When Mike Mollo was a young kid growing up in the south side of Chicago, he would sit and read books about Jake LaMotta and Rocky Marciano. As an Italian-American himself, he gravitated towards the hard-nosed brawlers who had piled up championship belts and Fight of the Year honors throughout their careers.
Mollo would read an unpublished book penned by Marciano called “The Use of the Body,” and mimic the workouts the Brockton Blockbuster would perform to get ready for a fight.
It would seem then, that his whole life prepared him for his moment this past February against Artur Szpilka. Though he was eventually stopped in the sixth round, Mollo helped produce a closet classic heavyweight slugfest, one so good that it earned him a rematch tonight on ESPN2’s Friday Night Fights.
“You see fighters out there who get a little headbutt on their nose or something, you have guys like Victor Ortiz, ‘Oh my jaw’s broken I can’t fight.’ And to me, that’s hilarious, because I’m going out on my shield, I ain’t sitting down. Aside from winning, that was the best possible thing I could have done for my career,” Mollo told RingTV.com.
Many American fans didn’t get a chance to see the heroic effort, as it was ESPN3 ‘bonus coverage’ following the Cory Spinks-Carlos Molina bout. Mollo was wearing a crimson mask almost from the opening bell, but managed to floor Szpilka in the first and fourth rounds purely on feel.
“I couldn’t see. I’m a better defensive fighter than that. I ain’t no Mayweather or nothing, but I ain’t that easy to hit,” said Mollo (20-4-1, 12 knockouts).
Those who did see the fight generally felt sympathy for Mollo due to the unusual verbal abuse he sustained from referee Celestino Ruiz. Ruiz wasted no time letting the F-bombs fly towards the Chicago native, even in an instance when Mollo was cut by a clash of heads.
“How he has the license to be a ref is beyond me,” said Mollo. “I haven’t seen him since, and it’s a good thing I haven’t, because I’m liable to hurt him.”
In a losing effort, the 33 year old managed to announce his existence to a boxing fanbase that had started to forget about him. In arguably the biggest fight of his career, Mollo came up short against Andrew Golota on HBO.
“The only time the guy decides to show up and fight is when I’m fighting him,” Mollo joked. Following that, he dropped a debatable decision to Jameel McCline, and then fell into managerial turmoil.
Mollo took two eight-round “stay busy” fights last minute, and then wasn’t heard from for the better part of three years.
For the Szpilka rematch however, he knew he needed to bring more than the Mike Mollo of old. So while he still does the Marciano medicine ball workouts, he enlisted the help of Dino Spencer, a respected Miami trainer operating out of the famed 5th Street Gym. Spencer is known for his fitness routines, and put Mollo on a regiment a little more complicated than eating steak and chopping trees.
Spencer developed a high intensity daily routine that includes morning runs on the beach, sprinting intervals, and a 45 workout station to be performed in 45 minutes with no breaks.
“We don’t have beaches in Chicago. None you want to run on anyway,” remarked Mollo.
More important than the workouts and the six pack he claims to have is likely his sparring with Cuban heavyweight prospect Luis Ortiz. Mollo claims he’d never fought a southpaw before Szpilka, meaning he was a one-handed, blind fighter following Szpilka around the first go ’round.
“This isn’t gonna be some meathead from Chicago just coming out and throwing punches. I’ve got a system down, I’m in the best shape of my life. The way I’m gonna fight this kid is very technical. It’s gonna turn into a brawl at times though, don’t get me wrong, I have a temper,” said Mollo.
No workout in the gym can prepare him for the hostile crowd he’ll be fighting in front of at Chicago’s U.S. Cellular Field, however. It will be a unique outdoor atmosphere, most likely filled with Szpilka fans. The Polish prospect has a remarkably rabid and loyal fanbase, perhaps attracted to his brash personality and brazen fighting style. One U.S. TV executive told RingTV.com that Szpilka’s TV property in Poland is rapidly approaching Tomasz Adamek levels, and he’s only just graduated to 10-rounders.
As a result, he’ll be in the unusual position of feeling like he’s fighting on the road in his own hometown.
“At the press conferences, everything, I feel like the foreigner. I can’t wait for this fight to be over with,” said Mollo.
Much like the Marciano fitness book, a Mike Mollo biography might never be published. Regardless, he’s determined to write a few chapters that the dedicated few will remember forever.
“Anyone who steps in the ring with me, whether they’re better than me or not, they’re in for the fight of their life,” he said.
Photo / Liu Jin-AFP
Corey Erdman is a staff writer for RingTV.com, a host at Fight Network in Canada and SIRIUS/XM, and a regular commentator for WealthTV. He is a full member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Follow him on Twitter @corey_erdman.