Deontay Wilder made a successful first defence of his WBC heavyweight title with a ninth round knockout of challenger Eric Molina in the Bartow Arena, Alabama on Saturday night.
The fight was historic in the fact that it was the first ever world title fight held in the state of Alabama but it was let down by a lacklustre performance from the champion. With his much talked about punching power Deontay Wilder was expected to take Molina out in the early rounds, but the challenger weathered the storm on several occasions and produced a determined performance that surprised everyone.
The fight opened with a cagey first round with both fighters cautious in their approach. Wilder seemed tense almost as if the pressure of defending his world title in front of a home audience was getting to him. In the opening rounds the fight was a cagey affair. For the most part Wilder was fighting with his hands down and his chin in the air. At times his attacks seemed crude as he would take wild swings at Molina, but often only landing glancing blows.
It’s hard to decide whether Wilder was in awe of the occasion or whether he was taking his time to create something of a spectacle for his fans either way he got a wake-up call when Molina tested his chin staggering him in the third round. It would have been a great opportunity for Molina to put pressure on Wilder but he seemed reluctant to rush in, perhaps fearing a counter from the champion.
The third round demonstrated Wilder’s vulnerabilities; a question mark hangs over his chin but there is no disputing his power as he retaliated by dropping Molina for the first time at the end of the fourth round.
The writing was on the wall for Molina after that, Wilder dropped him twice again in the fifth although he more or less bundled Molina to the canvas for the third knockdown. The fight became somewhat scrappy after that, Wilder’s attacks consisted of wild swings that his opponent should have seen from a mile away. Some will say that Wilder was making hard work of the task in hand, but to his credit Molina was being stubborn, holding on and firing back with his own hooks to the head and body.
Molina almost came back into the fight during the eighth round using his jab and hooks to back the champion up behind a high guard but it was short lived as in the ninth round Wilder unleashed a right hand counter to the temple that left Molina sprawled on the canvas. The referee didn’t even bother to count and the fight was over.
In the post-fight interview Wilder explained that he had wanted to select a tough opponent in order to put on a good show. He emphasised how he was trying to stay calm and work on becoming more of a technician in the ring. “I’m still a work in progress,” he said, “and I will be until I collect all the belts.”
There were perhaps a number factors influencing the fight, the pressure of the occasion, a spirited performance from the challenger, the desire to perform in front of a home audience, but all this aside this was not an impressive performance from the champion.
In one sense it might be a good thing for the fans because all the other heavyweights who were in two minds about challenging Wilder will now fancy their chances. The WBC mandatory challenger is the Russian Alexander Povetkin the 2004 Olympic Superheavyweight champion and former WBA champion who boasts an impressive professional record with notable wins over several former champions. His only loss came in a title challenge against Wladimir Klitschko. He will be the likely next opponent for Wilder who will have to improve significantly on this performance if he wants to retain his title.
On the undercard, Lightweight Dejan Zlaticanin stopped unbeaten contender Ivan Redkach in four rounds to set up a title shot at WBC champion Jorge Linares. Light-Middleweight Julian Williams defeated Aman Ovsepyan via a six round TKO and Jose Pedraza won a twelve round decision over Andrey Klimov to claim the IBF Junior Lightweight title.