WBC heavyweight titleholder Deontay Wilder smashed Eric Molina just like he ought to. Or maybe he ought not to have? After all, Molina had no business fighting for the heavyweight championship of the world on Saturday night at the Bartow Center in Birmingham, Alabama (or at least the heavyweight championship of America since Wladimir Klitschko is the true and lineal champion).
No matter. Wilder, age 29, did what he should do when he’s put in the ring with a guy he should knock out. He knocked him out. But it wasn’t easy.
Molina looked timid at the start of things, almost as if he was fully aware he was there to be a sacrificial lamb for Wilder’s Alabama homecoming party. He was passive, sullen-faced and disinterested in throwing punches until he landed a counter uppercut at the very end of Round 1. Wilder was patient. He stayed behind his jab and was content to box from a distance.
The action picked up in Round 2. Molina was apparently just playing possum in the first. He let loose some power shots and Wilder was obliged to answer them with his own. Molina clearly wanted to counter Wilder, but the champion was not falling for it. He was patient with his jab and stayed vigilant in his effort to fight from a distance.
Molina staggered Wilder with a left hook in Round 3, but the champion weathered the storm and landed solid counters at the end of the round when Molina kept trying to throw his vaunted uppercut from too far a distance. Wilder dropped Molina at the end of Round 4 with a left hook. He was badly hurt, but made it to his feet and over to his corner on steady enough legs after the round’s end.
In the fifth, Wilder knocked Molina across the ring with a right hand. He hit him with another to lay him on top of the ropes, and Molina turned his back to eat a Wilder left on his way down for the count. He rose but Wilder dumped him back to the canvas again with a barrage of punches as Molina tried to retreat. Molina used pure guile to make it through the last 20 seconds of the round without going down again.
Molina is a brave man. He landed good left hooks to the head and body of Wilder in Round 6 until Wilder smacked his chin hard with a left hook of his own. By the end of the three minutes, Wilder was battering him in the corner until the bell sounded to save him.
At the start of Round 7, Wilder cracked Molina with a left hook. But Molina held on and answered back with clever shots of his own. He might not have deserved the title shot, but he was damn sure trying to win it.
Molina did good work to the head and body in Round 8. Wilder looked tired. So did Molina, but the latter threw punches with more zip on them. He must of felt pretty good about it, too. He came out in Round 9 trying to do the same, but Wilder put the “bam” in Alabama (h/t Showtime’s Mauro Ranallo who coined the term in the broadcast) and knocked Molina out with a destructive counter right hand to end things there.
Referee Jack Reiss stopped it immediately as Molina lay flat on his back.
It was Wilder’s first defense of the WBC belt he lifted from Bermane Stiverne in January. In that fight, Wilder was in deep waters. But Wilder’s 83-inch reach and rocket-powered punches helped him jab-cross his way to the unanimous decision victory, the best of his career.
That very same Wilder was on display tonight. He looks tall. He looks athletic. He looks talented. He looks promising. And now he looks like he has a heavyweight championship belt around his waist, one that he’s now defended in front of his hometown fans.
But he doesn’t look a match for Klitschko. Not yet.
In the Showtime opener, Puerto Rican fighter Jose Pedraza defeated Andrey Klimov, of Russia, for the vacant IBF lightweight title. Judges at ringside scored the bout 119-108, 120-107 and 120-107 for the 26-year-old newly crowned champion.
Pedraza, a switch-hitter, fought predominantly as a southpaw through the first half of the fight and used good movement to create proper punching angles. His right hook to the head and body was particularly effective, as was his jab. Klimov did his best to cut the distance, but he was slower and less capable of making his punches matter.
The pace of the first five rounds was set by Pedraza. He landed punches, moved and landed punches again. Klimov tried to cut the ring off but he was reduced to being a punch-eating plodder. Pedraza, nicknamed “The Sniper,” was exactly that as a southpaw: He did his damage from long-distance.
But Pedraza turned to an orthodox stance in Round 6. Klimov took that as an invitation to throw more punches, so he did. As a righty, Pedraza fought more like a stalking, pressure fighter. He moved forward instead of using cute boxing techniques, and threw more punches with deadly intent. From this side of the plate, Pedraza did good body work and used a front-hand uppercut to Klimov’s head. It was more of the same in Round 7, and Klimov’s face began to look marked and haggard.
Pedraza was a different fighter as a righty. He threw punches with almost reckless abandon and was extremely effective with entertaining aggression. Klimov did his best in Round 8 to deter him by loading up on some power shots, but Pedraza walked through them with ease.
The southpaw Pedraza returned in Round 9 and stayed for the final four rounds of the fight. He jabbed and moved his way to the easy-breezy win. The victory showed Pedraza’s talent, his skill from both stances and his real potential for becoming a legitimate lightweight star.
Photo Credit: Stephanie Trapp/SHOWTIME®