Former junior lightweight world titlist Jose Pedraza returns to the ring for the third time in a year to face Javier Molina in a 10-round junior welterweight battle, which headlines a Top Rank card at the MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas (ESPN+, 7:30 p.m. ET).
Pedraza (27-3, 13 KOs) won the WBO lightweight belt with a unanimous decision victory over Raymundo Beltran in 2018. Three months later, Pedraza lost the title to Vasiliy Lomachenko by unanimous decision. Since then, Pedraza is 2-1, including a dominant decision victory over Mikkel LesPierre on July 2 in the Top Rank bubble in Las Vegas.
Molina (22-2, 9 KOs) has won five consecutive fights and 13 of his past 14. In November, Molina demolished Hiroki Okada in a first-round-KO victory, and three months later he dominated Amir Ahmed Imam in an entertaining eight-round decision win.
Pedraza understands that a win over Molina will get him closer to his goal of becoming a two-division titlist.
“I have my sights set on a world championship at 140,” Pedraza said during a news conference on Thursday. “My goal is to join the select club of three-division world champions from Puerto Rico. That’s why this fight against Molina is so important. I know that a big win on Saturday will put me a step closer to that opportunity of challenging for a world title in the junior welterweight division. It’s a must-win for me.”
Molina said he thought about quitting the sport not too long ago but instead put his focus on becoming a champion.
“By beating Pedraza, I put myself in a good position to challenge for a world title,” Molina said at a news conference. “I know that a victory against a great name like Pedraza will bring me closer to that opportunity to become a champion.
“We have answers for anything he brings. I can adapt to whatever he does the ring. If he wants to brawl, we’re going to brawl, and if I have to box and move around, that’s what I will do to win the fight.”
In the co-main event, heavyweight power puncher Efe Ajagba (13-0, 11 KOs) makes his Top Rank debut in a 10-round fight against Jonathan Rice (13-5-1, 9 KOs). Ajagba gained notoriety in August 2018 when his opponent, Curtis Harper, left the ring immediately after the initial bell.
Also on the card: Two-time Olympic gold medalist Robeisy Ramirez (4-1, 3 KOs), who faces Felix Caraballo (13-2-2, 9 KOs) in an eight-round featherweight bout.
Stay here for live undercard results and analysis.
Jose Pedraza vs. Javier Molina, 10 rounds, junior welterweights
Fight in progress …
Ajagba stays unbeaten with decision win
Heavyweight power-puncher Efe Ajagba defeated Jonathan Rice by unanimous decision in a slow-paced, dreary affair that dragged on for all 10 rounds. There really wasn’t much action in this fight, and at the end, all three judges had the fight for Ajagba by scores of 98-92, 99-91 and 99-91.
Ajagba, who was working with trainer Kay Koroma for the first time and made his Top Rank debut on Saturday, showed his vaunted power, and much of the fight looked like a sparring session. While Rice showed that he was durable, he never presented a serious threat to Ajagba.
Ajagba landed 131 total punches out of 406 thrown, while Rice landed a paltry 39 out of 269.
Ramirez extends winning streak
Robeisy Ramirez notched his fifth consecutive victory as he scored a convincing, eight-round decision over Felix Caraballo. At the end of the fight, the two-time Olympic gold medalist won by scores of 79-73 and two cards that read 80-72.
Under the guidance of trainer Ismael Salas, Ramirez (5-1, 3 KOs) has developed his professional style, and after a disastrous debut, he’s looking more and more comfortable inside the ring.
Caraballo (13-3-2, 9 KOs), who was knocked out by former WBO featherweight titlist Shakur Stevenson in six rounds on June 9, marched forward for much of the fight and backed up Ramirez up along the ropes. But while Caraballo was the one initiating the action, Ramirez landed the cleaner, crisper punches. Whether Ramirez was landing rapid-fire combinations or accurate uppercuts down the middle, he was in control.
In the late rounds, Ramirez began to stun Caraballo with his sharp punches, but he unable to finish him. Ramirez landed 161 of 317 total punches, outpacing Caraballo, who landed just 68 punches out of 266.
Ruiz defeats late replacement Solis
Leo Ruiz was extended the six-round distance by the tough Rodrigo Solis, but he did more than enough to win a clear unanimous decision by the scores of 59-53 (twice) and 58-54.
Despite his record, Solis (4-5-1, 2 KOs) wasn’t afraid to mix it up with Ruiz, who throughout the night made an effort to go the body. But as the fight went on, Ruiz started to break down Solis with his own body attack and left hooks to the head.
Ruiz was penalized a point for low blows in the fifth round, but that point was balanced out when Solis was docked a point for spitting out his mouthpiece after absorbing a hard left hook. While Solis was getting hurt in the late rounds, he survived to hear the final bell.
Montano dominates Adams
Christian Montano remained undefeated as he outpointed Ryan Adams over six rather uneventful rounds. Two judges had Montano (10-0, 7 KOs) pitching a shutout by the score of 60-54, while the third had it 58-56.
There wasn’t much back-and-forth action between the two, but most of the rounds were relatively close. Montano landed the lion’s share of the hard punches, and while Adams (7-3-1, 6 KOs) was competitive, his attack was relatively ineffective.
Lua scores KO of the year candidate
After a 14-month layoff from the ring, lightweight Bryan Lua made an emphatic return by scoring an eye-opening, one-punch knockout of Luis Norambuena. It was a picture-perfect left hook, which struck Norambuena on the chin and had him out at 2:27 of the second round.
Lua (6-0, 3 KOs), who is part of a deep stable of fighters under the guidance of trainer Robert Garcia, was actually on his heels in the early minutes of the fight, as Norambuena stepped toward Lua and played the role of aggressor. But soon, Lua’s precise punching neutralized Norambuena.
Once Lua landed the finishing blow there was no need for the count, and the referee stopped the fight immediately.
Tucker stops Anderson in Round 1
Making his pro debut, Jahi Tucker scored a first-round stoppage of Deandre Anderson. Anderson came out of the gate fast in the opening moments of the bout, but was then overwhelmed by the long, lashing punches of Tucker. The tide turned quickly, and as Anderson was getting swarmed with punches, referee Robert Hoyle stopped the bout at 2:56.
Anderson (1-1), a short southpaw, started the fight throwing a lot of punches at Tucker, who is still growing into his body at 17 years of age. While Tucker’s technique is still a bit unrefined, he was quickly able to find a home for his straight right hand and left hook.
By the middle of the first round, Anderson’s nose was bloodied, and he quickly became more hesitant to rush in and trade with Tucker. Finally, a flurry of shots from Tucker later in the first ended the night for Anderson.
Goldston wins decision in professional debut
Junior welterweight Kasir Goldston scored a four-round decision over Isaiah Varnell in his first fight as a professional, winning by the scores of 40-36, 39-37 and 39-37.
Goldston, 17, boxed well from his southpaw stance, keeping Varnell (3-3, 2 KOs) at bay with his skills and elusiveness. There weren’t any long exchanges between the two, as the bout was fought at a measured pace, but Goldston (1-0) was effective with his punches and did enough to pick up his first pro victory.