Terence Crawford vs John Molina Jr
Record: 29-0 (20 KO) ... Streak: W29 ... Last 5: 5-0 ... Last 10: 10-0 ... Stance: Orthodox ... Height/Reach: 5’8" / 70" ... Age: 29
Notes: One of the best fighters in the sport today, "Bud" Crawford will be back at the CenturyLink Center in his hometown of Omaha, Nebraska, his first fight there since October 2015.
The only real danger in this fight is Molina’s power, and Crawford perhaps overlooking him. But against opponents at this level — Hank Lundy, Dierry Jean, Thomas Dulorme, Ray Beltran — Crawford has been as dialed in as he was against Viktor Postol in July, a big win that established him as the clear No. 1 fighter at 140.
This is a fight happening largely to keep Crawford busy, and to fill a date for HBO (Canelo Alvarez was originally going to fight on December 10, but injured himself against Liam Smith in September.) It shouldn’t be any real trouble for Crawford.
John Molina Jr
Record: 29-6 (23 KO) ... Streak: W2 ... Last 5: 2-3 ... Last 10: 5-5 ... Stance: Orthodox ... Height/Reach: 5'10½" / 71" ... Age: 33
Notes: John Molina is a hell of a battler. That was never more apparent than in June of this year, when he upset Ruslan Provodnikov in a fight that had been trashed as a mismatch, even a dangerous one.
But Molina outboxed Provodnikov, holding the shorter, one-dimensional Russian at bay for all 12 rounds, winning a clear-cut decision. Crawford, however, is a much tougher ask. He’s the best fighter in the division and one of the best in the sport, pound-for-pound.
So how does Molina match up with Crawford? Not well. If we look back to his three-fight losing streak of 2014-15, he was defeated by Lucas Matthysse, Humberto Soto, and Adrien Broner. Those are all good fighters, all with different styles, and Crawford is better than all of them, by a good bit.
He’s got a height advantage here, he’s coming off of a good win, and he is by no means a bad fighter. But he’s also 2-3 in his last five and a .500 fighter in his last 10. It is what it is. He’s stepping up because he has the guts to do so, and he’ll give it his best shot. But Crawford has outclassed everyone he’s faced thus far, and he’s beaten better fighters than Molina. Styles make fights, yes, but Molina’s doesn’t figure to trouble Crawford.
Matchup Grade: D+. I doubted Molina last time, and I was wrong. But on paper, this is a mismatch. This would be, without question, the Upset of the Year if it goes Molina’s way.
Mason Menard vs Ray Beltran
Record: 32-1 (24 KO) ... Streak: W30 ... Last 5: 5-0 ... Last 10: 10-0 ... Stance: Orthodox ... Height/Reach: 5’6" / 67" ... Age: 28
Notes: Louisiana’s Menard made a big splash on ShoBox this year, with a brutal knockout of Eudy Bernardo on April 15. He followed that up with a ninth round knockout of Bahodir Mamadjonov on August 19.
The 28-year-old is still a little unproven despite those solid wins, but he has been smoking his opposition, stopping 10 of his last 11 opponents dating back to 2012.
Menard — who sports two nicknames, "Mighty" and "Rock Hard" — does have an intriguing skill set, showing some nice hand speed to go along with obvious power.
Record: 31-7-1 (19 KO) ... Streak: W2 ... Last 5: 3-1 (1 NC) ... Last 10: 6-2-1 (1 NC) ... Stance: Orthodox ... Height/Reach: 5'8" / 68" ... Age: 35
Notes: It’s been a tough couple of years for Beltran. Back in 2013, he was screwed in Glasgow when judges only gave him a draw against Ricky Burns in a lightweight title bout. 14 months later, he got another title shot, but was dominated by Terence Crawford.
The vacant WBO lightweight title was supposed to be up for grabs between Beltran and Takahiro Ao in May 2015. Beltran missed weight, and then after he won the fight via TKO-2, it was changed to a no-contest when he failed a drug test.
Now 35, Beltran is at a point where if he doesn’t make something happen soon, it won’t be happening. And he has to beat Menard.
Matchup Grade: B-. Beltran was originally scheduled to face light hitting veteran Juan Diaz, whose dedication to the sport is fairly questionable at this point. Where Diaz might have been convinced to give up, Menard is a hungry, young fighter on the rise. This is a nice crossroads fight, must-win for both if they’re looking to get a title shot in 2017.