Molina confident his firepower will finish Joshua
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.”
IBF heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua (left) and challenger Eric Molina pose at Thursday’s media conference in Manchester.