Tuesday, March 21, 2023  |



Deontay Wilder not looking past Molina, though everyone else is

Deontay Wilder (L) on his way to winning the WBC heavyweight title against Bermane Stiverne. Photo by Naoki Fukuda.

Deontay Wilder (L) on his way to winning the WBC heavyweight title against Bermane Stiverne. Photo by Naoki Fukuda.

It only took the skeptics 33 fights to believe in Deontay Wilder. And, in a wicked twist of irony, the first time Wilder failed to record a knockout is when the doubters lowered their shields and accepted him as the man who can carry the resurgence of the heavyweight division on his back.

And in his 34th fight, the cynics are lining right back up to question Wilder’s unbeaten reign.

After putting together a picture-perfect performance against Bermane Stiverne to claim the WBC heavyweight title, Wilder (33-0, 32 knockouts) will make his first defense in his backyard of Birmingham, Alabama, on Showtime against  Eric Molina.


The 23-2 fighter who was knocked out in the first round of his 2007 pro debut and in the first round against Chris Arreola in 2012 will get the first crack at the newly minted champion who has a knack for sending opponents to the canvas within the first three minutes. It was obvious that there were going to be questions about Wilder’s choice of opponent. But according to the Bronze Bomber, it wasn’t that he picked Molina so much as it was that nobody wanted to fight him on his terms.

“The names (of the fighters who passed on facing me) are irrelevant,” Wilder said on a recent conference call when explaining the myriad of reasons the other heavyweights ducked out on the opportunity. “The guys that ducked me wouldn’t do any good for just naming names. I congratulate Molina for stepping up.”

Conventional wisdom suggests that Eric Molina will end up being knockout victim No. 33 when the two meet on June 13. Perhaps Molina was selected to jumpstart yet another KO streak for the heavy-handed Wilder. But don’t tell the 6-foot-4 heavyweight that, because he already knows what he’s walking into.

“(The criticism) definitely motivates me more because people have their opinions but don’t know too much about the different angles of boxing,” Molina explained. “Special fighters learn from their losses. I know I’ve learned from my losses and bounced back to be a better fighter.”

It’s going to take a lot of convincing for anyone to believe that Molina would pose even a moderate threat to the 6-foot-7 Wilder. Nobody really steps into the ring thinking that they are lunchmeat for a hungry champion, but considering that Molina’s last five opponents have a combined record of 108-82-7, it’s entirely conceivable that Molina has been set up to be publicly executed in front of Wilder’s jubilant fans.

Eric Molina (L) vs. Raphael Zumbano Love in January 2015. Photo by Steve Marcus/Getty Images.

Eric Molina (L) vs. Raphael Zumbano Love in January 2015. Photo by Steve Marcus/Getty Images.

But Molina suggested that there’s a lot more to his career than meets the eye.

“There’s a lot of casual boxing fans who don’t know too much about Eric Molina,” he said while noting that many of his fights have come with abbreviated training camps. “I have been in pretty big fights but if you look at my record you see two losses. Casual fans see those two losses but only a fighter knows how hard it is to bounce back. I know what I’ve been through to come back from my losses and the things I’ve learned. I positioned myself to be a top contender.”

Regardless of what Molina thinks, it’s evident that he is far from the opponent that most expect Wilder to eventually face: Wladimir Klitschko.

“I can’t look past anybody,” Wilder said when asked about the long-reigning heavyweight champion who many believe he has the goods to dethrone. But out of respect to his opponent, Wilder simply wouldn’t indulge in what would easily be the biggest heavyweight fight that can be made in boxing. “I treat every opponent as if he’s the most dangerous person in the world and I’m still just a contender trying to get a world title. That keeps me focused and humbled. I don’t want to be the type of fighter who feels that he’s at the top and doesn’t feel like he has to train as hard. Even though I’m the WBC champ, my head says I’m still a contender.”

The mentality is admirable but we will have to see how long he can maintain it considering that he has all the physical and personable traits that could make him a huge star in the sport of boxing. They all say that they will not let success get to their head until it actually does. But Wilder won’t fool you into thinking that he’s just another fighter. He truly believes he can be the sport’s next big thing after Floyd Mayweather retires.

“I most definitely (believe that I can be a big star) because the heavyweight division is the cream of the crop,” the Olympic bronze medalist said. “It’s the excitement I bring to the ring and the personality I have. Some people become a certain type of person. I’m not a fake person because everything about me is real. Nothing is scripted or planned out. I have fans coming back to the heavyweight division and I’m just glad to be a part of the movement that made the division come back to life.”

If everything plays out as expected on June 13, perhaps the naysayers will pipe down and Wilder will win over some more fans. If nothing else, everyone who enjoys watching knockouts should probably tune in.