DON’T COUNT OUT JOHN MOLINA — After 11 years as a pro fighter it’s needless to say John Molina Jr. rates as a veteran and among the more underrated of his time.
Once again on Saturday, he’s the underdog.
Molina (29-6, 23 KOs) faces the heavy favorite Terence Crawford (29-0, 20 KOs) for the WBO and WBC super lightweight world titles on Saturday Dec. 10, in Omaha, Nebraska. HBO will televise.
“It’s the opportunity of a lifetime for me and the fans are going to see a great fight. I got into this game to fight the best and Terence Crawford is one of the best,” said Molina, 33, while in Nebraska.
Long has Molina been a slow but steady learner.
Years ago the Covina athlete was a high school wrestler with no experience as a boxer. He entered a boxing gym in South El Monte and began learning the rudimentary elements of boxing. From his stance to his footwork Molina was molded slowly into a boxer of basic skills. But one thing Molina was blessed was the power wielded inside those fists.
“The kid has power,” said his first boxing trainer Ben Lira who showed him the first steps toward becoming a pro boxer. “You can be losing a fight all the way until the last round and when you have that equalizer, that punch, you can change the dynamics.”
Boy what an equalizer did Molina possess.
Molina was taken to a few amateur tournaments where he learned how to take punches and use the defensive techniques taught. He was slightly crude compared to the other amateurs and a little wrestling awkward at first like an MMA fighter trying to box, but when he let loose with his blows and connected it seemed to knock the arrogance out of anyone facing him.
After a so-so amateur start his trainer decided Molina was ready for the pro experience. He figured that the Covina fighter’s raw power was much more suited for prizefighting than trying to win on points.
Molina was always an extremely polite young man. “Yes sir” and “no sir” were always a strong part of his personality make-up. When he departed from South El Monte in 2009 to work under Joe Goossen it was a change from a defensive-minded trainer to an offensive-minded trainer. But at the time it might have been a little too radical a change.
Still, Molina had one other intangible you can’t teach…determination.
After several knockout wins Molina then ran into Mexico’s experienced Martin Honorio, a veteran who had faced numerous knockout assassins in the past and knew how to counteract their power. He short-circuited Molina’s bombs and walked away with a minor title.
It was back to the drawing board again for Molina and he bludgeoned his way back to a title fight where he managed to win a fight he was losing with a 11th round knockout of Hank Lundy. Molina took home the NABO lightweight title in 2010.
In 2012, Molina was matched against WBO lightweight titlist Antonio DeMarco at the Staples Center in L.A. It was a one round fight that did not end in his favor. He was buried by an avalanche of blows and caught in an awkward position in a corner and was unable to prove he could defend himself. The referee stopped the fight. But it was a lesson learned.
Egos and Equalizer
Slick boxers have always been a big weakness for Molina. They can move around fluidly while avoiding his most lethal blows. But slick fighters with heavy egos have always been good to Molina. Often they jump ahead on the scorecards and relax their posture, then boom…there comes a right cross that ends the night in Molina’s favor.
Mickey Bey was one of those big ego slicksters who relaxed. He learned the hard way via the Molina Express that you just can’t do that against the Covina cross in 2013.
Lucas Matthysse thought he was the heavy hitter when they met. He nearly was decapitated when Molina caught him early in their fight in 2014 that turned out to be the Fight of the Year.
Humberto Soto actually should have been the loser when he fought Molina 2014. But referee Jay Nady was duped by the Mexican fighter who feigned low blows as was his custom. Nady erroneously deducted points from Molina who eventually lost by decision but should have won by knockout when he collapsed Soto with a body shot.
Molina never complains. As deadly as he is in the ring, he’s the ultimate gentleman outside of the ropes.
Last June he defeated the dangerous Ruslan Provodnikov by out-boxing the Russian tank. It proved once again that Molina might be the most underrated fighter of this generation.
But now he faces one of the best fighters of this era in Crawford. The Nebraska prizefighter has superlative skills and extreme intelligence inside the boxing ring.
“Molina is coming off a great victory over Ruslan Provodnikov and a Fight of the Year performance against Lucas Matthysse. I know he’s dangerous. He has shown versatility and guts,” said Crawford, 29. “He is a legitimate No. 1 contender – tough and rugged. He has my respect.”
Crawford has never been beaten and has more skills than anyone Molina has fought before, including Adrien Broner.
Still, you can never count out Molina.
It’s like his old trainer, Ben Lira, said.
“He has that X-factor, the equalizer” said Lira. “He can be losing a fight then pow, it’s over.”
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