This past Saturday night in Birmingham Alabama, we saw WBC heavyweight title holder Deonaty Wilder 34-0 (33) in a good give and take scuffle with challenger Eric Molina 23-3 (17).
It was Wilder’s first defense of the title he won back in January. The fight was not only action packed but also may have provided a glimpse of some things to come pertaining to the “Bronze Bomber’s” future.
As most observers know, Wilder has a reputation for being a big puncher and a hard worker. But prior to fighting Molina, it was hard to say for certain just how much of a force he’ll be in a post Klitschko heavyweight era, if he still holds a piece of the title then. Wilder, 29, did what he was supposed to do versus Molina, and that was win the fight in a convincing fashion via stopping him in the ninth round with a massive right hand to the head.
Throughout the course of nine rounds, Wilder dropped Molina four times before referee Jack Reiss stopped the fight after the final knockdown. That’s the good of it.
I think at this point I’m convinced Wilder can punch and his power is legit. No, he’s not the second coming of George Foreman, but he carries some pop at the end of his right hand and that night revealed he has a decent left hook too. Molina isn’t known for being the most durable guy in the division – but when Wilder managed to land flush he put him down in a dramatic fashion. But one also cannot overlook that Molina got up three times and had a few moments of his own after being down.
If you were watching Wilder and looking for little indicators to sway you one way or the other, there were some things that should alarm you, not that every contender or belt holder isn’t without their warts. What bothered me was how reluctant Deontay looked at the onset of the fight – especially at a time when Molina was unsure of himself and trying to find his footing. I was expecting Wilder to come out hard and establish himself as being the dominant physical presence in there, but instead he poked and pawed with his long left jab and allowed Molina to become brave as color commentator Paulie Malinaggi pointed out.
As you saw when Molina, who came to fight and win the title, caught on that Wilder was a little tentative himself, three things happened – 1) Molina let his hands go and caught Wilder; 2) Wilder was shook pretty good in the third round and was a punch away from being in serious trouble and 3) once Deontay recovered he became over-anxious and wild with his pursuit. And I could add four, stressing how Wilder backed straight up when Molina decided to press him. This is a cardinal sin and stressed not to do because any attacker can move forward faster than anybody can go back. If you doubt that, watch any one of the three historic confrontations between legendary greats Muhammad Ali and “Smokin” Joe Frazier. As fast as Ali was on his feet, Joe had no trouble cornering Ali or trapping him on the ropes when Muhammad went straight back. A fighter should never take more than three steps back and should cut to a side by the third step or he’s going to get nailed and be in a defenseless position.
Another thing that stood out to me and will become an issue when Wilder steps up in class is, he doesn’t really try to deceive throwing his big right hand. He jabs, keeps it in the holster as a threat, and then tries to guess when he feels his opponent is most vulnerable to him letting it go. I didn’t see many multiple jabs with commitment and his offense was devoid of body work. The effort to set up the right wasn’t there. Wilder would’ve gone less rounds with Molina most likely if he had gone to the body with his left hook the way Thomas Hearns used to. Then again his trainer Mark Breland, who was a terrific “out” fighter wasn’t much of a body puncher or inside fighter. So I doubt we’ll see Wilder excel in those areas anytime soon.
Having said that, most of the mechanics and unimaginative offense Wilder exhibited against Molina can be addressed and tweaked. He may have 34 professional fights under his belt but he’s only boxed 79 rounds. And in all honesty he’s only really fought four or five opponents who actually got his attention and forced him to fight with a sense of urgency. Wilder has tools and a skill-set to work with, especially if you keep in mind that the heavyweight division in 2015 is nothing close to the baddest block in the neighborhood like it was in the 1970’s and 1990’s. So he cannot be overlooked or dismissed.
What concerns me most about Wilder down the road is his defense and durability regarding his punch resistance. He was shook pretty good by one left hook from Molina in the third round and Eric came real close to removing Wilder’s head from his shoulders with a few beautiful uppercuts that just missed their target. Wilder was also vulnerable up the middle versus Molina. Yes, he recovered from the big left hook in the third round, but I kept thinking what if it was later in the fight… or he was tired? Or what if he had a grinder in front of him like Alexander Povetkin 29-1 (21) – who has been mentioned as his next opponent? Povetkin has only lost once and that was to Wladimir Klitschko, who is no doubt the alpha fighter in the heavyweight division. Klitschko, who is physically bigger and stronger than Wilder, had Povetkin down four times but couldn’t put him away.
I can see Wilder getting out ahead of Povetkin early but being susceptible in the second half of the fight. I’m sure after seeing Wilder fight Molina, Povetkin is confident that he can grind Deontay down and have his way with him later as the bout progresses. And that will make the matchup worth watching, make people want to see if Wilder can improve from what we saw against Molina. As it was mentioned earlier, Wilder can improve his mechanics and fundamentals, something I expect to see when he next fights. However, the chin and durability is a real concern. Having a sturdy chin as a last line of defense is not a luxury fighting in the heavyweight division, it’s a necessity.
Wilder’s stock didn’t drop based off of his showing against Molina, but I doubt it rose. As of this writing, interest in him still remains.
Photo Credit: Stephanie Trapp/SHOWTIME®
Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com