Photo: Will Hart
A boxer's career path alternates between foundational fights and defining moments. For Terence Crawford, the fight with John Molina may be the former because he is coming off a decisive points win over titular counterpart Viktor Postol that qualifies as the latter. For Molina, the Crawford fight is an opportunity to prevail in a second consecutive reputation-restoring contest because five months earlier he not only scored a stunning upset of top-rated Ruslan Provodnikov, but did so with a Rocky III-esque transformation from blood-and-guts warrior to masterful boxer-puncher. Even more amazing: Molina's performance prompted Provodnikov to admit Molina had severely tested his own will to fight. Thus, it is notable he hasn't fought again since. Will Molina again rise to the occasion or will "The Hunter" administer a brutal reality check?
140 vs. 135: When one looks at Crawford's offensive profile in his three CompuBox-tracked fights against world-class lightweights and his four title fights at 140 pounds, the Omaha native’s offensive profile has remained consistent. He throws fewer punches at 140 (43.8 vs. 52 per round) while being somewhat less prolific but just as accurate with his jab (24.8 thrown/5.7 connects, 23% at 140 vs. 30.5 thrown/7.0 connects/23% at 135) and his power shots (18.9 thrown/8.5 connects/45% at 140; 26.5 thrown/9.9 connects, 46% at 135).
The biggest shift has been on defense. While he tastes slightly more punches overall now (21.8% now, 19.8% then) and in jabs (14.5% now, 14.3% then), his 140-pound foes have connected on 30.8% of their power shots as opposed to the 24.7% his lightweight foes landed. Perhaps that's because Crawford has faced quality foes at 140 -- Thomas Dulorme, Dierry Jean, Henry Lundy and Postol were a combined 105-7-1 at the time they faced Crawford -- and his defensive numbers are still much better than the junior welterweight averages of 29.5% overall, 19.7% jabs and 36.4% power.
Also, one must note Crawford's numbers against Postol, probably the best foe of his career. In a very slow-paced fight in which Crawford averaged 32.3 punches per round to Postol's 20.3 -- well below the 58.7 junior welterweight average -- Crawford led 141-83 overall, 34-28 jabs and 107-55 power because of his performance in rounds 6-10 (64-20 overall, 45-14 power). He landed 36% overall and 50% power but took 34% overall and 40% power, probably because he had to assume the role of aggressor. Against Molina, Crawford will likely revert to his more comfortable role of counterpuncher.
Overall in his last 7 fights, the selective Crawford (49.1 punches thrown per round, 10 less than the weight class average) amassed a plus-12.1 plus/minus rating, good for a No. 5 standing among all boxers in the CompuBox ranks. Crawford landed 45.7% of his power punches, nearly 10% higher than the weight class average. He can play defense as well; opponents landed just 7.4 punches per round (tied for No. 3 on CompuBox list; weight class average: 17.3) and just 5.2 power shots per round (No. 5 on the list; weight class average: 12.5)
Transformative Fight: Leading up to the Provodnikov fight, Molina was perceived as a warrior who often defied CompuBox wisdom by winning fights he was trailing statistically (Mickey Bey, Dannie Williams, Hank Lundy) while losing fights in which he led (Andrey Klimov). But while Molina-Provodnikov lived up to the action warrior narrative in terms of stats -- they combined for 660 total connects and 422 landed power shots in 12 rounds -- Molina utilized a previously untapped weapon to dominate the action: his jab.
Molina's left hand was a revelation as he averaged 53.6 attempts and 12.7 connects per round, stunning figures when one considers that Molina averaged just 15.7 attempts and 3.3 connects per round in his seven previous CompuBox-tracked fights. Also, his work rate was remarkably elevated as he averaged 91 punches per round against Provodnikov while firing just 43.6 per round in his previous seven. Molina led 377-283 overall, 152-86 jabs and 225-197 power as well as 50%-45% power, but most incredibly Molina's effort prompted Provodnikov to admit he had experienced a diminished will to fight. Can Molina produce another narrative-turning performance against the sharp-shooter Crawford? The numbers below suggest he's in for a long night.
Overall, in his last nine fights, Molina may have matched Crawford's offensive numbers (16 of 50.8 per round to Crawford's 16.2 of 49.1; 11.2 power shots landed per round to Crawford's 9.6), but is no match for “Bud” defensively. Molina has amassed a minus-8.1 plus minus rating, with only Alfredo Angulo (-8.6) and Jesus Soto Karass (-14.6) being worse defenders. Plus, opponents landed 46.8% of their power shots against Molina (weight class average: 36.4%; only Soto Karass at 48.9% get hits at a higher rate).
Prediction: This fight will likely go lots of rounds, not only because Crawford has averaged 9.2 rounds per fight in his last 10 and Molina has averaged 8.8 in his last eight, but because both have performed well in later rounds (Crawford has five KOs in round six or later while Molina, who has scored knockouts in rounds 10 and 11, out-landed Provodnikov 75-39 in the last two rounds of an already strenuous fight).
But while Molina has admirably raised his game, he'll need to at least duplicate -- if not exceed -- it just to hang with Crawford, who is an elite pound-for-pound talent. Because Crawford has preferred to remain southpaw for long stretches (a tactic that effectively neutralized Postol's jab), it's likely he'll do the same to neutralize Molina's jab. Molina will bring it like he always has, but Crawford's class and superior defense will shred Molina's still shaky defense and open his tender scar tissue en route to a decisive points win or even a cut-caused TKO.