Questions Persist As Deontay Wilder Knocks Out Eric Molina

Nick Saban, the University of Alabama’s revered head football coach, once complained to his fanbase that they should either stay for the entire game — no matter how lopsided the affair — or give their ticket to someone else.

Tonight, Deontay Wilder probably wishes he could have sent his fans home earlier.

Fighting in front of a raucous, sellout crowd of 9,300 at the Bartow Arena in Birmingham, Alabama, Wilder (34-0, 33 KO) dispatched Eric Molina (23-3, 17 KO) in the 9th round of the first defence of his alphabet belt. While the fight ended via brutal KO as expected, Wilder’s victory didn’t come easy —  or pretty.

Molina uglied the Showtime-broadcast fight up from the get go, alternating wild haymakers and hiplocks to keep Wilder from finding any comfortable range or rhythm. At times, Molina’s awkwardness proved effective. Wilder appeared to be staggered by a looping right hand in the 3rd and seemed to be losing the 4th before salvaging the round with a late knockdown.

Molina was knocked down two more times in the 5th, including once where he turned his back and ran (and was curiously allowed to continue the fight). The crowd exploded with each and every hard shot delivered by the hometown hero, but Wilder was simply unable to put away his challenger.

Despite the underwhelming performance in the middle rounds, Wilder was up 78-71 on my scorecard entering the 9th. Just as the champion began showing obvious signs of fatigue, he landed one of his patented, brutal right hands to knock Molina down and out for the fourth and final time.

Wilder’s knockout was extraordinary. However, his net body of work tonight was not.

Molina only landed a few solid shots upstairs, but seemed to be tenderizing the champ with body shots. While that might not factor into any of Wilder’s future fights, it seems reasonable to once again ask the questions about Wilder’s skills, stamina and chin that have pestered the Alabama native throughout his career.

Wilder’s next opponent is likely to be Alexander Povetkin, the mandatory challenger to his belt. If that match-up happens, we’re bound to have some of these questions answered.

The undercard

In the opening bout of the telecast, junior lightweight Jose Pedraza (20-0, 13 KO), scored a dominant 12 round decision over Andrey Klimov (19-2, 9 KO).

Pedraza, channeling some strong Puerto Rican Day Parade juju, lived up to his “Sniper” moniker, picking apart his opponent with accurate punches from all angles. The southpaw used his range well and neutralized Klimov with clean counter-shots throughout.

Klimov, who is best known for being dismantled by Bud Crawford in 2013, appears to be settling in as a fringe contender. Meanwhile, Pedraza looks like a fighter to watch. The way he boxed tonight — combining a high work rate, elusive movement and precision punching— would give many fighters problems.

On paper, the lightweight bout between Ivan Redkach and Dejan Zlaticanin looked like one of the most interesting (and perhaps significant) bouts on any card this weekend. In the ring, Zlaticanin proved otherwise, steamrolling Redkach via a 4th round TKO.

Zlaticanin (21-0, 14 KO) worked around a noticeable height disadvantage, smothering Redkach and flurrying along the ropes. In the 4th, Zlaticanin floored Redkach with a lead hook and never let the Ukrainian recover, overwhelming him with power shots on the ropes until the ref intervened and stopped the fight.

Last year, we were ringside when Redkach (18-1, 14 KOs) lost some of his luster after slogging his way to a decision against Tony Luis. While he feasted on a pugilistic smorgasbord of journeymen and tomato cans to begin his career, the Ukrainian has looked flawed against every respectable opponent he has faced. After tonight’s blowout, the 29 year-old might need to go back to the drawing board before attempting a final charge up the rankings.

Zlaticanin will now get a crack at beltholder Jorge Linares in what should be an entertaining scrap.

The first fight on the SHO Extreme telecast gave Julian “J Rock” Williams (20-0, 12 KO) the opportunity to remind the boxing community why he’s desperately seeking more significant opponents, as he dismantled Russia’s Arman Ovsepyan (14-4, 11 KO) over the course of six rounds in a junior middleweight tilt.

From the opening bell, Williams looked every bit the part of a legitimate 154-pound prospect. After knocking down Ovsepyan in the first with a straight right hand, Williams landed hard shots — albeit one at a time — at will. After a 6th round flurry, the referee mercifully stepped in and awarded Williams the TKO victory.

The fight was lopsided largely due to Williams being bigger, stronger and better than his opponent in every regard. Williams looked noticeably cut compared to previous fights and boasted a whopping unofficial weight of 170 pounds before entering the ring. Stamina didn’t appear to be sacrificed for size, though. Williams flashed tight defense, took great angles and mixed up his punches with solid power. Compubox numbers had him connecting on an astounding 65% of his power shots.

After the fight, Showtime cameras caught Williams calling out Austin Trout. Tonight’s display suggests that it wouldn’t be too big of a step up for the rising contender.

Image: Deontay Wilder (L) opens up on Eric Molina. Credit: Showtime.