By John J. Raspanti
“When I raised the American flag in a foreign country in victory. That was the single greatest moment of my career”
He wasn’t supposed to win.
A year ago, Mike Mollo traveled to Legionowo, Poland, to fight undefeated local hero, Karzysztof Zimnoch.
Zimnoch was heavily favored to win. He was 18 and 0 and was already talking about his next fight.
Mollo (21-6, 13 KOs) quietly went about his business. He hadn’t fought in close to three years, but none of that mattered. His last three opponents had entered the ring with a combined 45 and zero record.
He was being brought to Poland as fodder for a young up-and-coming fighter.
“This was an opportunity for me to change my career,” Mollo told this writer a few weeks after the fight.
Change it he did.
In the opening stanza, Mollo stalked Zimnoch like a hungry bear. He ate a right hand, but didn’t flinch. He forced Zimnoch into the ropes and landed a chilling inside left hook. The punch wobbled the Polish prospect. He languished on the ropes like a man in quicksand.
Big mistake. Mollo forced his way inside and let his hands go.
A right hook crashed off the ribcage. Seconds later, the same punch landed flush on the chin. Zimnoch fell forward on his side.
He beat the count and glanced over at Mollo, a blank expression on his face.
Mollo charged at Zimnoch like a bull. Zimnoch grabbed him and held on for dear life, but the Chicago native would have none of it.
He pushed Zimnoch away and went back downstairs with a blistering left hook. Zimnoch sagged as Mollo unleashed another hook.
Zimnoch teetered before going down like a tree in a storm. He struggled to get up but couldn’t beat the fatal 10 count.
Draped with an American flag over his massive shoulders, Mollo let out a victory yell. The Polish faithful were stunned.
In a few weeks, Mollo will fight Zimnoch again.
Once wasn’t enough—especially for the Polish fighter, who has been calling Mollo a “princess” in the press and making excuses for his loss.
“Him talking big does nothing but fire me up,” Mollo told this writer via email a few weeks ago. “He’s been running his mouth, and to be honest, it’s disrespectful. Saying the referee helped me and he’s gonna whip me.
“The ref did not help me. He caught with a short-left hook. He couldn’t recover from it.”
But Mollo has recovered from numerous injuries and managerial problems over the course of his long career, taking on all comers.
For him, trekking halfway across the world to fight is no big deal.
“Winning on the road is not easy, but it’s possible,” said Mollo “I feel that God is opening doors for me. Then so be it.”
Mollo is looking forward to visiting Poland again.
“The people of Poland are beautiful,” Mollo said. "They treated us with nothing but love and respect. The country is very beautiful and so I’m excited to be going back and fighting there again.”
When not boxing, Mollo climbs water towers.
“My job is seasonal so I’m off in the winter,” Mollo said. “That’s when I fight. My workday is anywhere from ten to sixteen hours. The hard part is getting back into fighting shape. Going from just working to boxing, and dealing with the soreness, is a challenge.”
For the first time in many years, Mollo has had plenty of time to get ready for his second go around with Zimnoch. Sparring is where a fighter sharpens his reflexes.
Preparation has been going well.
“Sparring is really picking up right now,” said Mollo. “My sparring partners are the best in the city.”
Zimnoch (20-1-1, 13 KOs) has won his last two fights since being leveled by Mollo. He desperately wants revenge.
But it seems likely, that in the back of his mind lurks the memory of being knocked out.
Mollo thinks the sequel will go very much like the original.
“To be honest, I don’t think there’s anything he do to help himself. He doesn’t have the firepower to keep me off him,”
Mollo says he will be representing America on Feb.25.
“Everytime I put the flag on my shoulders, and walk to the ring to fight, I feel like that I have my country on my shoulders and on my side. I love it!”