- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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When Deontay Wilder defends his heavyweight title for the first time on June 13 (Showtime), he will do so in front of a home crowd at the Bartow Arena in Birmingham, Alabama. He will, however, be facing Eric Molina, who has done virtually nothing to earn a shot at the belt.
It is a match that many have heavily criticized because even though Molina (23-2, 17 KOs), 33, Raymondville, Texas, has won five bouts in a row, he has never beaten a top contender.
The one time he did face a contender, he was knocked out in the first round by Chris Arreola in 2012. Both of Molina’s losses were by first-round knockout, the first coming in his 2007 pro debut.
Wilder (33-0, 32 KOs), 29, who won the belt from Bermane Stiverne by lopsided decision in January, specializes in first-round knockout. He has 18.
Wilder has heard the criticism of Molina and offered his explanation as to why he was fighting such an unknown and unaccomplished opponent. He said it came down to Molina’s willingness to make a deal whereas other unnamed opponents would not.
“We have a lot of other opponents, but Molina was the one to understand the opportunity that lies at hand. Some people can price themselves out and some teams make it so difficult that the fight won’t happen,” Wilder said at his media workout on Monday. “They can really block themselves out from getting the fight. You can have the money or the opportunity. Molina understands what the situation is, and he stepped up to the plate and understands the opportunity at hand.”
Molina said he understands his underdog status but getting an opportunity is what was important to him.
“This is the fight that we dream about when we first lace on the gloves and I am extremely excited about the opportunity to fight for the biggest prize in sports,” Molina said. “I’ve been boxing for nine years. I have a B.S. and master’s degree and I’m in my fourth year teaching kids with disabilities. Along with boxing, this is what I do. This is who I am, and I am not ashamed of who I am either. I’m proud. If they want to consider me an underdog, fine. But I’m also the guy who got knocked out in his first pro fight and battled back to where I am now, and I’m fighting for the championship.
“What people don’t know about me is that my career has been all about determination, strength and struggles. Other boxers, including Bernard Hopkins, lost their first fights and went on to win a world title. I’ve learned a lot from my two losses and now I have the confidence to accomplish anything.”