Photos: Ed Mulholland
By Kieran Mulvaney
Omaha, Neb. -- Terence Crawford will defend his junior welterweight titles in front of a hometown Omaha crowd on HBO on Saturday night, and the chances are that, whatever happens, he will end the evening as he will begin it: as champion. The one certainty is that opponent John Molina Jr. will not exit the ring with the belts wrapped around his waist, a consequence of his inability to make the contracted weight on Friday. That failure led to protracted negotiations between the two camps until eventually, four-and-a-half hours after Molina first tipped the scales too far, Crawford – who by that point was enjoying a Creighton Blue Jays basketball game in the same arena where he and Molina will do battle – acceded to the monetary offer that Molina’s camp made by way of penance, and the fight was officially declared as being on.
The late afternoon drama added further weight, as it were, to the prevailing notion that the 29-year-old champion would likely prevail – a sentiment that was not meant to be disparaging of the challenger but affirming the brilliance of the man from Nebraska. Weight issues aside, Molina, 33, is a fine prize fighter; the Californian is a veteran of 35 professional prizefights, 29 of which have ended in his hand being raised in victory with 23 of those coming before the final bell. Crawford (29-0, 20 KOs), however, is far more than a fine fighter and may very well be a truly exemplary one.
In his last outing, Molina, an underdog, turned back the immovable object that is relentless Ruslan Provodnikov in a fight he had been widely tipped to lose. But Provodnikov has one gear and one direction, churning forward relentlessly and battering the resistance out of his opposition. Crawford is an altogether different form of foe, one minute right-handed and the next boxing out of a southpaw stance, switching from boxing to brawling as the mood takes him. Where Provodnikov is constant manic motion, Crawford is the antithesis: calmness personified, happy to allow his opponent to take the initiative while he sits back, watches and waits to take over the contest once he has logged every angle, monitored every movement and calculated every counter. Similar to the Borg, the fictional alien race from “Star Trek,” he allows his foes to fire their weapons and then adapts; also like the Borg, resistance has thus far proven futile.
Asked prior to Thursday’s final prefight press conference what he anticipated from Molina on Saturday night, the soft-spoken Crawford offered that he was looking forward to seeing what Molina would bring and what style he might try to impose; Crawford’s words, as always, were delivered with his trademark whispered monotone but as he spoke it seemed as if for just a second he was struggling to contain a contemptuous smile. Crawford, like any good boxer, doesn’t just believe he is superior to his opponent, he knows it with every fiber of his being. At the same time, he was respectful toward Molina; even as Crawford knew that he was the big favorite to prevail at the CenturyLink Center, he expected Molina to not let him get away with anything, but rather to make him work for everything.
But then Friday morning rolled around and word spread that Molina was struggling with his weight, a rumor that was confirmed when the challenger, whose sunken cheeks and dark eye circles suggested he was auditioning for a role in “The Walking Dead,” weighed in at 144 pounds, fully four more than the contracted weight. Crawford, trim and ready at 139.6 pounds, offered that his opponent’s struggles made no difference to him, because “I’m not the one who has to go and lose weight.”
Theoretically, Molina had two hours to do just that, but he was never going to lose enough to make the contracted limit, and when he returned he had managed to shave off a little more than a half pound, for an official weight of 143.4. Even then, nothing was guaranteed: Crawford was under no obligation to accept the situation, and there followed two-plus hours of back-and-forth between the camps. Finally, an accord was reached to the satisfaction of the champion, who basked in the adulation of the Blue Jays crowd and will enjoy even more support on Saturday night, support that he will fully expect to be serenading him as champion when his evening’s work is done.
Official weights from Omaha:
Terence Crawford: 139.6 / John Molina Jr.: 143.4
Mason Menard: 134.2 pounds / Ray Beltran: 133.8 pounds