It was the tiniest of boxing gyms but for a 10-year-period that closet-like fistic training center groomed Olympians and national champions like See’s Candies puts out chocolates. It was a virtual fight factory.
From Panchito Bojado to Oscar Molina, the gym that sits alongside the Interstate-5 Freeway in East L.A. has been cranking out superior prizefighters since 1998.
On Saturday, at the OC Hangar, the last two nuggets from the Commerce Boxing Club fight on separate bouts. They’re the final messengers of expertise from that gym and both are former Olympians.
Oscar Molina makes his pro debut and twin brother Javier Molina (12-1, 5 Kos) has a strong challenge against Joseph Elegele (13-1, 10 Kos). The Goossen-Tutor Promotions fight card also features a world title clash between junior lightweights Juan Carlos Salgado and Argenis Mendez. Televisa will televise.
Oscar is the latest to represent the Commerce Boxing club as an Olympian. This past summer Molina fought for Mexico in the London Games. Though he did not medal he was jubilant about attaining his dream of Olympic representation. It was four years after his brother Javier represented Team USA.
“I needed one more fight to qualify and I ended up losing. I was pretty bummed out,” recalls Oscar Molina about missing the cut for Team USA in 2008. He was about to quit amateur boxing when his trainer at the time Robert Luna, convinced him to fight one more international tournament before leaving…and he won a gold medal.
The gold medal win convinced Oscar Molina that if he studied the international style of boxing a little more he too could make an Olympic squad, whether for Team USA or Team Mexico. It would be the latter and four years were spent training in Mexico.
“I was training in Mexico for four years. I liked it, but I didn’t like being away from home. I had never been away from home. It helped me to be independent and do things on my own. I didn’t like to be away from my brothers, but it was a sacrifice to do what I needed to go to the Olympics,” Molina said.
Home sickness set in until he met a fellow U.S. resident and a former pro boxer Hector Lopez.
“One of our coaches was a local guy Hector Lopez. He was one of the few guys who spoke English,” said Oscar Molina about Lopez who lived in Los Angeles and also fought for Mexico’s Olympic team in 1984. “He was training the (Mexican Olympic boxing) girls.”
Molina said that former world title challenger Lopez would often invite him to places and to watch some of his battles on video. They would trade stories and ideas about boxing and about life back home in Southern California.
Lopez was one of those characters you only find in boxing. He was a genius inside the boxing ring who lost several world title fights by controversial decision. But Lopez was always given props by those champions who escaped his clutches. When it came to fighting Lopez was magna cum laude.
During the Pan American games Molina’s friend Lopez passed away from a heart attack.
“He passed away during the Pan Am games,” Molina said. “He was a real cool guy.”
That was in October 2011. This past summer, after spending four years fighting his way through international tournaments, Molina qualified for a berth in the Olympics on behalf of Mexico’s team.
The journey was finally over.
“To see them as little kids try, try, try and try and not give up is just amazing,” said Quevedo, a five-time U.S National champion female boxer who trained with the Molina brothers for many years in Commerce. “Especially Oscar not making the Olympics the first time and making it the second time is really awesome.”
Meanwhile, brother Javier Molina has entered another stratus in the professional welterweight rankings. The lean counter-puncher with sharp technique has a pending battle against fellow prospect Elegele, a strong knockout puncher. Though it’s a rugged match up, he’s ecstatic about fighting on the same card as his brother Oscar.
“I’m excited about it,” says Javier Molina.
Born and Bred
Both Molina brothers know the feeling of being under a microscope. During 2006 a film crew led by Justin Frimmer decided to document their boxing lives in a film “Born and Bred.” It debuted in 2011 before Oscar made the Olympic team for Mexico.
“At first it was a little weird. We were around 15 years old and we would be waking up and he would be there,” said Javier Molina about documentarian Frimmer. “He was a cool guy. He was there almost every day for almost five years.”
The film explored the reasons why boxing is such a large part of the Mexican culture and delved into the home life and training regimen at Commerce Boxing Club. The gym was filled with extraordinary male and female boxers who would win numerous U.S. National titles and make the Olympic boxing squads.
“There were 10 fighters out of Commerce. It was definitely fun,” said Javier Molina of their competitive gym club. “Everybody was winning. It was me and Oscar, Carlos (Molina) and Liz Quevedo and Patricia (Manuel) winning national championships. Everybody was taking care of their divisions.”
Elizabeth Quevedo was one of the most feared and talented female fighters during that span and would have made the Olympic team had women been accepted. Instead, she won National title after National title and then turned pro in 2007 for one fight.
All of the fighters had been influenced heavily by the success of one boxer, Bojado. Many consider him to be one of the best prizefighters to come out of the East L.A. area. Some compare his talent to Oscar De La Hoya.
“He’s one of the best fighters I ever fought,” said Steve Forbes, a former world champion.
Others in the Commerce Boxing club admit being heavily influenced by Bojado.
“Panchito Bojado was always a great fighter. We watched him fight in the Olympics and all of his fights,” said Javier Molina, 23, who was nine years old when he first saw Bojado fight. “We learned a lot from him and the trainers in that gym.”
The two trainers at Commerce were Alfonso Marquez and Robert Luna and they enjoyed a long run of success that will be hard to duplicate.
“We would goof around but when it was time to work, we worked,” remembers Javier Molina who fought in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
Here they are many years later ready to fight professionally on the same card for the first time in their lives.
“My father always gets nervous before one of our fights,” said Oscar Molina with a chuckle.
First bout begins at 4:30 p.m.