If you don’t know the backstory between John Molina and Josesito Lopez, it’s likely that when their Saturday bout at Staples Center is over, you’ll wonder why promoters allowed these two bitter enemies to inflict such pain on each other. (photo by Ryan Hafey)

Then you’ll see them give each other a hug and maybe even share a meal together. It’s then you’ll realize that it was strictly business between two veterans who know only one way to fight.

“We’re actually good friends,” said Molina. “We started in the business together, kind of the same era, if you will, and we’re very similar in style, very similar in resumes. But there was always about a weight class difference between us and I think he moved up a little quicker than I did. I thought it would have happened early in our careers, but it just so happened that it’s happening at this stage of our careers.”

“This stage” is that weird limbo where boxers like Molina and Lopez will beat 80 percent of the top fighters at 147 pounds but struggle with the other 20 percent. Molina has dropped bouts to Terence Crawford and Omar Figueroa in recent years, while Lopez has lost his share to the likes of Keith Thurman, Andre Berto and Canelo Alvarez.

But the desire is there, the skill is as well, and there’s enough grit that they both believe that another big win will get them that title opportunity once again. And this time, they’ll put it all together and bring home that belt.

“There’s a common goal,” said Molina. “To be victorious and to bring home the hardware. I’ve had the interim title, I’ve had the regional title, I’ve had the NABO and NABF titles. I’m missing one title for my man cave, and that’s the world title. Nothing was ever handed to me. I had to scratch and kick and punch and pull and do whatever I had to do to earn everything I have in this sport. There’s only one other man in this game right now that I can say is in that boat with me, and that’s Lopez. And now we’re both gonna get it on.”

You might say that’s unfortunate, though on Saturday no one will feeling those feelings because this fight being one to remember is about as certain as death and taxes. But when the euphoria wears off, you’ll recall that these are two friends inflicting punishment on each other.

That’s boxing.

“It’s business,” said Molina. “It’s how we feed our families. We know what the goal is, what the prize is, and we’re gladiators. With that being said, I’m expecting the best Lopez and he’s a smart man, so I’m sure he’s going to expect the best version of myself.”

If both show up with the best version of themselves, fireworks should ensue. Molina, 36, knows that feeling well, having made a career out of having fights many of his peers avoid at all costs. Most of the time, it’s a happy accident, but with the reality that he’s facing a mirror image of himself in terms of attitude, Molina knows what’s ahead of him. That would scare civilians. Molina is no civilian.

“As you know, in my career I’ve had plenty of these types of wars,” he said. “The only preparation I have is that I’m there to do a job, and my job is to finish the fight, whether that’s one round or ten rounds or twelve rounds. I’ve got to finish the fight and I’ve got to do it one step ahead of Jose. We’re prepared and I’m sure he’s prepared as well. I believe this is gonna be a barnburner. You said it best, everyone knows that this is as sure a thing in boxing that you’re gonna get.”

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That’s a badge of honor that requires a steady diet of blood, sweat and tears to earn. Maybe it doesn’t match up to a world championship belt in terms of money or prestige, but those who know realize what it takes to become a fighter like that and maintain that level for years. And Molina does appreciate being in that small and exclusive club.

“I love the fact that I’ve gained the respect of my peers in the boxing game and of the fans in the boxing game, and I do take it as a badge of honor that I’ve earned that respect,” he said. “It does give me a sense of pride. I’m willing to go to the dark places and pull the fight out of the fight. That’s something you have to be okay with in your own mind, because if not, you’re gonna get hurt in there.”

Molina is okay with it and has been his whole career. His friend Lopez is, too. That’s why on a card headlined by a highly anticipated bout between Errol Spence Jr. and Shawn Porter, the diehards will be watching as two California veterans attempt to steal the show.

“It’s an instant fight,” Molina said. “Just add water.”

He chuckles, knowing that it’s the rare fight that doesn’t need to be sold. But with a win on a high-profile pay-per-view event, he may just be in the position to sell himself for another title fight. So he knows what’s at stake. He just doesn’t want to think about that before walking through hell with Lopez.

“Of course, it (a title fight) is always in the back of your head,” he said. “I’d be lying if I said it’s not. But where I’m at right now, my mind is on one fight at a time. My main focus is on this fight very specifically. I know that I’m there to fight this man and he’s there to fight me. And my pride goes into winning. Whether it’s me and him playing carroms or shooting pool, I want to win. And I know that I’m willing to go to the gritty roads, the dark roads, to get there. And the only difference in this scenario is my opponent is willing to go down the same road I am.”