To cut to the chase, this fight has its fair share of detractors, which in many ways is understandable. The recent instalment of Sky Sports’ “The Gloves Are Off”, in which the two competing boxers sit down and discuss their coming contest, encapsulated how most of the public feel towards the weekend’s event in Manchester. Being honest, it was utterly boring. Anthony Joshua (17-0) stayed his usual professional self, refusing to engage in accusations or criticisms of opponent Eric Molina (25-3), who was fully aware there was little he could say to talk his chances up. Johnny Nelson, the host for the evening, failed to stoke the fire by asking half hearted questions about things like self belief and destiny, drawing non-committal answers from both.
This, when compared to the brawling actions of Derek Chisora and Dillian Whyte and the obvious talent of many others on the undercard, has rendered the headliner a non-starter in the eyes of many boxing fans. Well, perhaps it is. But before you dismiss this fight too quickly, there are one or two things to take into account that might soften some rather hard opinions, and may even encourage the more stubborn naysayers to enjoy it while it lasts.
Firstly… No, it’s not a pay-per-view headliner. But it may well be a pay-per-view event. Two world title fights, three British title fights and appearances by Scott Quigg, Luis Ortiz and Katie Taylor is more than enough to be getting on with, on a card that provides plenty in terms of variety, intrigue and action to satisfy the tastes of most fans out there. At the head of it all, Joshua-Molina will at the very least be responsible for delivering the evening’s fireworks, with some betting sites offering as much as 1/40 should Joshua win early, with Molina earning 16/1 odds. If you like knockouts, you’re pretty much guaranteed one here.
To those who point out Joshua’s lack of a big name on his CV, I say this: remove Joshua’s IBF heavyweight title for a moment and you’re left with a young fighter with immense promise, awesome power and easy marketability but who is ultimately still continuing his boxing education. The two men who have taken him beyond the 4th round (Dillian Whyte and Dominic Breazeale) have each given Joshua something to think about, asking questions that Anthony hasn’t always found an immediate answer for. Concerns about his skill set are voiced frequently in boxing circles; can he box on the back foot? How strong is his chin? Is he comfortable with a southpaw, or with working more on the inside? Those muscles… they’ll need oxygen… does he tire down the stretch?
Enter Eric Molina, who has only gone the full 12 once before but has at least seen the championship rounds on several other occasions. All three of his losses came via KO but two were against commendable opposition, the other being in his professional debut. Molina will be a huge underdog against ‘AJ’, but he’s not a ‘bum’ as so many critics would cruelly have you believe. He’s awkward, he can punch and has heart to burn; big-hitting Deontay Wilder needed 9 rounds to dismiss the Texan after putting him down three times previously. He’d do brilliantly to hear the final bell on Saturday night but he should at least take us into the second half of the contest, which is traditionally where Joshua’s flaws have come under scrutiny. Provided the fight plays out this way, Joshua will have learned a thing or two, Molina will have earned his pay day, and we the fans will be nicely set up for an arena show and a massive fight in the new year.
The last facet to consider is the context in which this fight is taking place. There are maybe six other heavyweight elites out there who could compete for Joshua’s crown. Luis Ortiz, snapped up by Matchroom Promotions in a brilliant business move by Eddie Hearn, was in action last month, ruling him out of a December date with Joshua and relegating him to the undercard instead, where he needs a good result after a disappointing performance last time out. Deontay Wilder hasn’t returned from injuries sustained in his victory over Chris Arreola in July, while David Haye has yet to make any meaningful comeback to the heavyweights, and now faces WBC cruiserweight champion Tony Bellew next year. Joseph Parker is fighting Andy Ruiz for the WBO title, Tyson Fury is still AWOL, and a fight with Wladimir Klitschko was close to materialising before being postponed until 2017, after the WBA belatedly sanctioned the contest at the Ukrainian’s insistence.
So… who else is there? Kubrat Pulev, who fought earlier this month? Lucas Browne, who was due to fight Shannon Briggs until failing a drug test? David Price, who is a threat but has yet to re-establish himself? Molina, who has fought for a world title previously and won 5 of his last 6 fights by knockout, surely belongs in this tier of not-elite-but-acceptable opposition who will offer some form of resistance to the man who badly needs more experience in the ring if he is to properly prepare for stadium fights.
Joshua-Molina isn’t Ali-Frazier. But just because it isn’t a clash between two of the best doesn’t mean that the fight is utterly meaningless, and we would do well to enforce that position. Richard Schaefer, in an excellent interview for Boxing News, asks “If the media keeps on sending negative messages, how can [we] help the sport? You don’t see that in any other sport. When you look at football in the UK, not every match is a Champion’s League final. There are other games… so why is that OK in other sports? But in boxing we want to see Batman vs Superman every single time.” Matt Christie, editor of that magazine, supports this: “Look at every dominant champion in history and examine their records. You will not find a single one who fought an A-list opponent every single time. So let Joshua rid the division of Molina, and make room for the threats coming from elsewhere.”