Crawford Turns His Attention to Action-Oriented Molina

Photo: Will Hart

By Oli Goldstein  

Following his clowning of Viktor Postol in July, Terence Crawford returns Saturday night on HBO World Championship Boxing (9:35 PM ET/PT). Back in his hometown of Omaha, Neb., Crawford expects to put an exclamation mark or two on his 2016 when he meets John Molina Jr. Crawford schooled Postol in the rudimentaries and then some, and Molina, whose toughness can be indexed in direct relation to his paucity of skills, would do well to avoid a similar lesson.

But if Crawford anticipates an opponent prepared to lie down and take his teaching, then he’s in for a rough night. Molina might know far less than Crawford about the intricacies of the jab, but then again he’s never been particularly interested in intricacy. Molina, from Covina, Calif., is far more invested in flinging out his punches than he is in measuring or considering them. That doesn’t necessarily bode well for beating Crawford, for whom deliberation is not anterior to but adjacent with his fighting, and who has thus far shown considerable excitement in exacting punishment. Nonetheless, Crawford (29-0, 20 KOs) was occasionally reticent to put an end to Postol’s whinnying this year, a luxury that Molina—for better or worse—is unlikely to allow. Crawford will have to fight each minute.

Molina (29-6, 23 KOs) comes into this fight off a career-best win, having mauled Ruslan Provodnikov for a unanimous decision in June. What that means is uncertain. Provodnikov has in recent years been one of the most steadfastly violent fighters in the sport, with a string of brutal fights against Tim Bradley, Mike Alvarado and Lucas Matthysse. Provodnikov is in some way always on the receiving end even in victory: For every ounce of hurting he puts on, he absorbs similar punishment. So the extent to which Molina's victory was a matter of the Siberian’s inevitable slowing down remains an open question. And as Molina recently said, “Crawford and Provodnikov are like apples and oranges; they’re two different beasts.”

That win over Provodnikov broke a nasty streak for Molina, who had lost consecutively to Matthysse, Humberto Soto and Adrien Broner over the course of 11 months between April 2014 and March 2015. The Broner loss in particular seems to bode poorly for Molina’s chances against Crawford. During that fight, the Californian seemed to freeze up, landing only 50 or so punches through 12 desultory rounds and succeeding mostly in making Broner look a little less fraudulent than usual. Crawford is twice (or more) the fighter Broner is.

All the same, that loss provided Molina an occasion to learn from. Boxing smoothly just isn’t his style. Molina must be neither on-beat nor off-beat: He has to throw in the gaps and splices and clinches, whenever granted the opportunity. Unlike Broner, who fights at one pace at all times, Crawford is a master of rhythm, capable of slowing things down, speeding them up or abruptly changing them altogether. In this Crawford is like his Top Rank stablemate Vasyl Lomachenko, who might still be a dabber hand at the art of tempo rubato—of stealing time—as displayed in his relentless entrapment of Nicholas Walters in November.

Really, Lomachenko’s recent display is the standard for Crawford to aspire to. For all that promoter Bob Arum seemed to be floating the possibility of Lomachenko meeting Manny Pacquiao next year, a fight between Lomachenko and Crawford might be a more feasible goal for all concerned. Now just two weight classes apart—and with Lomachenko on record as to his willingness to compete at lightweight—that might be the most exciting matchup to be dreamed about in the lower divisions. And even if that fight is not yet plausible, Crawford would do well to follow Lomachenko in his pursuit of the knockout; against Postol, it was hard to resist the sense that Crawford, dominant as he was, could still have done more.

In this respect, then, Molina should offer plenty of opportunity. After all, even when Molina is doling out punishment, he is always in position to be punished in return. And precisely because relentlessness is an important aspect of the Californian’s arsenal, haphazardness will not be available as a response from Crawford. Put simply, Crawford must hit if he is to not get hit.

That should make for an exciting fight, even if not necessarily a long one. Crawford, surgical, exacting and fleet of hand as he is of foot, has most all the advantages necessary. But Molina, for all his limitations, hits hard, is willing and ready to go to the trenches and has the chin to match. However deep it goes, Crawford should certainly end up in a fight.

Ray Beltran vs. Mason Menard

The chief support in Nebraska sees Ray Beltran fight Mason Menard at lightweight. Beltran (31-7-1, 19 KOs) remains in dogged pursuit of a first world title belt, having been robbed against Ricky Burns, cast aside by Crawford and elsewhere having failed to make weight (before failing a drug test) against Takahiro Ao. As such, he represents a tough step-up for Menard (32-1, 24 KOs), whose record is about as barren as a slate with 33 fights on it can be. Still, Menard's management, having seen "Rock Hard Mighty" score two huge knockouts in two TV appearances, are right to take the step-up here. Beltran is about as good a barometer for talent as it gets. If Menard can do to Beltran as he’s done to Bahodir Mamadjonov and, most notably, previously unbeaten Eudy Barnardo—out cold before his body hit the floor—then he might indeed be something like the real deal.

Joseph Parker vs. Andy Ruiz Jr.

HBO will also air on Saturday Joseph Parker’s world title heavyweight bout with Andy Ruiz Jr. from Auckland, New Zealand. Parker (21-0, 18 KOs) has long been earmarked as one of the division’s more talented prospects, with quick, heavy hands and a willingness to trade under fire. Ruiz (29-0, 19 KOs) has a similar record (both have beaten decent heavyweights of several years’ vintage), though the likeness tends to finish there; in his own words “a chubby kid,” Ruiz is the short and squat to Parker’s tall and ripped. Still, when Ruiz gets trucking, he puts his punches together pretty well, is quicker than he looks and can hit. Nonetheless, he seemed to struggle with conditioning in his most recent outing with Franklin Lawrence, so an early finish might be worth pursuing. Given the spite that goes into Parker’s own punches, this has all the makings of an explosive encounter. 

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Crawford vs. John Molina Jr. happens Saturday, December 10 live beginning at 9:35 p.m. ET/PT on HBO World Championship Boxing.

HBO Boxing Podcast Ep. 154 -- Crawford vs. Molina Jr. Preview

HBO Boxing Insiders Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney preview the junior welterweight fight between Terence Crawford and John Molina Jr.

Crawford vs. Molina Jr. happens Saturday, December 10 live beginning at 9:35 p.m. ET/PT on HBO World Championship Boxing.

Watch the Promo for Terence Crawford vs. John Molina Jr.

Watch a preview of the showdown between Terence Crawford and John Molina Jr.

Crawford vs. Molina Jr. happens Saturday, December 10 live beginning at 9:35 p.m. ET/PT on HBO World Championship Boxing.

WATCH: Hey Harold! - Crawford vs. Molina Jr.

HBO Boxing unofficial scorer Harold Lederman previews Terence Crawford vs. John Molina Jr.

Crawford vs. Molina Jr. happens Saturday, December 10 live beginning at 9:35 p.m. ET/PT on HBO World Championship Boxing.

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HBO Boxing Podcast Ep. 153 - Lomachenko vs. Walters Recap

HBO Boxing Insiders Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney break down Vasyl Lomachenko's dazzling performance and Nicholas Walters' surprising decision to quit during their Nov. 26 fight.

Walters Concedes After Clowning By Lomachenko

Photos: Ed Mulholland

By Kieran Mulvaney

Professional boxers show a strength and bravery on a regular basis that few human beings can even contemplate. They will walk through punishing punches from their opponents in an effort to deliver telling blows of their own. But even these most willing of warriors almost all harbor a deep-seated internal phobia: a fear of being embarrassed in the ring, of being hit repeatedly and proving unable to hit back – of being "clowned," as they frequently describe it. It can cause even the strongest of fighters to shrink and slink away like mere mortals, on no occasion more famously than on November 25, 1980 when Panama’s Roberto Duran, one of the most unabashedly violent of pugilists, turned his back on Sugar Ray Leonard and declared “No mas.”

Thirty-six years and one day after that infamous night in New Orleans, a Panama-based Jamaican, Nicholas Walters, succumbed to the first defeat of his career when he, too, threw in the metaphorical towel after seven rounds of increasingly one-sided befuddlement against the peerless Vasyl Lomachenko. As if to underline the similarities, Walters’ trainer even uttered those same two words to referee Tony Weeks as the boxer explained his disinclination to continue.

Angry boos greeted the disappointing conclusion which had immediately become the story, distracting just a little – and unfortunately so – from what had brought it about: an extraordinary display of boxing ability from Lomachenko, a two-time Olympic gold medalist who, just eight bouts into his professional career, is displaying a mastery and degree of dominance over his opponents that few boxers could even dream of achieving after ten times as many contests.

In theory, this was a mouth-watering matchup between two former featherweight champions now both competing in the 130-pound division. The undefeated Walters had made his name obliterating veterans Vic Darchinyan and Nonito Donaire with his skill and blistering power; Lomachenko had glided effortlessly toward the top of pound-for-pound lists with his precociousness, balletic footwork and suffocating punching combinations. It promised to be an intriguing clash of styles, but by the midway point of the very first round, it was already apparent that the Ukrainian’s stylings were more likely to be in the ascendant.

After Walters (26-1-1, 21 KOs) started with a solid enough jab, Lomachenko began to judge his timing and distance. Toward the end of the opening frame Lomachenko was already displaying his famed movement, slipping to his right and outside Walters’ left hand before landing a sharp southpaw left of his own. That move would be the basis of everything that Lomachenko (7-1, 5 KOs) would do throughout the evening, moving out of range of Walters’ dangerous right hand and putting himself in position to land blows of his own. Whereas Walters, seemingly confused by his opponent’s speed, appeared hesitant to throw punches at a moving target he was afraid he would miss, Lomachenko just kept on throwing, touching Walters with southpaw jabs and unleashing straight lefts once he pivoted into place. The punches weren't yet hurting Walters, and not all of them were landing flush, but they were scoring. On top of that, they were causing the Jamaican to keep his own offense holstered, and importantly, theyenabled Lomachenko to dial in on his timing and his range.

As the rounds rolled past, Lomachenko increased his output and stepped forward to land his blows with greater venom. In the fifth, he stood in front of his foe, throwing punches to Walters’ gloves and then, when the “Axe Man” dared to wing a right hand in his direction, slipping inside it, sliding to his right and landing a quick combination of right jabs and left hands before Walters could reset.

By the seventh, the Ukrainian was in complete control, knocking Walters off balance with his movement and then chasing him across the ring with his punches. Those punches were now landing cleanly, snapping back Walters’ head, and every time Walters managed to regain his balance as if to throw back, Lomachenko had disappeared, only to pop up in a different spot and resume his assault. As the bell rang to end that round, Walters looked discouraged, and he trudged back to his corner likely wondering how he could endure five more rounds of embarrassment. By the time he sat down on his stool, he had evidently come up with his answer: he would not even try.

He stood up and sought to walk across the ring to congratulate Lomachenko, only to be intercepted by Weeks, who asked several times what was happening until he was sure. As the referee waved off the contest, Lomachenko celebrated and the crowd complained; Walters protested unconvincingly afterward that the problem was somehow related to the fact that he had not fought for almost a year while the former Olympian had been more active. He said also that the blows in that seventh round had been telling, and that his temple hurt. But he knew, and so too did the crowd, what had really happened: a very good fighter had come up against an extraordinary one, and been embarrassed. He had been fully clowned, and he wanted no mas.