Ishe Smith is convinced things happen for a reason.
Why, he just leaves in God’s hands. But perhaps he wasn’t ready to fight Carlos Molina on July 19 at the Hard Rock Hotel. Maybe that cut above his eye suffered during a sparring session a few weeks before the fight was a sign from above.
“I believe in fate,” the 35-year-old Las Vegan said. “I always believe God has a plan.”
Smith and Molina finally will meet on Saturday. But the stage and the stakes are considerably larger.
Instead of the Hard Rock, the fight will take place at the sold-out MGM Grand Garden as part of the undercard supporting Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s junior middleweight showdown with Saul “Canelo” Alvarez. Instead of Showtime televising the fight, Smith will be on a Showtime pay-per-view telecast, with a projected 2 million expected to tune in.
The only things that haven’t changed are that Smith’s IBF junior welterweight title still is on the line and he’s still making his first title defense in his hometown.
“That was always the most important thing for me, to defend the title in Vegas, where I grew up, in front of my family and friends,” Smith said. “The other stuff, fighting at the MGM, fighting on Showtime pay-per-view, that’s all nice. But I want to keep this belt for a while, and that’s what I’m focused on.”
Smith (25-5, 11 knockouts) won the title on Feb. 23, outpointing Cornelius Bundrage in his hometown of Detroit in a majority decision. The last thing he wants is to fall victim to the 30-year-old Molina the same way Bundrage did to him.
“Not gonna happen,” Smith said. “I worked too hard to get to this point. I’m totally prepared for anything Molina does. I’m older. I’m wiser. I’m a veteran.
Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, who trains Smith, said the postponement from July gave them extra time to prepare, and they used the time wisely.
“You’ll see a much sharper Ishe,” Muhammad said. “He’s a better technician than Molina, and we’ve been able to work on some things and develop them.”
Muhammad said Smith’s emotions figure to run high when he enters the ring Saturday, and it’ll be his job to keep Smith’s emotions in check.
“I’ll make sure Ishe doesn’t start slow,” Muhammad said. “He listens real good, and he knows what he needs to do.
“We want him working behind the jab and use his boxing skills. He’s the better boxer. My worry about Molina is that he likes to lead with his head, and we have to watch out for that.”
Molina (21-5-2, six KOs) has fought gamely against good opponents, including a draw and a loss to Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., a loss to Mike Alvarado, a draw with Erislandy Lara, a controversial disqualification loss to James Kirkland (his corner entered the ring prematurely during the 10th round) and a win over Kermit Cintron. But Smith isn’t intimidated.
“He’s a heck of a fighter,” Smith said. “But I know if I do my job, it won’t matter what Molina does.
“This is the best I’ve prepared. When I first came back, I didn’t feel sharp. I was out of sync. But Eddie said not to worry, that it would come around, and he was right. I feel like I’m on top of my game.”
Winning the title has brought Smith celebrity. He was honored at City Hall this summer, and the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame recognized him for being the first native Las Vegan to win a world title. He appreciates the kudos but said it won’t change who he is.
“It feels good being world champion,” Smith said. “I’ve enjoyed all the things that have come into my life since winning the title. But I’m still the same guy. I’m still going into the gym every day, busting my butt. That’s never going to change.”
Contact reporter Steve Carp at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.