Anthony Joshua needed three calculated, patient rounds to leave Eric Molina trailing in his wake and set up a colossal clash against Wladimir Klitschko.
Joshua completed the second defence of his IBF heavyweight title, which once belonged to Klitschko, on Saturday in Manchester and will next face the legendary Ukrainian with the WBA ‘Super’ belt also on the line on April 29 at Wembley Stadium, live on Sky Sports Box Office.
With Klitschko sat ominously at ringside, Joshua was able to ignore the mighty occasion that loomed and turn Molina, a potential spanner in the works, into his 18th beaten opponent.
Molina’s facial expression, previously a picture of concentration, changed to alarm upon the absorption of a left hook in the closing moments of the opening round – a shot that was more flicked out by Joshua, rather than powered.
Understandably negative throughout the second round, Molina flung three overhand rights but Joshua evaded each with a single, giant stride backwards. Refusing to stray from his patient approach, Joshua landed a damaging lead-hand uppercut.
Rob McCracken, who oversaw Joshua’s London 2012 gold medal, was in his corner for the first time in the heavyweight’s pro career but barely had time to offer instructions, as the knockout approached.
Joshua landed a left-right combination as the third began and, with Molina already in survival mode, the champion flattened his challenger with a colossal straight right.
As Molina slumped into his corner, eyes fixated on the bright lights above him, the result was beyond him but he rose to his feet, perhaps out of instinct. It proved a mistake, and Joshua reminded him of that violently – a flurry of lefts and rights landed, Molina turned his back, and the referee saved him.