To become a boxing champion, you need to demonstrate a complete and utter devotion to your craft. You need to possess an obsessive, single-minded focus where you are willing to push your body beyond its limits day in and day out, year after year. And for many world titlists, it isn’t just the rigors of training that they had to overcome to reach the pinnacle of their sport, but also the many demons they had to battle along the way. Some of those demons were self-inflicted and some were caused by others. And former junior featherweight champion, Steve “The Canadian Kid” Molitor falls into that category.
One of Molitor’s biggest demons was imposed on him by his older brother Jeremy, who was a very successful amateur and who also shared Steve’s dream of becoming world champion. However, Jeremy closed the door on that dream when he committed a heinous crime in 2002, killing his ex-girlfriend and going to prison at a time when Steve was 10 fights into his pro career.
“Jeremy did 14 years in prison, and we don’t speak anymore since he’s been out of prison,” explains Steve. “At the time, it was very emotional because everyone knew us as the boxing Molitor brothers. He was a Commonwealth Games gold medalist, Pan-Am silver medallist and I was always his little brother. Then he committed a horrific crime while I am trying to be an up-and-coming superstar and people are trying to associate us together. It was a difficult time for everyone involved but it’s part of my past.”
After Jeremy’s murder conviction, Steve turned to boxing as a positive outlet for his intense emotions and a vehicle for commitment. “That whole incident made it easy for me to strictly focus on boxing and be an animal. My whole life, every second, every minute, everything I ate and did was about boxing. Every time I watched TV, I watched boxing. My whole life was consumed by boxing. It helped me in a way because it pushed me to stay focused on one thing and not think of all the other stuff going on outside.”
Molitor’s steadfast dedication to his sport helped him continue his winning ways as he racked up 22 straight wins before earning his title shot against local favorite Michael Hunter in Hartlepool, England. And after all that hard work, Molitor wasn’t going to let the title slip out of his grasp.
“My whole life had built up to that moment,” recalls Molitor. “What I went through as an amateur, following in my brother’s footsteps, and then the stuff that happened with my brother. I had a lot of weight on my shoulders. A lot of people wanted me to win, a lot of people wanted me to lose. But it was a big moment for me.”
Molitor made the most of that big moment when he nailed Hunter in the fifth round with a pinpoint lead left that sent the Englishman to the canvas and stunned him badly enough that he was forced to acquiesce.
“I remember him jumping in the ring, running across, and yelling ‘Jeremy’ as loud as he could in that arena. I will never forget that. He was yelling for his brother who was in jail,” remembers Molitor’s trainer Chris Johnson. “That sums up everything. His brother got him into boxing and was there for him. That moment was for his brother but after that moment, everything else was for Steve.”
After finally accomplishing what he had worked his whole life for, Molitor wanted to enjoy himself. But as is the case with many athletes that hit the big time and are presented with the trappings of success, he didn’t always make the best decisions. That would lead to more demons, this time of the self-inflicted nature.
“At the time, I was 26 years old, and I was young and wild. I didn’t have any kids. I was partying to the max pretty heavy”, admits Molitor. “As an amateur, I never smoked marijuana because everyone was afraid of failing a drug test. But guys knew that cocaine wouldn’t stay in your system for very long, so a lot of guys did it, including me. I didn’t do it that often [as an amateur] but once I became professional and the stuff happened with my brother, the stress and craziness with drugs and alcohol hit a high. I used to do a lot of drugs for a couple of years.”
Despite Molitor’s proclivity for partying, which included the use of OxyContin, cocaine, and alcohol, he always knew how to cut it out when it came time to focus on his career. “Once I signed a contract, I was always very disciplined; I never partied, drank, or did drugs. You can ask any of my trainers, Chris Johnson or Stephane Larouche. My discipline was second to none when it came to fighting once I signed the contract.”
Given the addictive nature of those substances, remaining abstemious during every training camp is no easy feat. So how was Molitor able to do it?
“I knew that winning and being the best meant more than anything,” explains Molitor. “That was the ultimate high for me; That was better than doing drugs. I knew that I couldn’t do drugs and live that life. I knew that if I trained hard and won, then there would be a time where I could do those things again but first was always boxing. Always.”
After winning the title, Molitor came back home and engaged in a series of title fights at the Casino Rama in Rama, Ontario, which is a two-hour drive north of Toronto. And he was an extremely active champion, defending the title five times in just over a year. Being that active had its perks as Molitor kept winning fights and cashing sizable cheques. But the constant training camps and frenetic competition schedule started to take a toll on his body.
“I would always hurt my hands and rush back into training; My body didn’t always have a chance to heal. But I have no complaints, I was still winning and dominating. It was a lot when I look back on it now, but I was making a lot of money for a junior featherweight fighting in Ontario. A hundred thousand US dollars every fight. That’s a lot of money for a small kid like me. So I wasn’t complaining.”
Molitor’s string of successive IBF title defenses put him in line for a major opportunity: a unification clash with WBA champion Celestino Caballero. Caballero was a dangerous fighter from Panama with the length and reach of a praying mantis and a bruiser mentality. It was a huge chance for Molitor to prove he was the cream of the crop at 122 pounds.
But the lead-up to the fight was far from ideal because Johnson and Molitor’s management company couldn’t agree on finances. After parting ways with Johnson, Molitor moved his training camp to Montreal to work with noted Canadian trainer Stephane Larouche. The two had one win together, a 10th-round TKO over Ceferino Labarda in August 2008, before facing Caballero.
“When I was training with Stephane, he is one of the greatest trainers in Canada, but his style was different from what Chris and I were doing,” says Molitor. “The way we did pads, the rhythm we had. I felt that I hadn’t had enough time to transition to what Stephane was teaching me going into such a big fight. I felt that what Chris and I had could have got the job done whereas Stephane and I weren’t quite where he wanted to get me because we hadn’t had enough time.”
Johnson agrees with Molitor that had he been in the corner, things could have turned out differently against Caballero. “I knew that at the end of the day, if it was the perfect world for Steve, I would have been in his corner for the Caballero fight and I would have put together some kind of plan to beat him,” emphasizes Johnson. “And Steve, in his own body and mind, knew that I would be able to do so because his belief in me was strong. At the end of the day, when the Caballero fight came, I wasn’t in his corner. And he got knocked out in the fourth round. I had mixed emotions because I wanted to say he couldn’t do it without me. And at the same time, I didn’t want to see something that I had helped build fall as it did.”
Molitor never really looked comfortable against Caballero as he struggled to deal with the size, aggression, and pressure of the lanky Panamanian. Caballero kept Molitor on the defensive and backing up, which prevented him from mounting any considerable offense. The end came in the fourth after Caballero landed a sharp right uppercut that knocked Molitor down and left him hurt. After a quick follow-up onslaught, the referee waved it off.
Looking back on it, Molitor acknowledges the many things leading into the fight that didn’t help his cause. “It was a result of everything: my lifestyle, leaving Chris with that turmoil and stress, the buildup of the fight. The level of the fight was very big for me. Jimmy Lennon Jr. and Showtime Sports. I feel that I got caught up in the moment. No excuses, he was a better man in the fight. He was a big fucking dude for 122 pounds.”
After devastatingly suffering his first pro loss in front of his ardent acolytes, Molitor fell into a deep depression, and he went back to his familiar vices of painkillers, cocaine, and alcohol. But it was the impending birth of his first son that forced him to wake up and drag himself out of the depths that he had sunk to. One night around a month before his son was born, Steve made a decision to stop all the drug abuse and he hasn’t looked back since.
“I quit doing drugs before the birth of my son because I knew he was coming. I quit cocaine and OxyContin cold turkey. I never touched it again”, says Molitor. “He may not be coming out to a world champion father but he doesn’t have to be coming out to a drug-addict, piece-of-shit father. So I never touched that stuff before his birth and I haven’t touched it to this day nor would I ever. That was the biggest victory for me.”
Molitor resumed his career but his passion was no longer as fiery as it once was because he now had something that he cared more about than boxing: his son. “Boxing was my whole life and love up to that moment. When my son was born, he became my whole love and life, and boxing became my job.”
The “Canadian Kid” eventually reunited with Johnson and the two would regain the IBF title by beating former foe Takalani Ndlovu in a rematch. But their professional relationship had changed irreversibly because of their first split.
“It was very weird. The bond had left; it wasn’t the same. Listening to me wasn’t the same,” admits Johnson. There was no real trust like there was before. He and I were very close the first time around. We played ping pong together, and we talked on the phone. It wasn’t only about boxing, it was about life. After we left, there was so much stress and strain on the relationship that it wasn’t the same. It was more like a job. It just wasn’t the same the second time around.”
Molitor and Johnson would notch one more win together before facing Ndlovu in the trilogy fight in South Africa. If there is one opponent that knows Molitor best, it’s the “Panther,” who shared the ring with the Canadian for more than 30 rounds. “I have nothing bad to say about Steve,” says Ndlovu. “He was a great fighter and he fought good guys during his career. In boxing, that’s one thing people forget. To be the best in this game, you need to fight the other top guys in your division.”
In the third fight against Ndlovu, Molitor failed to display any of his dynamic offense, and his meager punch output led to him losing a unanimous decision. It was after that loss that Johnson decided to end his professional relationship with Molitor so that he could focus on his successful amateur teams.
Looking back, what does Johnson remember most fondly of his time with his first and only world champion? “The hard training, the hours we did over and over again. It was a beautiful thing. It’s something that I will never forget,” remembers Johnson. “Having a world champion and winning the title not once but twice with him. What stands out most about Steve is his work ethic and commitment to the sport. I have never seen anybody work as hard as Steve yet.”
“I like the man that he’s becoming,” adds Johnson. “He loves his kids. I always used to tell him, ‘Steve, when you have your kids, that’s when you’re going to realize what a champion is, what a real man is. And years later, he would message me that I was right. He’s maturing, he’s growing up, he’s a man now. I am just happy with the journey he is on.”
Molitor is proud of what he accomplished and he aims to instill his work ethic in his children, who are his pride and joy.
“That’s my biggest piece of advice. If you’re going to do something, give it 210%, don’t half-ass anything. And do what makes you happy, not what other people tell you to do. Because trust me, a lot of people told me not to be a pro boxer, a 122-pound skinny white boy living in a gym thinking he’s going to become a world champion. No one said that was a good idea, not even my parents. But I stuck with it because I am not like everybody else.”