In a year when so many fights are being postponed or scrapped, the silver lining is that cancellations help other deserving fighters gain much-needed TV exposure. And this week's "Friday Night Fights" season finale is a prime example.
With super middleweight contender Adonis Stevenson's hand injury scuttling a main event title eliminator against Donovan George, the co-feature was moved up, putting one of boxing's unsung heroes in the spotlight. In a 10-round junior middleweight bout, Mexico's Carlos Molina (19-5-2, 6 KOs), fighting out of Chicago, will face Cuba's Damian Frias (19-4-1, 10 KOs), currently living in Miami, in what could be viewed as karma working for Molina after a couple of years of hard work and uneven results.
Molina arrived on the scene in a scrappy 2005 draw with Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., and although he lost their rematch, Molina stood his ground and continued to mingle with the top dogs in the division. He dropped consecutive eight-rounders against unbeaten contenders Wayland Willingham and Mike Alvarado in his next two bouts, but then ripped off an 11-0-1 streak that was capped by a win over former welterweight titlist Kermit Cintron.
But even that run came with its share of tough luck. In a bout in which he was a late replacement, Molina drew with hot Cuban prospect Erislandy Lara despite most observers giving the nod to Molina after 10 rounds of back-and-forth action. And in March, following the Cintron bout, Molina turned in a solid effort against fellow contender James Kirkland but was dropped to the canvas at the bell to end the 10th round and was controversially disqualified when one of his cornermen entered the ring during the ensuing eight-count.
"I was doing what I trained to do, which was apply pressure, work his body and push him back," Molina said about the Kirkland fight. "I wanted to do a little bit of everything, and I did. I was not hurt in the 10th round. I was ready to fight the full 12."
His status as a professional opponent du jour and regular underdog doesn't bother Molina, especially after recently outperforming his most notable foes.
"Mentally, I take it as an advantage," Molina said. "When somebody says that you can't do this or you can't beat this guy, it makes you work harder to prove that you can. I like the way I did it, and I wouldn't change it for anything else."
In order to keep adding to his growing résumé, Molina will have to go through a less talented but highly motivated Frias. A converted southpaw and boxer-puncher with a decent record against quality opposition, Frias hopes to build on his most recent outing, last September's upset of Henry Crawford. It was Frias' third straight win following an 0-3-1 skid.
"I'm a learning pro," said Frias, the son of a former amateur fighter in Cuba. "I only had three amateur fights, but I got a good team -- head trainer John David Jackson, who was a southpaw just like me -- who I listen to. I don't just go out there and throw punches. Anybody can just throw punches, but skills win fights."
The co-main event will now feature Chicago's George (22-2-1, 19 KOs) against replacement Dionisio Miranda (21-7-2, 18 KOs), of Colombia, in a 10-rounder that will probably fail to match the intensity expected from the original bout with Stevenson. Still, it's a fight that could decide who stays in the conversation for significant fights at 168 pounds and who slips into trialhorse territory.
Coming off a loss to contender Edwin Rodriguez (and with a 2-2 mark over his past four outings), George -- who has an illustrious amateur background -- can begin working out of his rut against a proven contender in Miranda, a tough customer with a checkered past that includes victories over Sebastien Demers and Lajuan Simon mixed with defeats to Peter Quillin, Giovanny Lorenzo, Roman Karmazin, Renan St. Juste and, more recently, Avtandil Khurtsidze. That fight happened in mid-2011, so Miranda will have the double challenge of shaking off his ring rust and stepping in against a fighter who had earned the right to face one of the toughest super middleweights in the world.
"I have a really bad taste in my mouth from the last fight, so I am more motivated than ever now," George said. "We dropped the ball -- I didn't fight good and he didn't do his best, and we acknowledge that. We know we didn't do our best, so this is a chance, basically, for us to redeem ourselves. We're going to go out there and do the best we can, and go out fighting and get a big win."
With the winner slated to meet Stevenson later in the year, the only concern for George should be to stay healthy and finally make that fight happen. A win against Miranda isn't something he can take for granted, but he should be able to pull through to set up a Stevenson fight, with the winner finally getting a title shot, likely against England's Carl Froch.