As somebody who earns money writing about boxing, it’s in my interest to see the sport get as big as possible. And throughout the centuries, boxing has inevitably been at its zenith when there was a heavyweight champion who captured the public imagination. It was true in the 1740s with Jack Broughton, just as it was true in the 1960s and 1970s with Muhammad Ali. Heavyweight champions like John L. Sullivan, Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano and Mike Tyson all pushed boxing into the forefront of popular consciousness during their careers.
Current WBC champion Deontay Wilder teases at least a promise that he could be another such champion. He won an Olympic bronze medal in 2008 while still little more than a novice. In his career to date, he is 33-0 with 32 KOs. None of his knockout victims have lasted beyond four rounds. The only fighter to last the distance with him was Bermane Stiverne, the man Wilder won the belt from, and that fight was entirely one-sided. The win over Stiverne not only allowed Wilder to bring a share of the heavyweight crown back to America, it also gave “The Bronze Bomber” the opportunity to show that he can box a big puncher and absorb a heavyweight punch.
Outside the ring, Wilder has the personality and story to carry mainstream stardom. As a young man, he set out to become a college basketball star, but was forced to drop out of school and go to work when he gave birth to a disabled daughter. He originally took up boxing as a way to stay in shape. The story of his relationship with his daughter is the kind of ready-made 60 Minutes or Real Sports piece that would win him new fans who normally wouldn’t look twice at the Sweet Science of Bruising.
So it’s a big disappointment that Wilder’s first defense, scheduled for this weekend, will come against lightly regarded Eric Molina. Molina is 23-2 with 17 KOs. He’s a rugged guy who can punch a bit. But both his losses came by first round KO. He was knocked out by Chris Arreola, the guy who Stiverne knocked out to win the vacant WBC belt last year. Molina frankly looks like a guy designed to be knocked out by Wilder. He’s lazy returning his jab, leaving him wide open for Wilder’s monster right hand.
Molina is among the least qualified title challengers in the sport’s history. He’s obscure and deserves to be. This is not an opponent who will help Wilder generate interest or earn him respect. He’s exactly the same quality of fighter that Wilder padded his record with before finally stepping up and challenging Stiverne last January.
Wilder will knock Molina out within the first few rounds. The champion will get another highlight reel knockout, albiet against an unworthy opponent.
For the good of the sport, let’s all hope he fights somebody more deserving in his next fight out. Lord knows, there are literally dozens of candidates who would qualify.