Boxing Round of the Year: John Molina vs. Mickey Bey

Was it a lucky punch or the inevitable outcome of 28 minutes of pressure? With 1:22 left in the final round of a 10-round bout on Friday night, John Molina Jr. swung blindly with a left hook and caught Mickey Bey on the chin. Bey slumped over, his arms dangling at his sides, his chin pinned to his chest, looking like sad Linus dragging home his blanket, and fell forward into the ropes. The button punch is one of the many oddities of the human brain revealed to us through boxing — a fighter can take 30 hard punches to the cheek, the side of the head, and the neck without getting wobbled. He can have his orbital broken and swell out a gruesome hematoma and still keep his wits about him. But if he gets hit where the jawbone meets the neck, God help him.

With nothing left but muscle reflex and the glimmer of instinct still floating around in his rattled brain, Bey staggered forward and tried to wrap his arms around Molina, who shrugged off the embrace and went about the grim business of trying to knock a semi-conscious man’s head into the second row. Now moving like he was trying to dance in tar, Bey ate three more massive shots before the referee stepped in and rightfully stopped the fight. Bey was in serious danger — defenseless, bloodied, and clearly concussed. After the stoppage, Bey sat in his corner and kept asking his cornermen, “What happened? What happened?”

At the time of the knockout, Bey was way up on the judges’ cards: 90-81, 89-82, and 88-83. I had it 90-81 — Molina had fought bravely and accomplished the not-so-easy task of lurching forward through dozens of sharp jabs and power shots, but he had not put enough together to win a single round.

Bey was suspended in February after turning in a 30:1 testosterone/epitestosterone ratio, which, roughly speaking, are about the levels in Bruce Banner’s bloodstream whenever he gets really angry (the normal ratio for an adult male is about 1:1). Headlining a Showtime event (although, to be fair, this ShoBox card felt a bit like “Showtime, as contractually obligated, presents THE MONEY TEAM PROMOTIONS!”) was supposed to be his first step back to relevance. Molina, a big, somewhat Frankenstein’s monster–ish lightweight who had lost two of his last three fights, was playing the role of opponent. One more loss, even an exciting one, would most likely relegate his future to small casinos and sportsman’s lodges.

So, was Molina’s career-saving left hook lucky or inevitable? “A puncher’s chance” is one of those phrases repeated throughout nearly every mismatched bout. The announcers want you to stay with a landslide because, well, who knows what will happen? The puncher’s chance is almost always a long one, but sometimes, especially with the aid of hindsight, you can see the lucky/inevitable punch coming. For 28 minutes of ring time on Friday night, Bey boxed beautifully. He doubled and tripled up his jab, landed straight rights seemingly at will, and used a variety of defensive tactics to elude Molina’s wild haymakers. The problem wasn’t so much that Bey was doing all this while backing up, it was more the manner in which he was retreating. By the fifth round, Bey was already breathing heavily through his mouth. By the sixth, he was spending large portions of each round leaning up against the ropes. Molina, for his part, kept coming forward, and when he finally did manage to cut Bey off, he threw wild overhand rights that mostly ended up a good foot or so above Bey’s head. This rhythm carried itself through the late rounds, and by the ninth, Bey’s accurate assault looked like it had finally slowed Molina down. I can understand the fight fans, including Showtime’s announcers, who thought Molina would eventually catch Bey with one of those big shots and turn the fight around, but by the 10th, only the most delusional Molina fan would have thought it was inevitable. This is not to say it was a lucky shot — Molina deserves full credit for his dramatic win — but if you think about this fight in poker terms, Molina basically drew to a gut-shot straight against Bey’s made top set and pulled out a three-outer on the river. Molina pulled off his very own version of Julio Cesar Chavez’s 12th-round TKO victory over Meldrick Taylor — the only difference was that he closed a bigger gap and that the referee was right to stop the fight.

Unless something crazy happens, there will be a lot of debate among fight fans about whether the 10th round of Molina-Bey was better than the 12th round of Timothy Bradley’s bout against Ruslan Provodnikov. It’s a close call that’s open, like all things in boxing, to wild and sometimes self-reflexive interpretation: If you judge these things by shock value, you’ll side with Molina-Bey. But if you’re talking about overall action and two fighters who eviscerated one another and dropped their guts out onto the mat, I don’t think you can do much better than Bradley-Provodnikov.

Filed Under: Boxing, Jay Caspian Kang