve Molitor, who found himself embroiled in a heated triangle of promoter/trainer/fighter dissension in early June, has emerged from the fray unscathed and newly focused on his next order of business in the ring in late August.
The 28-year-old Canadian will risk his slice of the 122-pound pie for the fifth time one week from Friday, when he faces largely anonymous Argentine export Ceferino Labarda in his big Ontario backyard at Casino Rama - about 100 miles north of Toronto.
"I'm 100 percent where I need to be," said Molitor, who's fought there four times since defeating Michael Hunter to win the vacant title in the U.K. back in November 2006. "My weight's good. My hands feel healthy and everything is where it should be. I feel really good at this point.
"I'm 100 percent where I need to be," said Molitor.
"Usually I'm battling a small injury or something else, but that's not the case now."
Molitor took his training camp on the road to Montreal and used new trainer Stephan Larouche this time around, a residual effect of the three-way dispute that had him on the brink of leaving promoter Allan Tremblay for a reported $2 million contract with Murad Muhammad.
The rift prompted the exit of 1992 Olympic bronze medalist and former trainer Chris Johnson, whom Tremblay and manager James Jardine claimed was instrumental in encouraging Molitor to seek out opportunities with other promoters, including Muhammad.
Molitor had reportedly been upset with Tremblay's proposed financial terms for a would-be unification bout with WBA champion Celestino Caballero later this year. Tremblay said Thursday that Molitor will make "six figures" for the Labarda fight and is signed to a multi-year deal beyond next weekend.
"It's all water under the bridge now and we're back where we need to be," Molitor said. "It was a little bump in the road, like any relationships have from time to time. I have no plans to go anywhere else in the near future."
But rather than aiming too much at down-the-road targets, Molitor insisted his priorities are set solely on Labarda, a 27-year-old southpaw who carries an 18-0 record and a No. 15 IBF ranking in spite of having just four career fights against foes with more wins than losses.
Labarda last fought on May 30 in Argentina, where he stopped Marcelo Gomez in six rounds.
It was his third fight in 15 months with the dubious Gomez, who fell to 11-24-4 in 39 career fights.
"I've got a few videos of him and I saw him fight at the Pan-American Games in 1999, so I know he's a good fighter and he can do some things," Molitor said. "My motivation is that I'm a champion and he's trying to take my belt. I don't care if he [has] 19 losses or no losses, that doesn't change.
"I don't go in with a specific game plan. There's a Plan A, a Plan B, a Plan C and all the way through to Plan Z, depending how things change during the fight. I can't tell you what we've picked up from him on video, but I do know that we have a good plan."
The training shift to Montreal has helped ease pre-fight distractions for Molitor, who was born in the Lake Huron port city of Sarnia and picked up the sport alongside his older brother, Jeremy, while residing full-time in the Toronto suburb of Mississauga.
He'll tone things down a bit over the final few days of preparation, wrapping up a heavier-than-normal camp sparring regimen on Saturday and then making sure to catch up on rest and keep an eye on diet and weight leading up to the late-week weigh-in that precedes Friday night's fight.
Molitor said he'd sparred 138 rounds through Thursday and would go at least four more on Saturday, in addition to 50 or so that he'd had before heading to the formal camp.
"I weighed myself today and I was right at 127, which is about average for this point in the process," he said. "(Getting the weight) down isn't ever easy. I always have to watch my weight and watch what I eat, but that's part of the job and it's a job that I really enjoy doing."
And assuming next week goes as planned, a big promotion may be in the works.
A win over Labarda could finally lead to the desired match with Caballero, a 5-foot-11 Panamanian bomber who's held the WBA belt since an October 2006 TKO of Thai veteran Somsak Sithchatchawal and will defend for the fifth time against Elvis Mejia in Panama City on Sept. 13. Caballero is 29-2 with 20 KOs.
The division's other belt-holders include consensus No. 1 Israel Vazquez, who's in his second reign as WBC champion and also held the IBF title in 2004-05; and emerging WBO claimant Juan Manuel Lopez, who blitzed Daniel Ponce de Leon in one round at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City in June.
Also on the fringes is long-time bantamweight kingpin Rafael Marquez, who jumped up from 118 pounds to take Vazquez's WBC laurels in March 2007 before dropping subsequent return matches in August 2007 and March 2008 to complete the trilogy.
"Without a doubt, I'm the best out there," Molitor said. "I know I haven't gotten there yet, to fight in America on the big stage and make a big statement, but I know my time will come. And when all goes well next week, we'll look at Caballero.
"Later on, we'll see what happens down the line. Every fight is new, and if there's an opportunity to go to 126 for a big-money fight or to win a title, we'll look at it. But for right now, the fight on Friday is all that's important to me."
Lyle Fitzsimmons is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He provides "In The Ring" commentary for Speeding Bullet Network (speedingbulletnetwork.com), is a periodic contributor to "The Drive with Dave Smith" on KLAA radio (am830klaa.com) and can be contacted via e-mail at email@example.com.