CLEVELAND – It’s impossible for Montana Love to avoid becoming emotional during the biggest fight week of his boxing career.

Six years ago, he was imprisoned. Incarceration was even more difficult for Love because his mother, Clarice Love, died from colon cancer at the age of 38 in January 2015.

The Cleveland native’s longtime trainer and grandfatherly figure, Clint Martin Jr., died later in 2015. Love needed support from his family more than ever, but drug and theft convictions cost him 16 months of his life and temporarily halted his promising boxing career.

On Sunday night, the 26-year-old Love will face former IBF junior welterweight champion Ivan Baranchyk in a 10-round fight on the Jake Paul-Tyron Woodley undercard at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, the home arena of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers. The bout between Love (15-0-1, 7 KOs) and Russia’s Baranchyk (20-2, 13 KOs) will be one of five televised as part of a Showtime Pay-Per-View card (8 p.m. EDT; $59.99).

It’s a world away from the high school gyms at which Love previously fought. The unbeaten southpaw has reflected recently on how far he has come – first from the Garden Valley Projects on the east side of Cleveland and more recently from Richland Correctional Institution in Mansfield, Ohio.

“Fighting in front of my hometown people, I get emotional because it’s literally a dream come true for me,” Love told “You know, I went from fighting in empty high schools, to now I’m fighting in a stadium that’s almost 20,000 full. So, it’s amazing. I’m very happy about it.”

Love will be happier, of course, if he beats Baranchyk and legitimizes himself as a contender in the 140-pound division.

Baranchyk will fight for the first time since his violent, fifth-round knockout loss to Jose Zepeda last October 3 at MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas. Zepeda and Baranchyk scored four knockdowns apiece in an unforgettable battle that and most other outlets recognized as “Fight of the Year” for 2020.

“This, right here, will put me in contender status,” Love said. “It’s putting me in the title-eliminator stage, world-champion stage. This is major. This is introducing myself to the 140-pound division properly.”

An improved Love is prouder of the person he can now introduce to the boxing world as well.

“Honestly, going to prison was probably the best thing that happened to me,” said Love, who was released in September 2016. “Before then, I had a baby at a young age, 15, and I was in the streets, wild. I felt like I couldn’t be touched, like I was invincible. I was doing what I wanted to do. I’m glad prison happened to me rather than a casket. You know, then losing my mother at 20 years old, it humbled me. Life humbled me. It showed me that I need to get my stuff together. You know what I mean?”

Love revealed that he was “on the run” when his mother died, training in Houston for his pro debut, and unwilling to turn himself in. He was persuaded by his handlers to return to Cleveland, where he was arrested on charges of grand theft of motorcycles, receiving stolen goods, misuse of a credit card and deception to obtain prescription drugs, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Losing his mother had the most profound effect on Love changing his ways.

“It hurt bad because that was my best friend,” Love said. “My father passed when I was 3 years old, and then my mother raised me, a single mom and everything. The relationship we had was unbreakable. And then she left me. Like I said, it humbled me, it brought me back to life and just made me take life more serious. I had to get away from the streets, get away from the people I was hanging around and things I was doing, and I had to focus.”

He is fully focused now on providing the best lives possible for his two daughters, Londyn and Kali, and his son, Montana Jr. Thinking of them makes it easier to train through the dog days of camp, as does reflecting on how far he has come from where he was six years ago.

“It definitely make you appreciate the grind, make you appreciate everything,” Love said. “There’s a lot of times when I don’t feel like training or don’t feel like doing anything, but I just think back on those moments. You’ve just gotta appreciate the grind and enjoy the process.”

In Baranchyk, Love will encounter a rugged, strong opponent who has lost only to two other left-handed opponents – fully unified junior welterweight champ Josh Taylor (18-0, 13 KOs) and Zepeda (34-2, 26 KOs, 2 NC).

“I don’t take anything away from him still, even with him being knocked out and whatnot,” Love said. “At the end of the day, he’s still a fighter, still got two hands. I mean, he’s strong. But skill-wise, we don’t see anything special. You know, we just see a strong, wild guy. I don’t see anything special.”

Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.