Anthony Joshua vs Eric Molina
Record: 17-0 (17 KO) ... Streak: W17 ... Last 5: 5-0 ... Last 10: 10-0 ... Stance: Orthodox ... Height/Reach: 6’6" / 82" ... Age: 27
Notes: Joshua is already a genuine superstar, capable of selling out arenas and doing big business on UK pay-per-view for Sky Box Office. He also has an army of casual boxing fans in the United Kingdom who believe him to be the second coming, a grand mix of Mike Tyson’s power and pizzazz and the boxing acumen of at least a Klitschko, perhaps Ali, depending on the crazy person you ask.
Joshua is a terrific prospect. He's got size, power, some boxing skills, some speed, an amateur pedigree (though I still argue whether he deserved one win at London 2012, let alone the gold medal, but that's what it is), and, well, great star power. He just has a natural "it" factor, a way of drawing you in. He's a good speaker, charismatic but not outlandish, has the look, and so far has knocked everyone out. That's a good start.
But we've got a LOT left to learn yet. I'll just say that. And I'll also say we're not going to learn anything new on Saturday, unless Molina somehow wins the fight. Joshua is slated to face Wladimir Klitschko in April if he wins this fight. That might be a much bigger problem than some of the Joshua fanatics want to recognize, because even if he's old and not the fighter he once was, Klitschko is an enormous leap from Dominic Breazeale and Charles Martin. While Klitschko was lulled into inaction by Tyson Fury -- who gameplanned brilliantly -- Joshua is a man of action. The last time we saw someone really try to take action against Klitschko, he savaged Kubrat Pulev.
Record: 25-3 (19 KO) ... Streak: W2 ... Last 5: 4-1 ... Last 10: 8-2 ... Stance: Orthodox ... Height/Reach: 6’4" / 79" ... Age: 34
Notes: Molina wasn’t worthy of a shot last year against Deontay Wilder, and though he hung tougher than most expected, he was also routed and knocked out in the ninth round.
Molina’s last five and last 10 marks look OK until you actually examine them with even a glance. The losses came to Wilder and Chris Arreola (KO-1 in 2012). The wins came over Warren Browning, Andrew Greeley, Tony Grano, DaVarryl Williamson, Theo Kruger, Raphael Zumbano Love, Rodricka Ray, and Tomasz Adamek.
Beating Adamek got Molina this latest opportunity, not that it should have. For one thing, Adamek led 88-83 on every scorecard when he was knocked out in the 10th, so it wasn’t like Molina dominated the fight, even. Plus, Adamek was 39 years old and hadn’t had a decent win since 2012, when he beat Steve Cunningham, who, like Adamek, is a naturally small fighter at heavyweight. I have all the respect in the world for Tomasz Adamek, one of the true warriors of his generation and a hell of a tough fighter at light heavyweight, cruiserweight, and even heavyweight. But beating an old, faded Adamek at a weight where he never truly belonged isn’t saying all that much.
Had Adamek won, maybe he’d be the one served up to Joshua on a silver platter here. He’d have had no better or worse a chance than Molina, really.
Matchup Grade: D. As I said on Tuesday’s podcast, the only thing stopping this from being an F is the fact that Molina can bang. Because of that, he has a miracle punch chance. It’s not much of a chance, but it’s what he has. Otherwise, this is a garbage title defense against a challenger proven to be below world level.
- Panamanian veteran Luis Concepcion (35-4, 24 KO) makes the trip abroad to defend his WBA super flyweight "world" title against top prospect Kal Yafai (20-0, 14 KO) in what is probably the most actually intriguing fight on the undercard. Yafai, 27, has won the British title at 115 pounds, but his best win was that one, over Jason Cunningham, and that’s a far cry from Concepcion. The 31-year-old Concepcion held the WBA interim title at flyweight from 2009-11, when he failed to take the "world" title from Tyson Marquez in a memorable war of a fight. Concepcion was outclassed in April 2015 against Carlos Cuadras, but he’s won three straight since then, including the title-lifting effort on August 31 over Kohei Kono on the road in Japan. Grade: B.
- Dillian Whyte (19-1, 15 KO) will defend the British heavyweight title against veteran Dereck Chisora (26-6, 18 KO). This is a fight that could be either a slugfest or a snoozer, and it all depends on Chisora. Chisora, 32, hasn’t beaten a halfway decent fighter in about three years, and he looked washed up against Kubrat Pulev in May, even though somehow the cards came back with a split decision thanks to Swiss judge Beat Hausammann. If he’s the rambunctious, inspired Dereck Chisora, Whyte, 28, is in for a test. If not, Whyte should be able to handle things without a ton of trouble. Again, this fight depends entirely on Chisora. Whyte should be as expected. Chisora’s the wild card. Grade: C-.
- Callum Smith (21-0, 16 KO) will defend his British super middleweight title against Luke Blackledge (22-2-2, 7 KO). Smith, 26, has at times fought up and down to his opposition. When the vacant belt was on the line last November against Rocky Fielding, he was sensational with a TKO in 2:45. He got an even quicker result in April against Hadillah Mohoumadi, winning the European title in 1:41. But in his last two fights, against Cesar Reynoso and Norbert Nemesapati, he just hasn’t looked special, even if he’s had zero actual trouble. Blackledge, 26, has won eight straight, but against mostly dreadful opposition, save for wins over Liam Cameron, Lee Markham, and Ishmael Tetteh in Commonwealth title fights. His last loss came in 2013 to the aforementioned Fielding, a TKO in just 2:32. Smith may or may not truly impress here, but chances are he’ll win without trouble. Grade: C-.
- A third British title is on the line as Hosea Burton (18-0, 9 KO) defends the light heavyweight strap against Frank Buglioni (18-2-1, 14 KO). Burton, 28, beat Miles Shinkwin for the belt in February, and this will be his first defense, though he’s won three fights since then. Buglioni, 27, is a former Frank Warren project, a good looking young fighter with a built-in and fairly rabid fan base. He was able to pull some folks in, but when the chips were down, he struggled. Sergey Khomitsky stopped him in 2014, Lee Marksham pushed him to a draw in 2015, and then in September 2015, he was tossed into a world title fight cash-out, going 12 rounds with Fedor Chudinov but losing pretty much all of them. Buglioni is not a bad fighter, nor is he someone worth rooting against. In all reality, he seems like a nice, hard-working guy, just limited in upside. Burton has been good so far, but this one is closer to 50-50 than it might seem at first. Buglioni, now at 175, is maybe the best opponent Burton has faced thus far. Grade: C+.
- Former super bantamweight titleholder Scott Quigg (31-1-2, 23 KO) will return to action for the first time since his loss to Carl Frampton earlier this year, facing Jose Cayetano (20-4, 9 KO), a natural bantamweight who bounces around from there up to featherweight, wherever he can get a fight. He’s got three straight wins, and two of those — over Felipe Orucuta and Alexis Santiago — are pretty solid. You may know him best from his 2015 loss to Leo Santa Cruz. Quigg should win without much problem here, but coming back from a pretty long layoff, from a loss, and from injury could make him a different fighter than we’re used to seeing. Grade: C.
- Cuban heavyweight Luis Ortiz (26-0, 22 KO) will stay busy with a matchup against David Allen (9-1-1, 6 KO). Allen was handily beaten by Dillian Whyte in his last outing, and Matchroom clearly see him as someone to sacrifice. Ortiz, 37, had his first fight for Matchroom just a few weeks back, beating Malik Scott in Monte Carlo. This fight is what it is, but what it is isn’t interesting. Grade: F.
- Katie Taylor (1-0, 1 KO) will also fight for the second time in just weeks, after making a successful pro debut on November 26 in London. This time out, the 30-year-old former Olympic gold medalist and dominant amateur will face Viviane Obenauf (9-1, 4 KO), whose record isn’t as good as it seems. In her last fight on October 1, she beat Karina Kopinska over six rounds, the same fighter Taylor smashed in her pro debut. Grade: N/A (not really worth it, just wanted to note it was happening).