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.