In the main event of ESPN2's Friday Night Fights, Molina used his accidental, last-minute headlining slot of the season finale in a manner that probably didn't rehabilitate himself fully with those who turned sour on him. But he didn't wrestle, was aggressive and got a workmanlike 10-round decision over Damian Frias, in which he lost not a single round on any judge's card. That might've been enough, for his purposes.
Molina served Frias a feast of lead right hands and left hooks, the latter to both the head and body. And the turning. Always, with the turning. Molina's knack for angles helps him overcome a lot of disadvantages, and Frias caught Molina with exceedingly fewclean punches. For as much as Molina fed Frias, he couldn't get him to topple over, which speaks to Molina's lack of big punching power and Frias' punch resistance -- five losses now, none by knockout.
Had Molina dropped Frias, or, even better, stopped him, he might come out of this fight with some buzz. Instead, the beating Molina dished out was more methodical than visceral. He probably didn't do nearly enough to get the big fight he deserves (on the merits -- he's one of the top junior middleweights in the world -- and, yes, on the aesthetic totality of his career). But he didn't hurt himself, for sure, and might've helped himself the tiniest droplet by reminding people that the grappler we saw against Kirkland isn't who he normally is. The only thing that might've hurt Molina, in fact, is ESPN2's Teddy Atlas suggesting Molina would beat Canelo Alvarez. I can see it, too, even if I'd probably favor Canelo, but if people are speaking it aloud it's hard to imagine Golden Boy signing up its golden goose for a date with a dangerous ugly duckling, even one less ugly than before.
On the undercard, super middleweight Don George -- the Showtime undercard boxer turned ESPN2 headliner turned ESPN2 undercard boxer -- also probably did little to drastically his fortunes. He stopped Dionisio Miranda after six rounds, and was his usual slugger self; if anything, he burnished his slugger credentials. He wasn't trying to, at first. He came out probing, jabbing and showing more interest than usual in understanding who he was fighting. But George is nothing if not hittable, and before long Miranda was catching him with sharp counters, and Miranda can punch. After losing the 2nd round big, George turned it around and got as aggressive as he should've been against an opponent who had lost four of his last seven and had been out of the ring for more than a year. In the 6th, George hurt Miranda with one of his big rights and chased him around the ring, landing or trying to land more, sometimes getting caught back by a sturdy last gasp counter or two from Miranda, but with Miranda wobbly between rounds, his corner stopped the fight.
George won't ever make a bad fight. He can work on his boxing if he wants, but he's made no major gains there, only incremental ones. He's a brawler at heart and the only thing that will minimize his enjoyable fight potential is the degree to which his opponent is reluctant to engage and/or capable of outpointing him without taking a big risk, and George's own momentary lapses into would-be technician. He'll also probably be outgunned against the likes of Adonis Stevenson, his original opponent. None of this matters so much as that we know George will bring effort and derring-do every time out. He was the only one who'd even sign to fight Stevenson to begin with, and he still wants some of that feared puncher in the fall. I've been critical at times of George's personal foibles, but I've got nothing but affection for what he does in the ring.
For me personally, Molina never was a "lovable underdog". He skipped that part of the narrative and landed straight in "grr grrr stomp stomp I never want to see you again" after the Lara draw, and he remains there still. He didn't wrestle as much in this fight because he didn't need to because he was so technically superior because he's a highly skilled fighter and Frias is merely ordinary. The less you're worried about what your opponent will shoot back at you, the less you need to use the conflict-averse tactic of clinching. Against Lara and The Mandingo Warrior, Molina was very worried about what was coming back at him, and rightly so. And so instead of boxing, or fighting, or even running (which is legal) - he clinched. Repeatedly, excessively and illegally.
Boxers are graded on a curve, and it's a curve we all intuitively know. In a purely aesthetic sense, Molina did look good in this fight. But when you factor in that he was at least an 8-to-1 favourite, headlining the main event on ESPN after stints on the pay channels, silenced the crowd for the full 10 and gave Teddy and Joe a real tough night at the office, I would say Molina fell short of the curve.
And I still saw tactics that turned me off. Molina threw a lot of lead rights that, to his credit, landed, but he lunged with them and left himself exposed to counter lefts from Frias. He solved this problem by following the right hands with a fluid motion forward, head low with the top of it aimed straight at Frias' chest, and charged into him, backing him up 4 feet or more. It's a Tim Bradley move, and that comparison is generous, because Tim Bradley would've looked sensational against a guy like Frias.
@Pretty Toney It wasn't just the Lara draw, though. He also upset Cintron -- did you see that one?
I hear you on some of the lunging. It wasn't ideal. I still thought he was more like the "reasonably enjoyable" fighter against Frias that he was in every non-Kirkland fight I've seen him in, but, taste is taste and if he doesn't do it for you he doesn't do it for you. I do think the general view on Molina coming in to the Kirkland fight was positive (I remember people lobbying for him to get a big fight) but he came out of it negative.