Photos: Ed Mulholland
By Kieran Mulvaney
A miserable few days for John Molina Jr. ended with his taking a battering from Terence Crawford over just shy of eight one-sided rounds, until finally, he slouched down in a corner as Crawford rained blows on him and referee Mark Nelson stepped in to save him from further punishment.
It isn’t as if Molina didn’t try. At no stage did he fail to keep coming, constantly churning forward in search of a miracle as Crawford circled away from him. One problem was that as he advanced, he did so in straight lines, and before he could reach the range at which he might be able to land some kind of punch, he walked into the perfect distance for Crawford to spear him with punches of his own – something the Nebraskan did repeatedly, much to the delight of his hometown crowd at Omaha’s CenturyLink Center.
Another problem, frankly, was that Molina simply wasn’t good enough. Not good enough to compete, certainly not good enough to even threaten to win, and barely good enough to merit the opportunity to share a ring with anyone regarded as one of the very best in the world, pound for pound. Which is not to say that Molina’s challenge of Crawford’s 140-pound titles was an exercise in bad matchmaking; it’s simply that a man who recently engaged in a Fight-of-the-Year candidate against Lucas Matthysse, and who more recently comfortably outpointed Ruslan Provodnikov, was not in the league of a man who, with each outing, adds credence to the notion that he may truly be something special.
The gulf in class was no secret, and Molina was a big underdog from the moment the bout was announced. That feeling was exacerbated when the challenger showed up drained and yet four pounds over the limit at Friday’s weigh-in before somehow squeezing a further half-pound from his dehydrated frame. After failing to make his contractual requirements, Molina (29-7, 23 KOs) had to surrender a reported five figures from his purse for the privilege of being shellacked in front of 11,270 screaming Nebraskans.
The tone was set from the very beginning, as Crawford (30-0, 21 KOs) snapped back Molina’s head with a straight left jab and then staggered him with a left-right combination. Crawford threw those punches from a right-handed stance; one minute and 20 seconds into the fight, he switched to southpaw and stayed there for the rest of the contest. It made little difference, as Crawford was able to pepper the face and body of the onrushing Molina with ease throughout. The only variety came in the nature of the punches that Crawford landed: one moment a jab, the next an uppercut, then a hook or an overhand southpaw left. The fact that Molina was charging straight into them magnified their power, and time and again the Californian appeared rattled by their impact, only to once again resume his suicidal march forward.
CompuBox figures underline the lopsided massacre that unfolded. Molina landed a grand total of 41 punches, out of 287 thrown. Crawford, in contrast, connected with 75 of 202 jabs, 109 of 217 power punches (a 50 percent connect percentage), and a total of 184 of 419.
A body shot proved to be the beginning of the end, digging beneath Molina’s ribcage, forcing him to move backward and leave himself open for follow-up punches as he backed into a corner. Some head shots twisted him downward and another body shot removed his final resistance before a right hand to the head bludgeoned him to the canvas, prompting Nelson to leap in without hesitation.
“Credit to John Molina: He came, he fought, he did everything he could do,” said Crawford afterward. “[But] I showed everything in this fight.”
The last time Ray Beltran fought in Omaha, he was on the receiving end of Crawford’s dominant brilliance, losing every round on one scorecard as Crawford rolled to victory in a lightweight title bout. Two years later, the 35-year-old veteran returned to produce perhaps the finest performance of his 40-fight career, schooling, dominating and ultimately knocking out talented but inexperienced puncher Mason Menard.
Menard (32-2, 24 KOs) had been virtually unknown outside of his home state of Louisiana until announcing his presence with a pair of stoppage wins this year, including a concussive knockout of Eudy Barnardo in April, and he opened the first round of his contest against Beltran by flashing superior hand speed in the form of searing left hooks and overhand rights as he sought to turn Beltran and fire punches from angles.
But Beltran (32-7-1, 20 KOs) kept a cool head and, beginning in the second round, began to impose himself on his younger foe. He closed the distance, preventing Menard from having the leverage he needed for his power punches, and repeatedly dug hooks into the younger man’s body, backing him to the ropes and throwing punches to Menard's torso and head.
Menard continued to throw big punches but Beltran was able to absorb and slip inside many of them, stepping inside and maintaining his pressure. And bit by bit Menard’s offense grew progressively more ragged. Then, early in the seventh, Menard stood up after bending down to dig a hook to Beltran’s body and the veteran was waiting for him, landing a left hook to the jaw that sent the man from the bayou crashing to his back. He just about made it to his feet before the 10 count, but referee Mark Nelson rightly observed that Menard was in absolutely no condition to continue, and waved the contest to a halt at 51 seconds into the round.
Menard said beforehand that he was hoping to see whether he would be able to make a living from boxing or whether he would need to find another job. He showed plenty to suggest that he has a future in the squared circle, but on this night it was the man who has been plying his trade there already for 17 years who emerged victorious.
In the opening bout of the broadcast, New Zealand heavyweight Joshua Parker, fighting in front of his hometown Auckland fans, remained undefeated with a close-fought majority decision win over previously unbeaten Andy Ruiz. The scores were 114-114, 115-113 and 115-113.