Joshua tops stacked card in Manchester
Anthony Joshua will defend his IBF title for the second time on Saturday at the Manchester Arena. His opponent and challenger will be Texas-based Eric Molina on what looks set to be an action-packed evening.
There is a huge card to support the main event, including Joshua’s old rival Dillian Whyte, who defends his British heavyweight title against bitter London rival Derek Chisora. Meanwhile, Scott Quigg returns to action after treatment on his broken jaw. Following the disappointment of defeat in his unification blockbuster with Carl Frampton, the Bury star is moving up to featherweight to face Mexican Jose Cayetano as he looks to take a first step on the road to regaining his status as a world champion.
In other enticing bouts, Birmingham's Kal Yafai challenges Luis Concepcion for the WBA super flyweight title, Hosea Burton and Frank Buglioni square off for the British light heavyweight title, highly rated Cuban heavyweight Luis Ortiz faces Dave Allen and Callum Smith takes on Luke Blackledge for the British super middleweight crown.
Returning to the headline event, most fans hoped to see Joshua facing former champion Wladimir Klitschko in what would have been an absolute blockbuster. But after failing to secure a fight with either Klitschko or his IBF mandatory challenger Joseph Parker, Eric Molina (25-3, 19 KOs) has now stepped in to face the 2012 Olympic gold medallist.
Molina is Joshua’s third American opponent in a row, the Watford man having destroyed Charles Martin inside two rounds in April to take the IBF crown before then stopping Dominic Breazeale in the seventh back in June.
This is not the first time Molina has entered the ring to take on a heavyweight champion. In June 2015 he faced WBC heavyweight titlist Deontay Wilder in the latter's home state of Alabama.
Molina nearly managed to cause a huge upset in the third round when he rattled Wilder with a solid left hook, but Wilder eventually turned it around before knocking his stubborn opponent out in the ninth.
The 34-year-old Molina, a special needs teacher from Texas, earned plaudits for bravely surviving three knockdowns before succumbing to Wilder's much vaunted power.
So, this fight is not a foregone conclusion. This was reiterated recently when Wilder stated that Molina will be “willing and determined” to take Joshua’s IBF title.
Joshua has concurred, telling SkySports in the lead-up to the contest: "When I look at it, I thought he was the toughest out of the few so that's a good challenge for myself.
"That's the one I have to focus on. I always knew I was going to have someone who was game. We're competing for a championship belt so everyone ups their levels by 50-60 per cent. The people I've seen time and time again are not the people I am going to face.
"So I have to put Klitschko or David Price or whoever was in the pecking order aside, and focus on what is in front of me."
Molina responded by declaring: "I've been in with Wilder - nobody wants to get in with Wilder - and I'm going in with [Joshua]. You're looking at somebody who's willing. He's got something that I want.
"I'll fight with everything I've got - if I'm hurt, if I'm conscious, I'm coming to fight. I can win the fight with one punch at any given moment."
That said, all three of Molina’s losses have been via knockout, and generally he hasn’t fared well against better opposition - as well as losing to Wilder, Chris Arreola and Ashanti Jordan both iced him in one.
Molina's conditioning has also come in for criticism, as highlighted in his last contest against Tomasz Adamek when he was being handily out-boxed and outworked before he landed a fight-changing right hand in the tenth round.
Joshua, in contrast, is undefeated in 17 fights and, if focused, should be able to knock Molina out and retain his title. If he goes into the fight with half an eye on Klitschko next year, then Molina has a chance of causing a huge upset in Manchester, but this seems unlikely given the professionalism and level headedness that has characterised AJ's career thus far.
I’m sure that Joshua will look upon this as an opportunity to send a warning to America and the rest of the heavyweight division, adding Molina’s name to his ever-growing list of opponents dismantled and then knocked out.