By Thomas Gerbasi
John Molina Jr. promised us Armageddon in short pants when he faced Ruslan Provodnikov on June 11. What he gave us instead earned him a title shot against Terence Crawford a week from Saturday, so he’s not upset that the bout won’t be in the running for 2016 Fight of the Year.
And he knew what he was doing all along.
“Absolutely,” he laughs. “I’m not that much of a numbskull that’s gonna lay all my cards out on the table for everybody. It’s part of the psychological warfare. It was me using my intelligence in the ring to make sure the fight was going to be as easy as possible.”
That doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good fight. It was, but it was memorable because of Molina’s performance, not because it was Gatti-Ward revisited. Molina is fine with that.
“I still feel it was an entertaining fight,” he said. “There was definitely a lot of action going on in the fight, and that’s what I always plan on doing – bringing a lot of action to the table, but doing it in a very intelligent manner.”
Molina’s decade-long run in the pro game has produced a lot of action, come from behind wins, and chilling knockouts. But the Covina, California native has been guilty of letting his fighting instincts supersede adherence to his game plan. That’s always good for the fans and for business, but not necessarily good for Molina’s record or longevity.
There’s something to be said for learning the hard way though. You either figure things out or you get sent out to pasture. At 33, Molina is a different fighter than he was the last time he challenged for a world title and got halted in 44 seconds by then-lightweight champion Antonio De Marco.
“There’s something to be said about being a grizzled veteran, and that I am,” chuckled Molina, owner of a 29-6 (23 KOs) record. “I’ve been in the peaks and the valleys that this game has to offer, I fought great opposition, I came out on the losing end and came out on the winning end. So I’ve experienced it all and experience goes a long way, especially in this game. So we’re gonna reveal all that on December 10th and go after Crawford and those titles. There’s nothing personal against Terence – he’s a helluva guy and a great champion – but he’s got something that I want.”
And something Molina may have the tools to take, knowing that Crawford has those same instincts the challenger does. Crawford is clearly one of the best boxers in the game, but he can be enticed to brawl if the mood strikes. In a brawl, Molina has one-punch stopping power, and a slugfest is obviously his best way to win. Does Molina see things playing out that way?
“Again, I don’t want to reveal my cards and I’ll keep them close to my chest, but I feel like I have the recipe for disaster for Crawford,” he said. “I think he’s a helluva fighter, he’s very, very talented and pound-for-pound one of the best for good reason, but it’s my job to go in there and disrupt that. And I feel like my team is prepared, we’ve dotted our I’s and crossed our T’s and we’ll be prepared. When we started this journey, it was to be a world champion. Well, I get a one-stop shop. I get to not only be a world champion, but a unified world champion with a victory over Crawford.”
The confidence is there for Molina, but it’s not overconfidence, and that’s key, because Crawford and Providnikov are completely different fighters, and he knows it.
“You’ve got to employ the right team, you’ve got to have the right game plan for each fighter, and have something different for each opponent that you have – they’re not all the same. Crawford and Provodnikov are like apples and oranges; they’re two different beasts.”
If it sounds like Molina has matured as a boxer at precisely the right time, that’s accurate. Yet truth be told, not many believed he would get to this point again. Three consecutive losses to Lucas Matthysse, Humberto Soto and Adrien Broner removed him from the title picture as recently as 2015, but wins over Jorge Romero and Provodnikov now have him 12 rounds or less from his first world championship, and he’s been thinking about tossing a pair of belts over his shoulders a week from Saturday.
“I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t been,” he said. “I’m sure I’ve had many acceptance speeches in the shower. (Laughs) This is the stuff you dream about when you’re a kid. This is big. This is not just a fight for the end of the year; this is a big, big opportunity, a big fight, one that I’m taking seriously, and I’m very excited.”
As excited as saying “I told you so” to the doubters? Not really, but that is a fringe benefit of overturning the odds on fight night.
“That’s definitely a perk, but everyone has their opinions, and they form their opinions based off boxing as a ‘What have you done for me lately’ type sport,” Molina said. “So I respect their opinions. A lot of them have never been in a boxing ring in their life, but with that being said, everyone is entitled to their opinion. It’s my job to go out there and show them otherwise.”
In the process, could this end up being the best Christmas ever for the Molina family?
“It’s gonna be.”