In a fight where one man seemingly did everything wrong and the other man just did his job, Celestino Caballero knocked out fellow junior featherweight (122 lbs.) titlist Steve Molitor Friday night on Molitor’s home turf of Ontario on Showtime.
Caballero’s game coming in had to be to throw off Molitor’s rhythm with his raw awkwardness then catch him with a knockout punch, because “win by decision” was a fanciful notion for the man from Panama. From moment one, not only did Molitor appear to lack any rhythm, but whatever he had, Caballero surely stole. He skipped around after the mobile Canadian, feinting shots and forcing Molitor to corner himself against the ropes to dodge, at which point Caballero rammed home unpleasant body shots.
Coming back to his corner, Molitor’s trainer told him he was tight, which was obvious. But nothing changed. Caballero kept chasing Molitor down against the ropes and landing slingshot power punches with those surprisingly harmful stringbean arms, mostly to the body. Caballero also boxed well — he mixed in some jabs, and despite his previous defensive deficiencies, looked like he saw every infrequent punch Molitor threw. I thought Molitor’s strengths would be his speed and smarts, but Molitor was neither smarter nor faster. I didn’t see any adjustments of note, nor did he strike me as being any quicker than Caballero.
By the end of the 3rd, Caballero caught Molitor with an uppercut as he crouched down defensively, and Molitor looked hurt. It really looked like something physically was wrong in there, and his trainer said between rounds, “This isn’t Steve Molitor.” None of this trainer-boxer dialogue was confidence-building stuff, but it was true. It wasn’t long in the 4th until another uppercut came that knocked him down, and it hurt Molitor badly. He regained his senses enough to put his gloves up, which wasn’t good enough to avoid a nice 1-2 from Caballero followed by a jab and another uppercut that crumpled Molitor awkwardly. His corner and the ref both recognized that the fight should be stopped, and they were both right.
Molitor picked the worst possible time to have an off night and the best possible opponent to exacerbate his woes: A hard-punching, unorthodox man whose steely focus was clear and realized, as Molitor surely did to no avail, that this was the most important fight of his career.
Next for the winner: I’ve long thought Caballero was underrated, and I think I underrated him by picking against him. Even if Molitor was in top form, Caballero looked sharp enough to give him trouble all night long. He wants one of the other three men in the stacked upper half of the junior featherweight division, all three far bigger stars than himself: Israel Vazquez, Rafael Marquez and Juan Manuel Lopez. I like all three fights, but if I had my pick, it would be Lopez. Vazquez’ injury woes of late make you wonder if he’ll ever be the same from his three wars with Marquez, who himself is just a smidge behind Vazquez at the top of the division. I think Marquez-Caballero is intriguing as hell, but I’m extremely high on Lopez as a future superstar and beating a rough, serious customer like Caballero in what would surely be a slugfest as long as it lasts would be the kind of fight that could push him over the edge. And if Cabellero won, there’d be nowhere else to go but up to Marquez or Vazquez. With two title belts and coming off an impressive performance, I have to imagine he gets one of those men in the ring with him soon, right?
Next for the loser: I dunno, man. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a fighter look so diametrically opposite his usual ring demeanor. All the footage of Molitor I’d watched showed that he was a classy boxer who would, in the rare instance where an opponent landed anything of note, fire back and immediately take control. Instead, he was timid and sloppy. He’s good for boxing north of the border so I’d like to see him bounce back, and I don’t think he necessarily got “exposed” in the traditional sense of the word in the toughest fight of his career, because I think he has talent and for whatever reason it wasn’t on display here. But he did expose that he has some serious “give” somewhere within him, and that’s not promising at all. Not. At. All.