A question that all new champions are asked is how will they respond when they defend their world championship for the first time. For undefeated WBC Heavyweight world champion Deontay Wilder, the answer to that question came on June 13th when he defended his world title for the first time against WBC number seven rated contender Eric Molina at the Bartow Arena in Birmingham, Alabama.
Although Wilder, who had a career knockout percentage of nearly 97% going into the fight was heavily favored to retain his title over the challenger, Molina showed that he was not interested in being a mere opponent for a world champion making his first title defense. Not only would Molina put up a fight, but he would also become the first fighter to show significant resistance after being hurt by the champion’s power.
The tempo of this fight was dictated by Wilder who established his jab from the outset and mixed in his right hand and combinations in the early rounds. Prior to this fight this observer stated when discussing Eric Molina’s last fight against Raphael Zumbano that it would be interesting to see what strategy he would use in this fight against Wilder. Much like his fight with Zumbano, Molina allowed Wilder to walk straight in and position him on the ropes. Molina also did not let his hands go consistently in the early rounds, perhaps out of respect for Wilder’s punching power.
As the fight progressed however, Molina would begin to let his hands go more frequently having success landing his right hand to the body and head of the champion. Molina also was able to briefly stagger Wilder with a left hook in the third round. Although Molina seemed very disciplined in his attack of Wilder when he did open up threw punches, he did not throw many combinations and appeared to be looking to land one punch that would turn the fight in his favor.
The champion was able to recover quickly from being rocked in round three and would respond by dropping Molina with a left hook in the closing seconds of round four. The challenger showed his mettle by coming out and being willing to engage with Wilder in round five. Molina however, would face more adversity as he was dropped for the second time in the fight by a right hand later in the round.
At this point in the fight, I wondered if it would be allowed to continue following the second knockdown. After being hit by Wilder’s right hand, Molina turned his back as he was going down. Under circumstances where referees have stopped fights due to a fighter turning his back away from combat, Referee Jack Reiss after asking Molina if he wanted to continue following the second knockdown, admonished the challenger not to turn his back and allowed the fight to go on.
Molina however, would be knocked down for the third time in the fight seconds later by another Wilder right hand. Although some may question why Referee Jack Reiss allowed the fight to go on following the second knockdown, I believe Reiss, who is one of the best referees in the entire sport should be commended for giving the challenger every possible opportunity to remain in the fight. Molina once again showed his heart by getting up from the third knockdown and the fight continued.
Despite suffering three knockdowns and being significantly behind on the scorecards, Molina remained determined and continued attempting to bring the fight to Wilder mixing in offense to the body and head. Although Molina was able to be effective in spurts throughout this fight, I feel he was most effective in rounds six through eight where he was able to let his hands go more frequently than had been the case in previous rounds, landing combinations to the body, right hands to the head, and be able to have some success landing uppercuts to the head of the champion.
What was a determined effort by the challenger however, would come to an end in round nine. A flush right hand from Wilder would send the challenger to the canvas for the fourth time in the bout. This time there would be no count from Referee Jack Reiss, who immediately stopped the fight at 1:03 of the ninth round. Deontay Wilder advances to 34-0, with 33 Knockouts. Eric Molina falls to 23-3, with 17 Knockouts.
It was an impressive performance by a world champion in his first title defense, but one where some might be critical of Wilder simply because it took him a while to get his opponent out of there and Molina was able not only provide resistance after being knocked down, but also able to have periodic success throughout the fight. In this observer’s eyes however, although he was faced with an opponent who provided more resistance than some believed would be the case prior to the fight, he was still able to score four knockdowns and ultimately get the knockout win.
Prior to this fight, I stated that if Wilder were to impress his fans and critics alike by making a statement in his first title defense that it may put him on a collision course with unified IBF/WBO/WBA/IBO Heavyweight world champion Wladimir Klitschko, in what would be a fight to determine an undisputed Heavyweight world champion. Wilder however, would appear to be heading toward a fight against longtime contender and former world title challenger Alexander Povetkin, who is currently the WBC’s number one rated mandatory challenger at some point in the near future, perhaps later this year.
If and when that fight happens it will be interesting to see if Povetkin will look to implement some of the things that Eric Molina was able to have success with in this fight. Povetkin is a fighter who has hand speed, punching power, and has only lost to Wladimir Klitschko. If the fight can be made, it just might be one of the more intriguing fights in the recent history of the Heavyweight division.
Although the potential Wilder-Povetkin fight will certainly be a hot topic of discussion in regard to the Heavyweight division for weeks and maybe even months to come, there is one other topic that Boxing fans and experts alike should also discuss coming out of this fight. The valiant effort put forth by an extremely “Game” challenger Eric Molina.
Even though Molina, who was rated number nine in the world by the WBC in the Heavyweight division prior to the fight, but announced as rated number seven by the same organization when he entered the ring to face Wilder was not given much of a chance in this fight by some, he proved that he belonged in the ring with Deontay Wilder. Despite suffering the third loss of his career, Eric Molina established himself as a player in the division in defeat and has absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. Although he came out of this fight on the losing end, he put up a hell of a fight and should be proud of his performance.
“And That’s the Boxing Truth.”
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