THIS time three years ago it was Eric Molina – and not Andy Ruiz Jnr – who was the heavyweight underdog heading into a showdown with Anthony Joshua. Molina was mere cannon fodder as the Englishman warmed up his weapons for the threat of Wladimir Klitschko, who was sitting ringside that night at the Manchester Arena. The Ukrainian was announced as Joshua’s next opponent the moment Joshua bulleted through Molina with ease inside three rounds in December 2016.

The Texan’s fortunes haven’t got any better since. Known as a durable gatekeeper-cum-contender prior, thanks largely for lasting into the ninth round with WBC Deontay Wilder in 2015, he achieved infamy when it emerged that he had failed a post-fight drug test for dexamethasone. His excuse was a familiar one – he didn’t know the banned substance was an ingredient in a B12 vitamin supplement that was purchased over the counter in Mexico – and his punishment was far too late in being administered (it was May 2018 before he received a two-year ban from United Kingdom Anti-Doping, dating back to October 2017).

Molina was furious with his treatment from UKAD. He felt he was made a scapegoat. He said what he took was an anti-inflammatory and not an anabolic steroid, as was claimed. And he certainly had a point when he told Boxing News that the punishment coming 18 months after the test was ridiculous.

Anthony Joshua vs Eric Molina
UNDER FIRE: Molina covers up against Joshua [Action Images/Andrew Couldridge]

“They do not do things the right way,” he said. “I just wanted to clear my name. I knew what they wanted to achieve [by banning me for two years]. To throw the book at someone and make an example of them, but they picked the wrong fighter. They should have targeted one of these big-name fighters who cheat. I’m not a cheat.

“I was furious. I got the emails from UKAD one-and-a-half years after the Joshua fight.”

With the impending controversy still to hit, Molina was beaten by Dominic Breazeale in eight rounds in Brooklyn in November 2017. In February this year – with eight months of his UK ban still to run – he outpointed Nick Guivas in Brownsville. Whether the ban was fair or not, Molina’s activity following his failed test highlights the huge problems the sport faces in its battle against performance enhancing drugs. The issue of PEDs and the confusion surrounding them is one thing yet the loopholes that are available to offenders, thanks to myriad commissions and rules, are arguably even worse.

Joshua won’t be able to recover from the punches he has already taken from Andy Ruiz

Eric Molina

On Saturday night, on the undercard of the Ruiz-Joshua return, Eric Molina re-enters the heavyweight scene, again as a rank outsider but this time with a point to prove, when he takes on gifted Croat, Filip Hrgovic, in a 12-round clash for the WBC International heavyweight strap.

To say Molina has an uphill task ahead of him would be an understatement. At this point, “The Drummer Boy” is just happy to be fighting again.

Eric Molina
GOOD MEMORIES: Molina is eager to get his career back on track

“I’m blessed to be here at this iconic sporting event,” Eric Molina told BN. “I don’t look at it like I’m expected to lose, I can’t look at it that way. After everything that’s happened, I know I’m lucky to be back doing what I love the most.

“Hrgovic is an up-and-comer and he’s inexperienced. I feel like there’s many things that we can do to target and exploit that inexperience. He does make mistakes.”

Molina seemed offended by the notion that his past as a bit-part player in the burgeoning heavyweight scene was being exploited in order to give Hrgovic a leg-up to bigger and better things.

“This fight isn’t about him,” he said. “It’s about me. This is about seeing if I can still fight at this level. I accept that he’s a strong heavyweight and I accept that he’s expected to win. But I’ve been here before. I’ve been in the ring with strong heavyweights, but it has been a couple of years since I’ve been in the ring with a big heavyweight. I have to see if I can still compete at that level.

“So far training has been good, but the real test is Saturday. I feel great, I feel like I have everything I need to be victorious.”

It will be a huge shock if Molina derails Hrgovic but – as the 37-year-old pointed out as he observed Ruiz go through the motions at Tuesday night’s open air workouts in Riyadh – upsets happen. He also watched Ruiz defeat Joshua in June, and he expects to watch Ruiz do the same again on Saturday night.

“I feel like Ruiz wins the rematch. I think ‘AJ’ is going to try and change things a bit, but I feel like eventually the fight will come down to the things it came down to the first time. I don’t think AJ is going to be able to recover from some of the punches he’s taken already. They were big punches that Ruiz hit him with, they stay with you.

“The first fight was a huge surprise to me but this is heavyweight boxing. It happens.”

Molina was coy when asked if he sees himself ever competing for world titles again. He knows only too well how the best laid plans can go to pot.

“I will not look past December 7,” he said. “My only focus is December 7. I will worry about December 8 on that morning. I’m not going to make any predictions about anything after that.”