Molina con­fi­dent his fire­power will fin­ish Joshua

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - SPORTS - By AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS in Manch­ester, Eng­land

An­thony Joshua has risen to the top of box­ing’s heavy­weight divi­sion in serene fash­ion, with barely a clean punch land­ing on him in 17 straight pro­fes­sional wins.

For the Bri­tish fighter, the real work starts now.

On Satur­day night, Joshua de­fends his IBF ti­tle against Eric Molina, a 34-year-old Amer­i­can who packs a huge punch and has noth­ing to lose.

Ev­ery­one is in agree­ment: Molina is a cred­i­ble chal­lenger and Joshua’s most dan­ger­ous fight to date.

“We’ve specif­i­cally trained to land the knockout shot,” Molina said on Thurs­day. “There’s noth­ing else we’ve worked on, other than land­ing that shot. I know I can do it.”

That one big punch wob­bled fel­low Amer­i­can Deon­tay Wilder in Molina’s only other world ti­tle fight, in June last year in Alabama.

Molina landed a clean left hook that shook the WBC cham­pion in the third round, but he couldn’t fol­low up and was KO’d in the ninth.

For Molina, who has al­ready lost three times in his ca­reer and knows this might be his last shot at the big time, it’s all about get­ting that one chance.

“I think An­thony Joshua’s at the point in his ca­reer where he needs to get tested,” Molina said in a Manch­ester ho­tel, two days be­fore the fight in the north­ern English city.

“I think he’s hit­ting that time of his ca­reer where he’s go­ing to have to start fac­ing sit­u­a­tions he hasn’t faced be­fore.”

Few are giv­ing Molina a chance against Joshua, the heavy­weight divi­sion’s new big thing. Then again, Molina’s life has re­volved around deal­ing with ad­ver­sity.

He has been play­ing catchup in his box­ing ca­reer since first putting on a pair of gloves in 2006, at age 23.

A strong all-round ath­lete, espe­cially at base­ball, the Tex- as na­tive was study­ing at col­lege and work­ing in a restau­rant when he gave box­ing a try.

“He bal­anced work, study­ing and train­ing all day and go­ing into the night,” said Molina’s fa­ther, Richard. “He kept push­ing for this dream.”

In an up-and-down ca­reer, Molina lost his first pro­fes­sional fight, won the next 18, was knocked out in the first round by Chris Arre­ola in 2012, won five more bouts, and then lost to Wilder.

Now Molina’s back, after beat­ing Poland’s To­masz Adamek in Krakow with a 10th-round knockout and earn­ing the va­cant IBF in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal ti­tle in his first fight out­side the US.

When a high-pro­file fight be­tween Joshua and Wladimir Kl­itch­sko couldn’t be ar­ranged for var­i­ous rea­sons in Oc­to­ber, Joshua’s team turned to Molina.

Away from the ring, Molina pur­sues another dream: teach­ing kids with spe­cial ed­u­ca­tional needs at a high school in Ed­in­burg, Texas.

He’s jug­gled the two jobs — teach­ing and box­ing — since 2012, al­though he hasn’t worked at the school for sev­eral months in or­der to fully fo­cus on the Joshua fight.

“They have a cou­ple of strikes against them in their life­time al­ready, so he de­cided if he can help each one of them and make their lives bet­ter, that’s what he does,” Richard Molina said about his son’s stu­dents.

“It makes him unique (as a boxer). His hum­ble­ness will never fade.”

Not one for trash talk be­fore fights, Molina nev­er­the­less goaded Joshua by de­scrib­ing Wilder as “the best heavy­weight in the world right now.”

Joshua, with his chis­eled physique and fe­ro­cious punch­ing power, might have some­thing to say about that, al­though there’s a sense that he still has some­thing to prove at the high­est level.

A fight with Kl­itschko has al­ready been sanc­tioned by the WBA for next year, but Joshua said he is not look­ing beyond Molina.

“Peo­ple were ask­ing me 12 months ago, 18 months ago, when you go­ing to fight this guy and that guy,” said Joshua, who won su­per heavy­weight gold for Bri­tain at the 2012 Lon­don Olympics.

“I said, ‘ Give me 12, 18 months.’ Now the time is here, and ev­ery­one is watch­ing be­cause there is the po­ten­tial of me tak­ing a loss.”

Still, he promised to “make Eric look like a novice” and it will be a shock if the Bri­ton loses in front of 21,000 spec­ta­tors at Manch­ester Arena.

Even Molina said he’ll need to be “lucky” to win — but he be­lieves his ex­pe­ri­ence gives him strength and hope.

“I want to stop time,” Molina said. “I want ev­ery­one to re­mem­ber where they were when Eric Molina knocked out Joshua and shocked the world.”

AN­DREW COULDRIDGE / REUTERS

IBF heavy­weight cham­pion An­thony Joshua (left) and chal­lenger Eric Molina pose at Thurs­day’s me­dia con­fer­ence in Manch­ester.

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